Thursday, 15 January 2004
Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources DebatePage of 4
Chairman: The meeting has been convened for the purposes of the consideration by this committee of the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2000 [Seanad]. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne and his officials to this meeting. I suggest that we consider this Bill today until 1 p.m. If we have not concluded by then a further meeting may be considered or if it is the wish of the committee, we may continue until consideration of the Bill is completed. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Coveney: I am sorry to be difficult because I am as anxious as the Chairman to get the business moving quickly but we do not have a copy of the numbered amendments. I have 15 pages of amendments which are not numbered. Deputy Ryan is in the same position. If we could get copies of those, we can proceed.
I thank the Chairman for facilitating me by holding an early meeting today. Can we not facilitate Deputy Coveney’s request for the three amendments he has tabled because I understand that he must leave the House very soon?
Mr. Coveney: I am happy with that. I thank the Minister of State because he is likely to accept three of my amendments which deal with content, and I am happy to withdraw the other amendments which are technical amendments and about which I can speak on Report Stage. The Department and the Minister of State have facilitated my concerns and they improve the Bill.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: Deputy Coveney may not be here later and I wish to acknowledge the Minister’s acceptance of those important amendments which are important. I commend Deputy Coveney and the Minister of State for making changes which will have a very good material effect on the Bill we are discussing.
Mr. Broughan: I echo that comment but I am not quite sure how we are proceeding. I saw on the monitor before I came in that we are dealing with several amendments but we do not seem to have any written guide to these.
Chairman: I apologise to members for the confusion on the timetable. The Bills Office understood that the Bill was being taken at three o’clock and there was some mix-up about the times because we changed the time at the request of the Minister on Monday and there was a breakdown in communications. I understand that the green document, which I had and have given to Deputy Coveney, will be available to the other members in a few moments. The clerk’s assistant is trying to get them from the Bills Office. Would it be acceptable to listen to the Minister of State speak on amendment No. 1.?
Mr. Browne: I thank the Chairman for changing the time of the meeting. Amendment No. 1 defines the term “Principal Act”, which is a convenient short hand reference to the Dumping at Sea Act 1996, references to which occur throughout the Bill. In the new legal drafting style operative from 1 January 2002 there is no comma in the short title of an Act between “Act” and the date of the Act. It is a standard drafting practice in Bills of this kind to specify the principal Act affected by the Bill and avoid citing the full short title of that Act in each provision of the Bill where that Act is referred to. Six other amendments, namely Nos. 2, 3, 6, 13, 33 and 39 are consequential on this amendment.
In 2004, we are amending a Bill passed by Seanad Éireann in 2000. I understand there may have been difficulties in reaching this point. However, the Bill primarily contains significant amendments to the 1996 Dumping at Sea Act, meaning that we are working over an eight year timeframe. In general, this is not the way the Government should do its business. We should deal with legislation in a specified timeframe. There have been periods since 2000 when this Bill could have been dealt with in the Dáil. I am not criticising public servants, as this is a matter for Government, in particular how the Taoiseach orders the business of the House. People would be amazed that we are amending a Bill introduced in the Oireachtas in 2000. This is not the way to do business. I am not criticising the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, because he brought the Bill forward as soon as he could. However, I urge the Minister of State, in conjunction with his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Hanafin, to ensure that we reach Report Stage quickly in the new parliamentary session. This is not a good advertisement for the way legislative business is conducted by the Taoiseach.
The purpose of this amendment is to update the reference to the Minister in the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 and to reflect the current title of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, who is responsible for the administration of the Act and this Bill when enacted.
Mr. Broughan: If in the summer or later, the structures of Departments change and there is a transfer of authority to another Department, how will the implementation of the dumping at sea legislation operate? Will it be the responsibility of the Department in which the marine section is located? People are speculating that as a result of the recent so-called decentralisation, some far-flung Departments will not be around in the future. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is an unusual one in this respect.
This is a technical amendment to counter a loophole in current legislation. The amendment will include persons, who hire vessels etc. involved in offences under the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 among those chargeable with such offences. The owner of the vessel and the person in charge thereof at the time of those offences are already chargeable with those offences as the law stands.
The purpose of this technical amendment is to update references to certain Ministers in the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 to reflect current titles, namely the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This amendment also reflects the viewpoint of Deputy Eamon Ryan in amendment No. 8.
This substantive amendment comprises three paragraphs. Paragraph (d) updates references to certain Ministers in the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 to reflect Government changes in June 2002. Paragraph (e) empowers the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to make regulations for the charging of application fees for dumping at sea permits and fees for applications for amendment of such permits. Such regulations would provide flexibility for charging different fees for different categories of applications, such as materials from maintenance dredging of ports and harbours, or seabed material from development works in ports and harbours, and other material arising, which is suitable for dumping at sea under permit. The current standard fee of €63.49 was set in 1995 and is being reviewed in the light of permitting costs and other relevant factors.
Paragraph (e) of the amendment is modelled on section 5 of the Minerals Development Act 1995 which provides for the making of ministerial regulations to charge application fees for State mining leases, licences, and undertakings for the grant of State mining leases or licences. Paragraph (f) of the amendment makes it clear that the information and other requirements stipulated in respect for applications for dumping at sea permits apply also to applications for amendment of any such permits.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I am happy that the objective of amendment No. 10 has been covered by this amendment. The Minister of State has broadened the correct references to the current Ministers. Does amendment No. 11 fall if the Minister of State’s amendment is passed as it deals with different issues? May I speak on amendment No. 11?
Mr. Eamon Ryan: For me, amendment No. 11 is significant. Its main intent is that where an application is made, the electronic record on the Department’s website would be updated within 14 days. There is a very serious concern among interested groups keen to make submissions on such dumpings that they have sufficient notice, once an application is made, to make a detailed and proper submission. Allowing two weeks from the date of an application is sufficient for the Department to organise its affairs and provide such notice.
The second intent is that where a Minister is making a decision on the matter, notice would be published electronically, simultaneously to the notice being sent to the applicant. There is no reason this should not be possible. It would improve openness in an area where currently it can be very difficult for interested parties to make submissions and follow what is happening. The main intent of the amendment is to provide for more speedy electronic notice. I hope the Minister of State agrees this is a good principle, and very feasible in these days of broadband technology and increasing electronic communications.
Mr. Browne: While this amendment is opposed, a copy of each application for a dumping at sea permit is posted on the Department’s website on receipt and may be accessed immediately by any interested person. This is also the case with the Department’s register of dumping at sea permits. My officials tell me there has been no problem in this area.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: While I accept that the Department’s intent is to publish immediate information, I am informed by a number of parties involved in applications in the past or in submissions on applications, that notice is unfortunately not immediately given of the application or of the Minister’s decision. That has a major effect on the work of these parties when they make submissions to the Minister or appeal any decisions made.
If the Department is saying that it hopes to achieve immediate electronic publication, I do not see why we should not copperfasten that in legislation to ensure no cases slip through the net where notice is not immediately published electronically. If the Minister of State and the Department have no problem with the intent of the Bill, inserting this amendment would be an important safeguard in ensuring proper procedure is followed.
Mr. Browne: We are satisfied that the data are posted on the Department’s website. I will ask my officials to take up the complaints of Deputy Ryan if he can give instances of where this has not happened. We are currently satisfied that the information can be immediately accessed by any interested party.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I graciously accept the Minister of State’s offer. If I can provide some examples of a slow response from the Department in publishing information, he might consider the amendment. I will return to this on Report Stage, possibly with some evidence.
Mr. Browne: On the basis of the drafting by the Parliamentary Counsel of amendments to section 5 of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996, which is in accordance with current best practice and is clear as to its purpose, it is noticed that the Deputy has not proposed any change of substance. The restatement of the extensive remainder of section 5 of the Act, which is unaffected by the current Bill, would be disproportionate in a short and clearly focused Bill.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 13:
Amendment agreed to.
Chairman: Amendment No. 14 is related to amendments Nos. 20 to 28, inclusive, and to amendment No. 30. The amendments may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I move amendment No. 14:
I was not expecting this amendment to be included in such a large grouping and I wish it were not.
Amendment No. 14 is a very simple amendment which seeks to reduce the amount of time an applicant has to publish notice of a permit. Notice of two weeks is quite sufficient. There is a concern in this area about the inability of interested parties to react to a major application because of a whole range of issues to which we can refer as we discuss each amendment. In trying to solve the problem, prompt notice must first be ensured. A period of 14 days, within which an applicant would have to publish notice, is much more appropriate than three weeks. We are usually dealing with very substantial dredging and dumping activities. The people involved in such work are very rarely engaging in it without very serious consideration and logistics being involved, and in such circumstances I see no reason notice should not be supplied within two weeks rather than three weeks. This would help those people affected to react and make submissions.
Mr. Broughan: I commend Deputy Ryan and support his comments. Most reasonable people would not see why, when one is applying for a permit, as for any similar application, one would not almost automatically put the application in the public domain as soon as possible. A period of three weeks is quite long, and we might well have called for a period shorter than two weeks. I support the amendment.
Mr. Browne: This amendment is opposed. The period of 21 days specified in the Bill allows applicants sufficient time to place the required public notice in a local newspaper. It also allows the Department time to ascertain whether there are any subsequent errors or omissions in the application which might be rectified prior to its being put forward formally for public consultation. A two-week period would not be sufficient for these purposes. As Deputy Ryan will be aware, details of all applications for dumping at sea are processed under the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources website on receipt and are therefore immediately accessible to interested parties.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: Given the size of these projects, I imagine it would be incumbent on the Department and the applicant, if there are errors to be redressed, to redress them within the two week period, and that the Department would deal with them quickly. We are not talking of thousands of permits being applied for annually, but a relatively limited number.
The average person who might be affected by such dumping, be it a fisherman on an estuary or someone with environmental concerns for a particular estuary, does not log on to the Department’s website every day to see if applications have been received. There are issues regarding the public notice to which I will return, but people get such information from the public notice, not from the change to the Department’s website. Good as the site is, I doubt the population of Ireland regularly surfs it to check on the latest developments.
It is vital that the public notice be made as promptly as possible. If changes or amendments are needed because of an error in the application, a revised notice can be inserted. However, to say that we must provide for such a long gap between the application and the notice because there might be errors in the former puts the onus in the wrong place. The onus should be on the applicant to notify the public of what he or she is doing. If there are errors in the application, that is a separate matter.
Mr. Browne: I understand Deputy Eamon Ryan’s concerns. However, we feel that 14 days would not be sufficient, particularly when dealing with local newspapers. Most local newspapers are published on a Wednesday or Thursday, and one would have to wait a week. If one got one’s notice into the newspaper in my county on a Wednesday, it would not be published until the following week, meaning that a week would have been lost. The Minister cannot consider an application until after 21 days for formal public consultation. However, all the experience in the Department shows that 14 days would not be sufficient in terms of dealing with the matter and providing an opportunity to the applicants.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I beg to differ, but I will withdraw the amendment. Perhaps the Minister of State might consider the issue on Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments No. 15 not moved.
Mr. Broughan: I move amendment No. 16:
The Minister of State says there might be areas where there is no local newspaper but I doubt that one of the famous 40 or 50 local titles does not apply somewhere. The purpose of the amendment is to cover the situation that often arises when people are surprised to see major works in operation, whether development or infrastructure. On Second Stage, I suggested that newspapers be added to the list of venues on which local notices be circulated. My colleague referred to the nearest local newspaper and also a national paper because everybody would read at least one national newspaper. Certainly agencies and companies interested in this area would keep an eye on the public business notices in newspapers and this would ensure a high probability that someone would spot a notice. This would help to ensure that nobody could undertake controversial works, even if approved by the Department, without local people, agencies and groups being aware of it.
Mr. Browne: We oppose the amendment on the basis that a copy of each application for a dumping at sea permit is posted on the Department’s website on receipt and may be assessed by an interested party. The website also shows the deadline for receipts of submissions or observations from the public on any such application. It is not considered necessary, therefore, to require applicants to publish notice of their applications in both national and local newspapers as this would lead to unnecessary costs on the applicants. Publication in all cases of such a notice in a local newspaper is considered sufficient given that the intention behind such publication is to provide an opportunity to any local person or stakeholder, such as fish farmers, fishermen, leisure interests, environmental and other heritage interests, to make submissions or observations to my Department in connection with particular projects that may directly affect them. As provided for in the Bill, publication of a notice in a national newspaper is required if that is the only available satisfactory mechanism. We consider that use of the local newspaper is the way to proceed. My Department is like many other public and private organisations in pushing the website as a way of getting maximum information.
Mr. Broughan: Given that 20 or 30 of these licences are considered per annum it does not seem to be unduly harsh on applicants to ask them to publish both locally and nationally. The Minister of State referred to situations where there is no local paper, but they exist in most of the country except, perhaps, in Dublin where there are freesheets.
Mr. Browne: There are free papers.
Mr. Broughan: Yes. The Fingal Independent touches on my constituency and Deputy Brady’s constituency.
Chairman: We have a few in Cork but I will no longer mention them by name because I have mentioned them several times in the last 12 months.
Mr. Broughan: Many people outside Dublin regard the national papers as Dublin papers but they are not and many of our activities are not reported. The number of licences is small but they have a major impact on the coastline. We saw recently that a national agency in the planning area did not seem to be aware of a major planning application on the west side of Dublin and missed the period in question although it had some statutory rights outside the time frame. If the Minister of State is prepared to consider a national newspaper as well in certain circumstances why not make it mandatory in both circumstances, given that the marine belongs to us all and we have an interest in it? For example, Dáil party spokespersons follow the Department’s websites but newspaper coverage might alert us to other issues and alert interested Deputies who do not represent the areas affected. Perhaps the Minister of State should consider this amendment in the interests of transparency and accountability.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: In regard to amendments Nos. 17 and 18, the intent is that whatever about Deputy Broughan’s view that his local paper is the Irish Independent or The Irish Times, there is a real issue in certain areas, particularly when we talk about dumping at sea because we are frequently referring to estuaries. A common characteristic of these is that, for example, The Kerryman, which is read by people on one side of the estuary, is not read by the Clare people on the other side. Circumstances can arise where people severely affected by the granting of a permit are not aware of it because only one local newspaper was selected, even though the notice satisfies the conditions of the legislation. This is a frequent occurrence in estuary areas. In this amendment, substituting the term “the newspapers” will ensure such a scenario will not occur. It is a short but vital amendment to ensure there is proper public notice.
Amendment No. 18 is vital and the Minister of State should accept it if we are to provide proper public notice of what are important waste management, dumping and dredging issues. I commend the Minister of State on accepting amendment No. 19. He is moving in the right direction by specifying that notice must set out the characteristics and composition of the spoil. For example, a notice about dumping 20 tonnes of material off the coast may not turn anyone’s head, but a notice about dumping 20 tonnes comprising of lead, zinc, mercury and other metals would do so. This is a good amendment which the Minister of State has accepted.
Likewise, it is important that the Minister of State recognises the need for providing a brief map or details of the location of proposed sites. That makes more sense to people than using nameplaces which are not in common usage. The best way to avoid this is by providing a small map which a newspaper can publish, outlining where the materials will be dredged or dumped and which a fisherman or anyone who would be affected could understand. This is a fair and just way of treating the issue. I hope the Minister of State will accept the other amendments in the same spirit as he accepted amendment No. 19, which provides for similar detailed information.
Mr. Browne: We have given both amendments serious consideration and are of the view that it could be confusing to specify publication of the public notice in a number of local newspapers, which may not necessarily have the same publication day. Local newspapers with wider circulation are obviously the best choice.
It is not feasible to publish a copy of a map in a local newspaper as this would give rise to huge and unjustifiable advertising costs being imposed on the applicant. Chart maps and details about particular applications are made readily available for viewing to members of the public by the applicant. They can also be purchased from the applicant for a reasonable cost. Relevant details about the application can be obtained immediately from the Department’s website. We will, however, give the Deputy’s amendments further consideration before Report Stage. I asked my officials about the possibility of putting the maps on the website, but there may be copyright implications.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I move amendment No. 17:
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I move amendment No. 18:
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I move amendment No. 19:
Mr. Browne: I accept Mr. Coveney’s amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments No. 20 not moved.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I move amendment No. 21:
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 22:
Mr. Eamon Ryan: In accepting this amendment on Committee Stage, my concern is that it allows for licences to go beyond 12 months. Does accepting the amendment affect the possibility of reversing this on Report Stage? Procedurally, is it possible to resubmit amendment No. 21 on Report Stage?
Chairman: I am advised the Deputy can resubmit the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 23 not moved.
Mr. Broughan: I move amendment No. 24:
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 25 not moved.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 26:
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 27 to 30, inclusive, not moved.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 31:
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 32:
Mr. Broughan: I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 32:
Mr. Browne: I accept the amendments to amendment No. 31.
Amendment to amendment agreed to.
Mr. Broughan: I move amendment No. 2 to amendment No. 32:
Amendment to amendment agreed to.
Mr. Broughan: The Minister of State seemed to have changed the penalties and summary prosecutions, but he is now accepting my amendments to the amendment to leave it at 12 months.
Mr. Browne: It is important to make it clear that there is no imprisonment for a summary offence, just a fine.
Mr. Broughan: Can the Minister of State clarify this?
Mr. Browne: The purpose of this substantive amendment is to update the law in step with general updating of fines and terms of imprisonment for summary offences so as to maintain the deterrent effect. It updates the maximum monetary penalty from €1,904.61 which may be imposed by the court to the current maximum that can be imposed for summary offences, generally €3,000. It has not been found necessary to take court proceedings under the 1996 Act. This Act leaves it to the discretion of the courts what monetary penalty if any to apply in the case of persons convicted or indicted under the Act in lieu of or in addition to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
Mr. Broughan: What is the situation regarding the 12 months and six months?
Mr. Browne: There is no imprisonment for summary conviction.
Mr. Broughan: Given the sort of debates we had in this committee relating to allegations made about some performances in the aquaculture industry, it is comical to hear the Minister for State saying it has not been found necessary to prosecute anyone. I am aware he stated this in the briefing document he gave us on the original amendment. Basically we are just increasing fines in line with the standard fines in the case of a summary conviction, while the tough penalties for indictment remain.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 33:
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. E. Ryan: I move amendment No. 34:
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 35:
This substantive amendment is designed to protect biological diversity in the context of the national bio-diversity plan approved by the Government in 2002. The definition of biological diversity is modelled on that in section 9(b) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, number 38.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. E. Ryan: I move amendment No. 36:
Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 37:
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 38:
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Browne: I move amendment No. 39:
Mr. Broughan: I am sure it will end up as the Dumping at Sea Act 2004, given that it is now in its fourth year of legislation. That is probably a world record for any assembly in the European Union.
Chairman: We will let the Minister answer that.
Mr. Cassidy: With the help of the Deputies opposite, we will do that very quickly.
Mr. Broughan: The Deputy should talk to the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 5, as amended, agreed to.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I move amendment No. 40:
I know huge attention is being given by the public to the need for a critical infrastructure Bill and a change in planning regulations. I agree that we need to review our planning legislation, and where we apply it. The regulations governing the planning activities involve critical infrastructural and environmental activity. It is right and proper for us to extend the remit of a board such as An Bord Pleanála to provide a review and appeal mechanism to monitor these decisions.
I recall being quite taken a few years ago with a European Union report which highlighted the key areas of environmental loss. It looked at where environmental degradation was occurring across Europe and considered what might be the biggest loss we are currently experiencing. It had no hesitation in nominating the erosion in the quality of the environment of the coastal estuary areas, the wetland areas close to our rivers and our coasts. This was considered the biggest environmental concern in Europe. The protection of these coastal estuaries was, according to this EU Commission report, the most important environmental issue facing every government.
This is an area which is often out of sight and out of mind. We are dealing with areas which are often marginal and of no economic interest, and often tidal. They may seem to be of no hugely significant importance to the public at large, but in relation to the amendments the Minister accepted, for those who are concerned about our biological diversity within species, between species and of eco-systems, these areas are very important. They are also important for the protection of our environment.
The activities we are discussing are massive. We are not talking of small scale applications for moving a couple of tons of material here or there, but in some cases of moving millions of tons of material from one location to another, and dumping it, often in a sea area. That has huge and serious consequences that may not be obvious to the public because it is below water level. It is therefore appropriate for us to set up an appeals mechanism to allow people who may be concerned about the effects of these activities to question and overturn decisions which may be wrong. That would be a very useful addition to this Bill.
An Bord Pleanála is a suitable body to carry out such appeals. There is a question of whether the EPA could possibly be another such body, but in my experience An Bord Pleanála has proved itself time and again as an excellent independent arbiter of issues of major environmental importance. I take the example of Ballinaboy dump. The refusal of planning permission there was seen as ridiculous, but An Bord Pleanála was right in seeing the difficulty involved in moving 600,000 tons of peat from one location to another. We are dealing with very similar issues here. We will be moving similar quantities of material from one location to another. An Bord Pleanála may need resources. The Taoiseach complained about the board in his famous “swans and snails” speech and then said the board’s main problem was that it was not properly resourced. The Government can do something about that and resource the board to enable it to act as an appeals body for these dumping decisions. While the wording of my amendment may need to be amended by the Minister to bring it into effect, it is important that we provide such an appeals mechanism.
Chairman: Has the Deputy spoken on amendment No. 41?
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I will definitely speak on it.
Mr. Broughan: I notice, looking at the Chairman, that the Chamber looks slightly different than it did before Christmas. That is because the flag of the European Union is now hanging behind the Chairman and looks very impressive.
The general point made in amendment No. 40 is very valuable. There should be some mechanism of appeal. We had a committee debate about radio licensing involving whether there should be a comeback from the BCI. In the matter before us it is the Department itself which is involved. Perhaps the matter should be moved from the Department and we could have some sort of mechanism and approval, and then of final appeal. We recently had the planning controversy about referrals through An Bord Pleanála to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, relating to environmentally sensitive developments, where the Minister still has some residual powers. Deputy Eamon Ryan’s point is very true. This area is a little like planning before 1963, when there was no real system and no Bord Pleanála. I favour the Environmental Protection Agency as the way forward in this area. It could come within its remit, giving it the power of final appeal regarding a decision by the Department. In that context, I do not have the same confidence in the decisions of An Bord Pleanála as my colleague. For example, on such matters as urban density, I do not know where it is coming from at all. I hope it is not making mistakes which will reverberate down the decades. However, in general terms the idea of a final appeal in such a vital area - dumping offshore - is to be commended, and the Minister should consider it.
Mr. Browne: I am certainly very sympathetic to the views of both Deputies on the other side of the House. However, this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to deal with current major issues for the marine environment. I see the proposed Bill on the marine coastal zone as the way to deal with this matter. I hope it will be published later this year, when we can critically review what new legislation is required.
An Bord Pleanála would not be the appropriate appeals body in this area. I have an open mind about the EPA, but an appeals mechanism regarding applications for dumping at sea permits to dispose of dredged material at sea is currently not considered necessary. There are already fully transparent and accessible public consultation arrangements, including local newspaper advertising and our own website posting of all applications for dumping at sea permits. That ensures all applications are fully considered before being decided. Of course, it is also very important to note that major infrastructural developments such as building a new harbour or pier, or other development works with a dumping at sea component, are already subject to planning permission and appeal to An Bord Pleanála under the Planning and Development Act 2000.
While I sympathise with the views of Deputies Eamon Ryan and Broughan, this is not the Bill to deal with their concerns. The proposed marine coastal zone Bill is the more appropriate vehicle to deal with such issues.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I said in advance that this hugely significant environmental issue must be addressed. I will do so in some detail on Report Stage. It is of major environmental concern and very important to our party. Is the Minister suggesting that the marine coastal zone Bill, which one hopes will not be delayed for eight years as was the case with this Bill, would have a section which would amend the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2000? If we have a Bill to deal with the issuing of permits and the decision-making process in that regard, any appeals mechanism that applies to such a decision must sit properly within the initial Bill itself. If the Minister says it is possible to amend this Bill shortly through the marine coastal zone Bill, I will take him at his word and look forward to that coming in under the heads of that Bill. However, it is more appropriate, when we are addressing the first Bill, that we seek to install an appeals mechanism. In a similar case recently, where Bills have been delayed, the Minister has taken the opportunity to make major amendments, even as late as Report Stage. I urge him, if his Department is examining including such an appeals mechanism in the marine coastal zone Bill, to fast-track it and include it as an amendment to this Bill. Even on Report Stage, that would be clearer and very welcome.
My final point concerns An Bord Pleanála. I take the Minister’s point that if, for example, I am demolishing a pier and depositing the hundreds of tons of material from it, I am subject to the planning laws. However, I do not see why we should not apply the same laws to an operator who might be working 20 yards to the west, east or south of a pier, removing tens of thousands of tons of material, often including heavy metals or other toxic materials that have built up in a port area due to leaks and seepage. We are not always talking about inert mud but about a very serious transposition of materials that have major environmental consequences. While we have planning rules that apply to the demolition of a pier, what is underwater seems out of sight and out of mind and therefore does not really matter. Unfortunately, however, the real effect can have significant environmental consequences, though that is not always the case. I do not see why planning regulations or appeals board opportunities should apply in one instance but not in another. It seems to be so purely because it is underwater, out of sight and out of mind.
Mr. Cassidy: The Green Party is not the only party that takes this section extremely seriously. This is the second time I have examined this Bill, which was in the Seanad when I was Leader there in 2000. I can certainly agree with some of the sentiments expressed by colleagues on the Opposition. However, many of the environmental changes that have taken place over the past 15 years have been effected under the stewardship of Fianna Fáil. We are fortunate to have Deputy Browne as Minister of State, a man from a coastal constituency who really understands the difficulties we have all experienced. We all went down many years ago to see the coastal erosion problem in the Minister’s constituency at Rosslare.
Mr. Broughan: You have the two sides of the Shannon now.
Mr. Cassidy: Leinster is all my constituency, and as first substitute Member of the European Parliament I have enormous experience regarding coastal problems, but that is a matter for another day. All parties in the House really treasure Ireland’s geographical location on the map of the world. I would like to think that we all care about our environment. That is why this legislation is of the utmost importance to future generations. I will not be long-winded about this. I look forward to the Bill’s speedy implementation and compliment the Minister of State and officials for bringing it before the House in what used to be a parliamentary recess time. We are now back in the Dáil Chamber, showing the urgency with which we are debating this Bill.
Mr. Browne: I had thought that Deputy Cassidy was going to give me a free run for Europe, but, after hearing that speech, it is obvious that he is not. Let us get this Bill on the Statute Book and through the Houses as quickly as possible. I assure Deputies on the other side of the House that we will be pushing the Government to give priority to the coastal zone Bill. We will debate all the issues, including dumping, licensing appeals mechanisms and the environmental disasters that we have up and down the coastline from time to time. It is very important that we have a debate on that area and produce proper legislation in the coastal zone Bill to deal with the issue. Today, no seriously contaminated dredging spoil may be dumped at sea. For example, at Greenore, they had other solutions, including encasing it in concrete. In some of the areas where dredging or port developments are taking place, they are already examining ways of dealing with the waste without dumping it out to sea. It is very important that we continue to monitor this. Our experts in the Department are well versed in the area and are able to deal with the problem.
Mr. Broughan: Are there any heads of a Bill of any kind on coastal zone management? I know Deputy Sargent has been calling for this for about 11 years or more and it seems to be dragging on. Is there anything answering that description?
It is delightful to see the former Leader of the Seanad and the two Deputies who are now sharing a new constituency in a friendly manner.
Mr. Cassidy: Two seats.
Mr. Broughan: It is rumoured that the Chairman and Deputy Cassidy will be in strong contention in the reshuffle which will take place after the forthcoming disaster for Fianna Fáil in the impending European and local elections.
Mr. Cassidy: Deputy Brady will be in contention as well.
Chairman: It is now 1.30 p.m and we are trying to finish this Bill as there is a meeting of this committee again at 2. p.m on the ICT broadband report. How stands this amendment Deputy Ryan?
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I will withdraw this amendment but return to it in detail on Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I move amendment No. 41:
I did not intend to score political points in reply to Deputy Cassidy by saying this is a particular Green Party issue. Given the time limits and the fact that we have spent all day in meetings and have another one at 2 p.m, I wished to impress on the Chair the importance of this issue and suggest that time should be taken to address it. It was in that context that I made the point.
Chairman: I am advised that I must put amendment No. 41. Is that withdrawn?
Mr. Eamon Ryan: It is not withdrawn as I have not finished, although I will be as brief as I can.
It is interesting that the Minister said he did not know of any particular instances where hazardous materials are involved in marine dumping. There is one that the Chairman will be aware of as a result of our weekend trip to Cork, where we visited the Haulbowline site of the Irish navy and the former home of the ISPAT steel recycling plant. The Minister should have seen what we saw on our tour where on a 15-acre site there were major slag heaps of toxic materials, including heavy metals from the former heavy metal fabrication plant, which was sited on the edge of the sea with leachate running out into the sea causing serious environmental health problems to the people of Cork, Cobh and those working in the area.
I raise this point because the intent of the first section of my amendment is that there will be far greater clarity on when one would or would not need a permit for dumping. Perhaps the Minister could show me where the detailed conditions are set out on when a permit would apply. If it was back in business, and it has only been out of business for a short time, would ISPAT have produced a permit for the material dumped on an open site where it can leach into the sea? Where is its permit? The dump is on a spur of land adjacent to the sea and is having a major effect on the port of Cork. Why were conditions not set out on what was effectively dumping of such material at sea in the port of Cork? It is important for the Minister to set out the conditions that will apply to an individual, company or any other body on the circumstances in which a permit is required.
We now have a serious environmental hazard in the centre of Cork Port which threatens the marine environment and the human population. On a further tour to Nenagh this weekend we saw another dumping issue where there is a serious environmental problem that has been ongoing for 20 years. We have failed to get the company to clear up the mess it left behind.
It is very important that the intent of the second section of this Bill is that the Minister has the power, where a permit was not applied for and where there are not proper conditions set for the dumping, to insist on the companies cleaning up the mess. We have seen in this committee over recent days how the clean-up of dumped materials can continue for 20 years because of the inability of the Minister to apply legal sanctions to a company engaged in dumping. Despite needing further drafting, the intent of this Bill is very clear, namely, that the Minister should set out in clear detail what conditions apply to the need for a permit and that there should be full power to order a company or authority to clean up a pollutant source in a harbour, river or estuary, where an application for such a permit has not been made.
Mr. Browne: I appreciate that the committee was on tour during the week. I followed the issues on the radio and television and we all have serious concerns about the problems in ISPAT and Silvermines. I have answered a number of questions in both Houses on Silvermines, which will hopefully have a rapid conclusion.
The waste from ISPAT is a land source issue which I imagine is subject to the EPA and the Local Authority Waste Management Act. We expect it will be dealt with under that legislation. That is not to say that problems in Cork Harbour, that have been seen by the Deputies, would not be of concern to us. However, as it is a land source issue the EPA and the local authority are the people who would deal with the problem. Perhaps we can discuss it further on Report Stage and, if necessary, I will get more detail on the issue.
I am very aware of the Silvermines issue, as it has been raised by Deputies Hoctor and Michael Smith and Senator O’Meara on a number of occasions. We have been trying to address that issue with the local authority in County Tipperary and with the companies involved, as the Chairman and Deputies are aware as they have visited the site. Hopefully there will be a satisfactory conclusion as quickly as possible as it is very important.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: Moving away from the issue of ISPAT or Silvermines, where are the conditions set out that require a permit to be sought? If one tonne of material is dredged in a river is a permit required? Is there a volume level or a materials condition where different materials need to be handled in a different manner? This does not just apply to ISPAT, there are other examples I could refer to in other port areas where there is serious heavy metal pollution under the water due to dumping where there was no permit. What powers does the Minister have to compel a company or individual to redress that matter if they can be found responsible?
Mr. Broughan: I was going to ask the same question as a postscript.
In the open sea or in a greenfield scenario, such as in the case of Enterprise Shell, or Ramco, we are fortunate that this Department made the decisions, even though it is obvious that An Bord Pleanála made the decision on the reception area. However, in operations at sea, is there any kind of process, such as Deputy Ryan referred to, when establishing a new business? For example, will our successors in 50 or 60 years, when the Corrib field has ended, be accusing us of not imposing sufficient conditions on this new business which could be highly toxic and is based on the sea floor off our coasts? Have we a process that allows us to be involved in the beginning from an environmental point of view? We are not just referring to land-based operations, like Corrib, but sea-based operations as well.
Chairman: The Minister of State will not be able to answer many of the questions, but I am anxious to finish the Bill.
Mr. Browne: In respect of the Seven Heads or Corrib, in the event of planning permission being granted, when the company applies to the Department for a lease it must satisfy strict guidelines and conditions. The Minister will be advised by the scientific officials in his Department that the company would have to meet the regulations as formulated before he signs any lease.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: On a local basis, how does an individual or small company know whether they require a permit? If a permit is not required and an environmental hazard comes from that, what powers has the Minister to get them to redress the dumping?
Mr. Browne: The local authority usually advises the applicant and our Department would set out the guidelines.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: Where are they kept after that?
Mr. Browne: All the guidelines under the 1996 Act, which deals specifically with the area the Deputy has spoken about, are on our website.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Chairman: I thank the Minister of State and his officials for their attendance today.
|Last Updated: 09/09/2010 23:54:01||Page of 4|