Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. L.T. Cosgrave: Before Question Time I welcomed the fact that the motion was before the House because it deals with the attempt by the Paris Convention to get agreement on regulations and rules  in regard to the prevention of marine pollution. The aspects to this problem are various and the signatories to the convention must combine in their efforts to prevent pollution. We in this country in both our own initiatives and pressing for the implementation of the regulations must do all in our power to ensure that as far as possible we have clear water surrounding our coasts and the coasts of other nations who are signatories to the convention.
Much has been said about the problem of Windscale, now Sellafield, and Article 5 of the convention provides for regulations. We must make it clear to other countries who are signatories to the convention that waste and leakage from such a plant is to be deplored and should cease at once. This point must be brought home at every opportunity and at all levels because it appears, that while it has been brought to the attention of the British authorities and their relevant Minister, they have taken a long time to act and even then the action taken was entirely unsatisfactory. Radioactive waste is a potential killer. Previous speakers have mentioned its possible side effects, particularly on children and mothers. After agreements are reached and regulations brought into effect we must insist that our neighbour, Britain, and other countries adhere to the regulations and do not agree to any tolerable level of radioactive waste leakage.
The legal power to maintain vigilance in relation to water pollution lies mainly in the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977. The Minister referred to an increase in the number of licences allocated from 1979 onwards. Are the local authorities examining this matter comprehensively enough and is the Minister himself satisfied that all regulations in this regard are being adhered to as far as possible? Monitoring of water systems in many areas should take place regularly. This water pollution problem is somewhat similar to the litter problem with each person dropping a little bit of litter on the streets and thinking that another little bit will not make much difference. If small industries have small discharges of waste the bigger industrial  concerns may think that they each can contribute their little bit to the general pollution without effecting damage. If everyone thinks along those lines then gradually we will find ourselves in a worsening situation. The further downhill we go in tolerating a higher level of pollution the harder it is to get back to the higher standards we have known.
The cost of implementing the recommendations of the Paris Convention is in all respects only minimal. We must make our voice heard and ensure that other nations sit up and listen. Some nations which have little or no coastline may have vested interests and use areas near our seas for dumping some of their waste. Article 16 provides that the commission will make regulations and we must have our say in ensuring that other nations adhere to the principles involved in the convention.
Another aspect to be considered is the implementation of regulations relating to oil exploration. With all the activity in the Irish Sea on various sides in oil exploration and seeking oil wells and gas fields, we must ensure that effluent discharge from rigs etc. is monitored and that clear and defined regulations are enforced in regard to any effluent. Consultation between contracting states must continue and monitoring of the situation must be on an ongoing basis. At all times we must cross-check with the other countries and examine the situation to see what aspects of it can be improved or what troubles can be prevented. While a certain level of effluent will be going into waters at all times we must ensure that this does not reach a level which will be harmful. We must pay special attention to waste treatment techniques and ensure that sufficient finance is directed to research in this. We must also examine water pollution control strategies. Sewage and animal manures can be brought back to land for use in certain circumstances.
I welcome the convention and the fact that this debate has come before the House. I hope that it will awaken awareness in the public. I hope that monitoring of waste will ensure that pollution  does not become a tolerated part of our system as has been the case in certain other areas. I hope also that the Minister and the bodies concerned in this will bring home to other nations which may not be quite as concerned about this as we are or who may have a vested interest in allowing waste disposal, the concern of this country. I hope this debate will result in a greater awareness among the public of what is involved. The question of water pollution must remain a priority. With increased organisation and industrial output the waters aroung our coasts will become polluted unless we are very vigilant. If we allow pollution of our waters there will be no return to the present fairly adequate situation.
Mr. Mac Giolla: I do not have anything dramatic to add to the excellent debate that has taken place so far. I am sure the Minister has found the debate very interesting and that he has been impressed by the development of interest among all parties in the House in this issue. I am adding my voice so as to indicate the unanimity there is among us here on this matter and also to strengthen the Minister's hand in any negotiations that may take place.
Perhaps no other country has suffered as much as we have suffered from radioactive waste pollution. There was a good deal of opposition in the Pacific Islands because of the fear of dumping by Japan but dumping of radioactive material has been taking place off our south-west coast since 1967. While we may have supported from time to time initiatives taken elsewhere, we have not been aggressive in opposing this dumping. Though I am glad we are now initiating the procedure for our ratification of the convention that has been in existence since 1974, it is surprising that we have not made such a move before now and that we have not adopted an aggressive approach internationally on the issue of the dumping of radioactive waste in the seas. We must congratulate people like Deputy Allen and others who have been highlighting this danger for some time and who have made the Government  aware of the deep-seated feeling among Deputies not only along the east coast or the south coast but throughout the country. The Irish Sea is the most radioactive sea in the world. Sellafield has been described as the single most polluting plant of all the nuclear establishments. Radioactive pollution from Sellafield is being poured directly into the Irish Sea. As has been pointed out by a number of Deputies, that plant has been shown consistently to be inefficient, accident prone, using the lowest level of technology and not being an up-to-date processing plant. In these circumstances we must be on our guard constantly in so far as the dumping of waste from that plant is concerned.
It has been said that we are not at any risk at the moment. That is probably true and I have no intention of engaging in scaremongering but the point is that we do not know the rate at which the risk increases because all the waste that has been dumped remains dumped and remains radioactive while all additional waste increases that radioactivity. The same applies to fish in the sea. The level of radioactivity continues to increase. Similarly in humans radioactive levels increase as the years go on. Therefore, the years ahead will be vital for our environment and for our very lives, certainly so far as the east coast is concerned but perhaps also in many other parts of the country. This leads me to the system of monitoring and to the statements as to the levels of risk which I do not think are at all satisfactory. One is at risk in at least three ways, first, from the possibility of air pollution such as that which occurred some years ago at Windscale following an accident there. There can be such risk also because of east or north-east winds such as those we have been experiencing for the past two months.
One can be at risk also from water pollution as a result of bathing in the sea should it be radioactive. The present situation in that regard is of a very low level of radioactivity but a person bathing in those waters would be absorbing a small amount of radioactive substances. Many people would not be at risk or would be at very little risk in the event of swimming  only occasionally but there are people who are in the sea every day and these are the people who are most likely to consume more fish. Obviously, they would be at a higher risk than others. Therefore, the level of risk is something that is relative. We cannot determine an actual level of risk. Section 11 of the convention provides that the contracting parties agree to set up progressively and to operate within the area covered by the convention a permanent monitoring system allowing for the earliest possible assessment of the existing level of marine pollution and the effectiveness of measures for the reduction of marine pollution from land-based sources. I hope the Minister will proceed to ensure that our monitoring system will live up to the terms of the convention.
One wonders whether a nuclear energy board whose purpose is to clear the way for the use of nuclear energy and whose entire thinking is on the lines of the great benefits to mankind of the use of nuclear energy — undoubtedly there are some such benefits — are the people who should be monitoring the dangers of nuclear waste. I think the immediate attitude of the Nuclear Energy Board would be to minimise the dangers. That is the role they consider themselves responsible for carrying out. Some years ago the ESB were considering the setting up of a nuclear energy plant. We may take it that the Nuclear Energy Board will be taking the best elements of reports and paying little attention to what we might regard as the worst elements in terms of pollution. In addition, there are indications that the Nuclear Energy Board are accepting assurances, statements and statistics emanating from the British Nuclear Energy Commission. These statements and so on should not be accepted at face value. According to the Minister's speech we undertake a certain amount of monitoring but I should like to hear what form that monitoring takes, how regularly it is undertaken and what the results so far have been.
I agree with Deputy Allen in regard to the need for a nuclear energy protection agency that would be established basically  to check that the environment is suitable and healthy for our people and is not being affected in a way that is dangerous by nuclear energy. We would need to have the necessary expertise to undertake such a task. Local authorities, especially those along the eastern sea-board, should have a specific role in the area of monitoring, that role to be under the direction of the Minister for the Environment because this is an aspect that relates to the Department of the Environment and not the Department of Energy.
This deals with the protection of our environment, which is a job for the Minister for the Environment. The Minister for Energy obviously is interested in nuclear energy, its uses for the future and for the ESB and its effects if used. The job of the Minister for the Environment is precisely to monitor first the level of waste which we are putting into the seas around us — toxic and otherwise — and secondly the effects of dumping by other countries in the seas around us on the fish, food and marine life, particularly shellfish. This should be done on a local authority level by the local county councils and borough councils along the coasts, not as individual bodies working on their own but with some liaison. The specific officers in question should meet under the Ministers at regular intervals, perhaps once every six months, to compare their methods and results and see whether they could become more efficient.
Our fishermen and their fleet could also be used in this light for testing and monitoring in our seas. It should not be very difficult to provide them with the necessary instruments, or at least for them to bring back samples to be tested on shore. Monitoring is a vital factor for which I see the Minister for the Environment as being primarily responsible.
While the convention does not relate to dumping off the south-west coast, the Minister referred to it in his speech. This must be referred to in the present context, because it is a blot on the entire Atlantic. Other countries are amazed that we who are nearest to it have not been to the forefront in objecting to this  enormous dumping which is now apparently in the region of 150,000 tonnes since 1967, when it began. In the space of six years 40,000 tonnes were dumped. In 1978, it was 8,000; in 1979, 5,400; in 1980, 8,391; in 1981, 9,400 and in 1982, 11,700 tonnes — ever rising. The biggest dumper has been Britain. Other countries dumping off the south-west coast have been Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium, but the UK is responsible for the vast majority of this dumping.
Once this waste is dumped, it will be impossible ever to take it out. If a better method is found one cannot remove it to some place else, or do something else with it. Tests have been done by the Americans, who stopped dumping in the sea in 1970. These show the precise method used by Britain — the concrete inside a barrel — is most unsafe. At the actual dumping time in these tests one-third of the barrels were shown to have been crushed. Many of the cement blocks also broke at that stage. Over a period of years they became obviously unsafe and would open up the radioactive waste.
It has been suggested that these wastes disperse at sea. That has also been proved to be incorrect. It does not disperse, but goes down into the sea bed where various elements of small marine life absorb the radioactivity. These are then eaten by bigger fish or sea animals, which are then eaten by others and arrive up through the whole scale of the food system, coming on to the table eventually. The waste remains in the dumping area even in very deep waters in the Atlantic. This dumping system has been stopped by everybody except a small number of European countries who are dumping off our south west coast. The argument is very strong for a total ban on this dumping.
On the point mentioned by Deputy Daly and some other Deputies on the Fianna Fáil side of closing down Sellafield, first I do not think that anyone will be in any doubt that the discharge from Sellafield must be closed off. Some other system of disposing of the nuclear waste must be found, but the direct discharge into the sea in the first instance should be closed up. The closing down of Sellafield might be a difficult objective to achieve,  but there is a very strong argument for it. New technology is available to other processors of nuclear waste. This reduces the level of waste, but is rather expensive. The people in Sellafield want to do the cheap job and do not use this new technology. They should at least be forced to close down until they do instal this new technology and have an up to date, modern, efficient processing plant. We should force them to stop discharging at once and press for the closure of Sellafield until this new technology has been installed.
I am delighted that we are endorsing the ratification of the convention. Up to now we have been able to attend conventions on sea pollution only as observers. We shall now be able to be active and have our say and our vote in the convention which takes place next month in Oslo.
Mr. Coogan: I should like to add my voice of welcome to this motion. Every speaker whom I have heard today in the House has welcomed it. It is unfortunate that at the same time as I am now speaking a legislative committee meeting is going on at which I have a number of subjects to discuss. I shall be brief and hope not to go over every subject which has been mentioned.
First, with regard to the picture being painted by Deputy Mac Giolla, although he did not attempt to be sensational we would all agree that its effect was frightening indeed. I am aware, as he is, that the Americans decided in the seventies to discontinue the conventional system of dumping as still used by Great Britain. It is appalling to think that this is still going on on such a large scale in the sea which adjoins us here. What worries me most about dumping, whether in the sea or on the land, is that no matter what safety precautions are taken there is always an element of error, either technical or human. For that reason this motion today will go a long way towards providing some system of checks and balances.
While Deputy Mac Giolla was speaking I was thinking about the possibility of error. On 3 June 1982 some of the best  technical equipment known to man, an early defence warning device, went off in California alerting the American defence forces to a nuclear attack by the Russians. It was discovered that a 39 cent microchip had failed. One would assume that was a minor thing but the results of it could have been disastrous. Three days later the same thing happened again. If it happens with the most advanced technology one can imagine what could happen when certain countries use lower technology in the dumping of waste.
I was glad to see in the Minister's discussion document that there will be consultation between the contracting states. I was also gald to see the joint programme for scientific and technical research, including research into the best technical means of reducing marine pollution from land based sources, the move towards a permanent monitoring system and the obligation on each state to assist each other. I find it a little worrying that our contribution for 1984 is only £4,200, which seems to be a very small sum. I would be afraid that it would reflect the intention of the group. Larger funds should be made available for supervision and research. I hope the Minister will clarify that point for us.
In relation to the provisions of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, I believe Deputy Molloy mentioned a rather provincial issue, the pumping station at South Park in Galway, which is a controversial issue. He stated he was not notified of the intention of the Minister for the Environment to visit the park. I assume Deputy Molloy is telling the truth about this but I know that I received an invitation. There was a large representative group from the area most affected by the sewerage outfall. Senator Michael D. Higgins also attended. I want to assure Deputy Molloy that in his absence we made a very good case to the Minister. The continuing effect of the present system, whereby raw sewerage being pumped into Galway Bay  is being washed back towards the shore, was pointed out to him. The residents in the Claddagh area are affected by this, particularly when there is a high tide and on very warm days when they are stifled by the smell as they go to Mass on Sunday.
The residents recognise the need for some move forward but they object to the move forward being suggested: the location of a pumping station directly in front of their housing estate. They pointed out to the Minister that the scenic view of Galway Bay would be obstructed by this large pumping station and that it would also curtail the use of the park for walking, football pitches and as a general recreational area. I am not sure if it was brought to the Minister's attention at that time so I would like to bring to his attention now that there is a recommendation in America regarding pumping stations that they be sited approximately 500 metres away from any dwelling houses; yet the proposal in Galway is to site it 100 metres directly in front of houses. We also pointed out to the Minister the likely effect such a pumping station would have because there would be a certain amount of noise and there would also be a smell. Considering the proposed location is 100 metres away from dwellinghouses one can imagine the effect that would have. There would be infestation of rats and flies. Since this park is used for recreation it is hardly the place one would bring one's children to.
The residents are now proposing that the whole project be reconsidered. When the Minister visited the area he was sympathetic to the views expressed and he wrote to Galway Corporation, in whose hands the matter really is, and asked them to review the situation. I believe Deputy Molloy inferred this morning that it was the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment. It is not. It is at present the responsibility of Galway Corporation. I was delighted last Saturday when Deputy Molloy joined me in the march in an attempt to get Galway Corporation to change their minds. The residents agree that there will be a high cost involved in building a sewerage disposal unit on Mutton Island in Galway  Bay. They are willing to put up with the smell for a few more years until money can be made available to complete stages one and two.
The other group of people who are frightened of raw sewage going into Galway Bay are those involved in the fishing industry. They said it would have an adverse effect on mussels and shell fish in their area, so much so that they actually took their boats and sailed across Galway Bay to join the march last Saturday. In relation to the effect of sewage on the beaches one can imagine that, if a tourist walking along the beach saw this unsightly view and got the smell, he would not be inclined to come back again. I ask the Minister to write again to Galway Corporation pointing out our views.
I, like the other speakers, welcome this motion. In the Water Pollution Act, there is a general prohibition on polluting matter entering our waters. I notice that the local authorities have handed out 1,150 licences for the discharge of matter into rivers and that licences may only be reviewed every three years or at an earlier date with the consent of the licensee. The Minister should consider having the licences reviewed every year and also the provision of funds to local authorities so that they can monitor pollution into our rivers much better than they can at present. Very little investigation was done into pollution of our rivers in the sixties. It was only in 1971 it was discovered that 17 per cent of our waterways were polluted. This was verified in 1973. That amount of pollution is too much If our watchdog is to be the local authorities, funds will have to be made available to them.
I wish the Minister well in this project. I am somewhat concerned at the statement that the ratification of the contracting states does not necessarily make in binding. I hope that can be reconsidered.
Mr. G. Brady: As one who has taken a very deep interest in the matter of marine pollution over several years, I do not share the optimistic view expressed during this debate that things are getting better. We are at crisis level in regard to  water pollution and I should not like this debate to give the erroneous impression that there is a level of toleration which this nation will accept and that, because conventions are established and rules and regulations exist, all is well.
The main and most insidious pollution comes from Windscale. The name change from Windscale to Sellafield is a public relations exercise to counter the bad publicity about that nuclear cesspit. When that plant was initially established in 1947 its primary function was not the reprocessing of nuclear waste; rather it was planned to refurbish nuclear warheads and develop atomic strategy. It is totally unsuitable as a nuclear reprocessing plant and the Irish Government should be unrelenting in their insistence that the plant be closed down. The House may not realise that many billions are about to be spent in extending the Windscale operation, not to improve the safety aspect but to make it suitable to handle greater amounts of nuclear waste for reprocessing. It is important to realise that it is a commercial, money-making exercise — last year its profits were £54 million — engaged in reprocessing material from Japan and other countries which would not engage in such a dangerous exercise themselves. Nothing short of closure would satisfy me.
I was accused during the Adjournment Debate in July 1975 of being alarmist in my views about Windscale. The public attitude has changed but I am convinced that we will not realise the seriousness of this matter until radioactive seaweed is washed up in Skerries or Sandymount.
The level of emission from Windscale is 1,000 times greater than the American level. Who can monitor this? I am not condoning the breaking of the law by the Greenpeace people but they highlighted the fact that higher levels of radiation were being emitted. America and France do not tolerate these levels, yet we do. I would have no doubts about taking this matter to the Court of International Appeal in order to highlight it and put pressure on Britain. I know that the Minister for Energy met his counterpart in London and pressed the Irish case and  that assurances were given. That is not good enough. Unless our officials are present at Windscale and have a direct input, our information will always be secondhand.
The Minister listed various materials but there was little reference to the deadly pollutants caesium and plutonium, one tonne of which is lying at the bottom of the Irish Sea. Any silt shifting around Windscale can drift across the Irish Sea. It is fortunate that it is so shallow and that this does not happen but it is possible that there could be movement of this deadly pollutant. People must realise that it will take hundreds of thousands of years for the radioactivity to fade away. Sellafield is an international scandal which is totally unacceptable to this nation and there must be no stop-go policy whereby we appeal for lower levels of emission.
A recent seminar on this subject was attended by experts from the Nuclear Energy Board and there was no doubt in my mind that the situation was far from satisfactory. Three hundred accidents have been recorded at this nuclear dustbin less than 100 miles from this House.
There is scant regard for the Irish point of view in relation to the operations of nuclear submarines in the Irish Sea. All we seem to do is appeal for the safety of our fishermen, not realising that these deadly submarines are operating at will in the Irish Sea. There are so many Departments involved that it would be easy to choke this issue with officialdom without any real attempt to put Ireland's case unequivocally, without apology, to England.
Given our indented coastline, the perimeter of this island must run to many thousands of miles. If we project it by, say, 50 miles, the square mileage must be very considerable. We have a Department of Agriculture to look after the land but we have no marine Department. We must think in terms of a Department which would address itself to the waters of this island nation. The Minister for Energy and the Minister for the Environment are involved in this matter and there is some confusion about who is responsible.  I think the Department of Health is the Department which has perhaps the greatest input here.
Let us go back for a moment to 1975 or thereabouts. At that time I do not think the Department of the Environment existed. We had a Department of Local Government and the people there were engaged in local government administration, housing and so on. Environment was a word in the dictionary and nobody was concerned about it. It connotes preservation. Only 15 or 20 years earlier the same attitude applied in the USA and so the Department of the Environment was born and of course everyone welcomed its birth.
Now we as a nation are not looking to our fields with enough attention. It is all a piecemeal approach with an input from several different Departments. The thing to do — and I would like the Minister when he comes to conclude to take note of what I say — is to form a marine department.
There are tremendous ramifications in relation to our fishing stocks, to nuclear dumping, to pollution of our waterways, pollution of our fields. The thing goes on and on. I had a period in the Department of the Environment as Minister of State and I remember the water advisory council. With respect, I do not think the Department is able to cope with all that should be done. A very excellent idea was put forward by the environmental protection advisory service, something that would be highly desirable, but the Department has now become a Goliath and the whole situation is so grotesque the Department simply cannot cope with all the problems.
Now our marine life and our seas are very much involved and a great deal of international clout is vitally essential in this area. Indeed, it would take the full weight of a Department on its own to have a forcible voice in Europe in the way the Department of Agriculture can make its voice heard and listened to in Europe, for instance, on the Common Agricultural Policy. How can a splintered voice carry any weight in the sort of situation to which I have adverted? There is a kind of parallel with that awful rabies  disease which may hit this country at some stage in the future, perhaps in the not too distant future, and should that day come people will then sit up and take notice. But let us try to do something now about our marine life, something positive. People talk about the inversion problem of air pollution where one can go just so far. Take the Los Angeles example where they are unable to cure the problem. They have this inversion lying over Los Angeles. It is said that marine pollution can reach the same stage, a stage at which it cannot be corrected. I remember attending a seminar in Geneva on the question of marine pollution and air pollution and there was no doubt at all in the views expressed but that marine life can be destroyed because marine pollution can reach the stage at which the levels of pollution lying on the seabed cannot be corrected. Apparently that is the major problem. The problem does not exist in inland waters because in those waters it can be corrected.
In our case we have offshore pollution which is caused by the sly and sneaky way in which boats from England go out with a hole cut out in the centre of the boat and just discharge the waste through that hole off our coast. A great many of these boats are being blacked in England and they have great difficulty now in getting them out of harbour. That type of pollution can never be estimated. Future damage cannot be estimated. There will be a build up of low dosage radiation. The situation as it exists is in no way acceptable. I represent a maritime constituency and so does Deputy Barnes and I am sure she will agree that Dublin Bay out as far as the Kish Lighthouse is intolerable from the point of view of pollution. It has been said that swimming in Dublin Bay constitutes a health risk. Sometimes comments like that can be very erroneous in a way. One person will say one thing and another will say something quite different but unless we have the machinery to cope with a problem of this kind — and I do not think the machinery is there and this is the difficulty — the problem will only become worse.
The intention is good. It is a good thing  to align ourselves with nations who are trying to do something but I do not think we have the necessary machinery. We are in the unique position in Europe of being the furthest geographically in Europe, the most westerly country, surrounded by so much water, and so our voice should be put by a Department geared specifically for the purpose of coping with the problem of pollution. We have a common accord with Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland and Denmark as against the heavily industrialised countries of Europe and all these countries are being subjected to trans-global pollution of a very horrible type in the form of acid rain. We are also receiving pollution, as the Minister is aware, from the Sellafield plant. That pollution is travelling up along the coast of Scotland and reaching the beaches now. The Minister is perhaps aware of the high increase in lukaemia cases in western Scotland. These are now being investigated. They are apparently attributable to the plant at Sellafield. Here there was the much chronicled report by Dr. Sheehan referring to the mongoloid babies as a result of the accident which occurred 25 years ago and there is enough evidence to cause concern. Any pollution which contributes to blood cancer must be treated with the greatest care.
Now I realise the Department is an excellent Department, doing a marvellous job within its parameters, and I shudder to think what the country would be like without this Department but we must think forward into the next millennium and here I would like to see private enterprise involved because there is a social obligation involved and it should not be left just to officialdom to provide the solution. That is not good enough because I do not think officialdom can provide the answers even with the best will in the world. Where officialdom is concerned it will be a matter of recommendation with no positive action.
The Minister should involve commercial enterprises in doing something about correcting the problem. That would be fine. It is commercial enterprise that is involved and some unscrupulous people  have scant regard for our environment. Why not swing it right round to them and make sure that part of their profits are devoted to the preservation of our marine environment? I have little regard for people who abuse the environment and who are not prepared to pay something in recompense. The Minister would get co-operation from many responsible commercial organisations who would be prepared to go along with this idea.
Our seas are heavily stocked with fish, and with shellfish in particular which is a valuable resource. That type of fish is the most prone to radiation from nuclear discharge. I do not want to be alarmist but in this House we should state the facts. The Minister must be aware that fishermen close to the Cumbrian coast realise there is great difficulty in selling fish caught in that area and notices are put up in some shop windows stating where the fish were caught. That is the kind of atmosphere in which we live.
There are 5,500 employees at the Sellafield plant. It is a commercial enterprise and there is a vested interest in keeping it going. There is almost an ironic acceptance of some level of radioactive contamination among the employees. Their attitude is that it is their job and what can they do about it. My answer is that we should not tolerate it. It is not necessary to pollute the sea because much of the nuclear waste could be stored in the ground in especially constructed containers. As far as I am concerned, the Sellafield plant should be closed immediately but if it is to be resited at a capital cost of £3 billion that kind of money could be devoted to finding a practical means of storing the radioactive waste.
I am a little sceptical about what the Minister can do to make sure our voice is heard on this matter. I have spent a considerable time on this issue. The worst outcome of this debate would be if we were lulled into a feeling of false security, that the levels of radioactivity in the Irish Sea or around our coast are acceptable and that the situation is improving. That is not so. In my view it is getting worse daily. I do not think that the Department of the Environment can cope with this problem. The best thing the Minister  could do would be to give the House an assurance that he would recommend the establishment of a marine Department. In addition, he should request that his officials have a permanent presence at the Sellafield plant. That is essential. We are only begging the question if it is merely a matter of the Minister depending on his counterpart in England giving some tacit assurance that they will do their best to correct the problem.
The Americans have the most sophisticated nuclear system on our planet — not that I am a fan of that kind of involvment. The Minister should try to persuade the Taoiseach to have a word with Mrs. Thatcher about the Sellafield plant which is causing such a major problem for us. As recently as Monday an approach was made by one person regarding the tragic case in the Philippines, with a marvellous result. I do not want to compare the two issues but certainly this matter is of monumental importance. The Americans would not tolerate it. It would be an enormous gesture of goodwill to this country if we could get an assurance that the Sellafield plant will be closed.
It may be dreadful to say but I guarantee there will be more accidents if nothing is done. I have scant knowledge of the matter but I have taken considerable interest in it: I have studied the equipment used and I have read the reports. I am in no doubt that there will be more accidents. There have been 300 accidents since 1947 and by the law of averages there will be more. The matter is with the Minister and I hope he will take up some of the suggestions made. He should not be content with anything short of closing the plant. I urge him not to be persuaded otherwise or lulled into a feeling of false security by Britain with regard to this matter.
Mrs. Barnes: I welcome the ratification of the convention. I hope to be more optimistic than Deputy Brady although I share his concern and I have admired his commitment in this area for a long time. The convention realises that concerted action not only at national and regional levels but also at global level is  needed. As we advance further into this technological society we are reminded of the truism that we are a global village and that what happens in one part of the world can affect the other part, unfortunatley very often to the detriment of all. We are a small county and we are most vulnerable. We have not the capacity or the clout needed to ensure that the levels of pollution in the future will be strictly limited.
There is another area where we need concerted action and the sharing of resources to monitor this. Article 4 says that these programmes and measures shall take into account the latest technical developments. Unfortunately, when technological advances have been made we reap some of the bad influences. We need a shared, concerted, high level commission set up within this convention, not alone to eliminate and strictly limit present pollution but to make sure that the latest technical developments do not add to the problems we already have. One of the areas where this could be done is in the permanent monitoring system referred to in article 11 which says that these programmes shall take into account the deployment of research vessels and other facilities in the monitoring area.
Deputy Brady rightly referred to the efforts of Greenpeace who have been a lone and courageous voice in speaking on our behalf. I hope that the permanent monitoring system will have the deployment of research vessels and other facilities and that they will be used above and beyond the vested interests of single countries or single groups of countries. That is why I feel a sense of optimism. In Ireland we have come very quickly from one of the cleanest and purest maritime countries to a polluted country. This pollution has come from inside the country as well as from outside and, if this debate does nothing more than continue to raise the awareness of people to the problems involved, we will have achieved something.
Article 12 says “the contracting parties shall inform the commission of the legislative and administrative measures it has taken to implement the provisions of the  preceding paragraph,” which refers to the need for ensuring compliance with the provisions of this convention. Will the legislative and administrative measures be strong enough to overcome the vested or nationalist interests of some countries? The convention involves the contracting parties, as they are called, but to what extent will the commission be able to influence non-contracting parties or parties who are not part of this convention? Does the commission envisage having the legislative and administrative measures necessary to ensure that action can be taken against any country which does not bring down the level of pollution?
Norway and Sweden are very striking examples. They have had a tremendous commitment to cutting down pollution within their own waters and country from an industrial base, and yet, to their consternation, they find that because of lack of commitment from industrialised areas like Britain and West German their forests are now being demolished by acid rain. They are invaded from outside. Can the Minister give a guarantee that this can be safeguarded against because otherwise you will have the good guys and the bad guys and there is no point in some people keeping the rules if others, for selfish reasons, continue to pollute the area.
Although we are a small country we have a high level of expertise. Through membership of the EEC we have found that much research, development and expertise can be shared. Article 16 says “to receive and review information and distribute it to the contracting parties in accordance with the provisions of the present convention”. I do not know how specific the Minister's reply can be but I should like to know what kind of dissemination of information service will or has been set up which is more than just words on a paper or lip service? Will we share to the extent that we will be brought up to date and will our voice be as loud and influential as that of other members? Unless our planet takes strong measures and penalties against offending countries or regions then we are living on borrowed  time. I am not being sensational but it is frightening. Our planet cannot continue to be polluted at the present level without us all being strangled slowly and painfully. It is the height of arrogance and obscenity that when we talk about destroying the ecology and our environment we are destructive enough to not alone remove ourselves but everybody on the planet. That is not alone flying in the face of our own survival but it is flying in the face of any creative God in whom we are supposed to believe. It is a moral and urgent issue.
I share the fears expressed here. The Minister should take immediate action with regard to the pollution of waters by the discharge from Sellafield. There has been evidence to show that it is affecting not just our coast but very northerncountries who are striving to remain unpolluted. We are talking about a level of radiation which will pollute and destroy marine life.
Although not yet proven the high level of mothers of Downe's Syndrome babies from a class in Dundalk awakens the nightmare in all of us, reminding us that we are not just talking about our lifetime but also about the planning for the future of this and other administrations. We are talking about a destructive force that will not alone destroy present life on this earth but which will deform, mutilate and bring unbearable agony on generations not yet born. The whole question raises fears and anxieties. Research to date, particularly that in America, renders it imperative that we take action not just immediately but for the future. Bearing in mind our vulnerability to actions beyond our country on a European, even global level, I welcome the ratification of this convention, necessary and overdue. I also question the strength of the commission. I would hope that we will have a continuing debate, perhaps even a review in this House at regular intervals to ascertain how effective are our voices within the commission so that resources will be made available from this and other countries making their goal effective.
We should make use of the experiences of other countries in combating our internal pollution. Probably no Member of  this House is too young not to remember when the waters around our shores were clear of pollution, when we did not have to build swimming pools because we could not swin in those waters. It is a tragedy for and indeed deprivation of our young people today that they cannot safely and healthily swim in the waters surrounding us, something we cannot blame on outside interests. It was incredibly bad planning that allowed the waters around our coasts to become so polluted.
I too attended the seminar Deputy G. Brady attended, organised by An Taisce in Dún Laoghaire, which examined the whole area of Dublin Bay. The bad new emanating from that seminar was indeed bad; there is not doubt about that. One of the problems identified was that we did not appear to have carried out the right type of evaluation. The other problem identified — something that should be taken into consideration in the way we monitor levels of pollution in Dublin Bay — was that there is a high level of lack of credibility among the people who inhabit that area about what is now being done. People do not believe that efforts are being made to eliminate the pollution; rather they believe it is being aggravated. The good news was that that seminar was crowded with people who were not alone committed and worried but who were also expert in this field. There was an urgent request by the experts at that seminar for the establishment of a marine department, as Deputy G. Brady suggested, or a centralised department of research, development and evaluation, perhaps not actually under the aegis of a Government Department, embracing not just experts on the elimination of pollution but also those expert in the shell fish industry which has been practically murdered before birth. The consensus at that seminar called for a co-ordination of all the expertise in that area, to be supported and given resources in order that pollution could be attacked in the urgent way needed. It was also recommended that the whole area of marine biology, the whole of the fishing industry, be given the resources necessary to bring about  that end. Perhaps the Minister might respond to that point when replying.
I am convinced that in the end the solution lies with the people — this is probably what keeps a lot us going at times — that the kind of world we want lies within the competence of its people. I believe that, if we are given the right kind of information, if the necessary resources are allocated and the experts allowed work properly, we will combat this problem — and there is some evidence to demonstrate that this can happen. About 1964 there was a type of world plan drawn up at a very high level by economists, futuristic planners and so on who projected a very high number of nuclear energy plants throughout the world, seen to be the answer to our energy problems for the 1990s. Yet when people's consciousness was awakened, when they lobbied and protested, it was discovered that not alone was that source of energy not really needed — apart from it being highly dangerous — but that probably it also constituted one of the most costly methods of generating energy.
The human being is an adaptable creature; that is why we have survived so long. Healthy alternatives were sought and are being discovered. Again and again we were told in regard to the whole area of nuclear energy stations — and this remains one of the main anxieties of people — there was absolutely no danger, that they were foolproof, that all systems were foolproof and could not break down. Yet the accident at Three Mile Island occurred but, thankfully, the worst did not happen there. However, that example illustrated to us, as ordinary people, that we could not believe the experts. None of us, no matter how expert we may claim to be, can project, measure, evaluate the destructive danger we are building up in the whole area of radioactive discharges, nuclear power stations and so on.
I add my voice to those calling for a total investigation of the Sellafield nuclear plant. We would all contend that there are discharges of radiation from that plant polluting vulnerable countries like ours, Scotland, Norway, countries  having no control over it. As a neighbouring country we should and must have control over its discharges because there are levels of discharge therefrom which would not be acceptable in highly industrialised countries such as Japan and the United States. It must be brought home to Britain that no longer can the Irish Sea or the North Sea be used as dumping grounds for an experiment, with a vested interest, so that a profitable industry can thrive in Britain. I hope that is why we are ratifying this convention.
Remembering its urgency this convention must vest powers in a commission. Because of our very special geographic position, because I believe we can still safeguard ourselves against the worst pollution, we must have an influential voice. I would urge that not alone should this question be kept under constant review but that we should have regular debates, truthful evaluations of pollution levels around our shores, ascertaining how the convention we are today ratifying and the commission are dealing with such levels. I join with other people in continuing to ask for honest accurate information. Above everything else, we must restore credibility to the people who have to live on this planet, and talking about it in this House, to the people of Ireland.
Mrs. Glenn: I share the views of previous speakers and I am glad that a concerted action is now likely to be taken on the matter of nuclear waste, although I know this motion covers a broader area than that. We cannot set boundaries to the scientific advancement of mankind. Nuclear energy has an important role in the future development of the whole world.
People who know very little about this are anxious about it. They make up their minds on the basis of television programmes they see. There were two programmes about Windscale which had a dramatic effect on the general public and caused the public tremendous concern. About that time the Eastern Health  Board unanimously adopted a motion expressing grave concern at the possible implications of the Windscale nuclear plant and other nuclear plants in Britain for the public health of people here and the implications of the continuous dumpting of nuclear waste in the Irish Sea. We asked the executive officer to seek a report from responsible and expert people, which he did. He considered that the Nuclear Energy Board were the appropriate statutory body and he approached them and asked them to provide their analysis of the current situation and how we were being affected by what was happening.
What they had to say was quite interesting. While I share the concern of other speakers, the report they furnished does not show a very grave situation. Any element of nuclear waste is a matter of concern, but I do not think people are fully equipped to estimate its effects which appear to be a slow progression and a long term matter. We can only go on what these people had to say. They said:
The Nuclear Energy Board undertakes a monitoring programme of the radioactivity levels of the Irish Sea. The programme includes the sampling and analysis of fish, seaweeds, sediments and seawater. This report presents an estimate of the exposure of members of the Irish public during the period of May 1982 to June 1983 due to the consumption of fish and shellfish, the most important route by which exposure of the Irish public could occur from radioactivity, in particular radio-caesium, in the Irish Sea.
Radiation exposure from other pathways, such as external radiation, is negligible. The results are examined in terms of the dose limits recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection and the basic radiation safety standards of the European Community.
The principal source of radioactivity in the Irish Sea is the discharge of low level radioactive liquid effluents from Sellafield, Cumbria, in the United Kingdom to the north-east Irish Sea.  Discharges from other sources are, by comparison, negligible. The location of Sellafield... include the Windscale nuclear fuel reprocessing works and the Calder Hall magno-type nuclear power station. The prototype Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor, which was also sited there, has been closed down. The radioactivity discharges arise almost entirely from the reprocessing activities and particularly from the used nuclear fuel storage ponds. Virtually 100 per cent of the radioactive wastes separated from the reprocessed fuel are stored on site and only extremely small quantities are discharged to the Irish Sea via a pipeline which terminates 2.1 km beyond the low-water mark.
These discharge authorisations... are set so that, if they are observed, the dose limits recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection for members of the public will not be exceeded. These latter limits have been included in the European Community Directive on the protection of members of the public and workers against the dangers of ionizing radiation. The discharge authorisation for Sellafield was amended recently to require discharges to be kept as low as reasonably achievable within the authorised discharge limits.
There was a major increase in 1974 in the quantities of radionuclides being discharged to the Irish Sea. This was due to operating difficulties at the reprocessing plant which necessitated prolonged storage of magnox-type used fuel under water in the used fuel storage ponds. This resulted in corrosion of the fuel and the release of radionuclides, notably caesium, to the pond water. Pond water treatment facilities were inadequate and the quantities of caesium discharged to the Irish Sea increased. This gave rise to alarm signal from the Irish people when they heard of this and saw this was happening. They said:
The quantity discharged in 1974 amounted to about 50 per cent of the  annual total beta ratioactivity limit and in 1983 about 20 per cent of this limit. A further significant reduction is expected during 1984 when a new ion exchange effluent treatment plant is due to be brought into service.
That is very hopeful and good news about what is happening. I am not in any way making allowances for the fact that it is happening at all. We have been exposed to a high risk, but it is now being controlled and monitored by our own people as, indeed, are fish sampling and analysis. The analysis and sampling concentrate on plaice, whiting, cod, herring and prawns because these species make up the major proportion of the fish consumed by the Irish public. They also said:
The results show that the radiation doses of members of the Irish public arising from the consumption of fish and shellfish from the Irish Sea, are very small and are likely to be less than 1 per cent of the dose limits recommended by the ICRP and of the European Community basic radiation safety standards. The doses are less than 2 per cent of the dose arising from naturally occurring radiation.
The results show a small decrease on the levels of recent years and indicate a decreasing trend probably reflecting the reduction in the quantity of radio-caesium being discharged annually from Sellafield. The monitoring programme enables the radioactivity levels of the Irish Sea to be kept under review and will be continued to enable trends to be identified.
I agree with all my colleagues on the need for caution and I support most of what they said. I want to make a point of supporting what Deputy Brady proposed. It is all right to have a Nuclear Energy Board, but we should have a marine research department, as he suggested. This could be of benefit not only in this area but also in many other areas, and it would be profitable for the nation if we were to fully exploit the wealth which abounds around our shores. I support the motion and wish the Minister success.
Mr. R. Burke: I should like to join in welcoming the motion and I compliment the Minister on bringing it before the House. I hope to see the terms of the Paris Convention honoured in the spirit and the letter when the motion is adopted here. My one concern is that the Minister in his introductory comments referred to the existing monitoring of the Irish Sea being carried out. The House will recall that at Question Time recently the Minister of State at the Department of Energy, and the Minister, told the House that we carried out some monitoring in regard to fish and that the main monitoring as to the quality of the Irish Sea was dependent on information supplied by British Nuclear Fuels to our Nuclear Energy Board. That was the data that was being used here for monitoring. On the two days when the matter was dealt with I expressed the view that it was a ludicrous situation for us, an independent island nation, to be depending on information regarding possible pollution of our seas from the pollutor. In this case the pollutor is Winsdcale or, to give it its new name following the public relations exercise by the British Government, Sellafield. The changing of the name does not make the operation at that processing plant any more acceptable from our point of view.
In accepting the motion the House should call on the Minister to put pressure on the British to have that nuclear processing plant closed down. We have been told in the past by British Nuclear Fuels, and the British Government, that all safety measures were being taken and the most modern technology was being used to monitor the situation. We were told that there would not be any further leakages or accidents at Sellafield but six months following those assurances another incident occurred at that plant. Another board of inquiry was set up by the British Government into the operation of British Nuclear Fuels but the report that was published amounted to another whitewash. It stated that the Government had been assured that no further radioactive waste would flow into the Irish Sea above the acceptable  levels. It is my view that no level of radioactive waste going into the Irish Sea is acceptable.
Surely it is a nonsense that Japanese nuclear plants send their nuclear waste right across the world to Windscale for processing. That waste is processed in a small amount of water, the Irish Sea. Why is it that our Government, and Parliament, accept that the British should continue operating that processing plant across the water from us? Windscale is nearer to Dublin City than Galway. It does not make any sense that we are not protesting and demanding through our membership of the EEC and as signatories to the Convention that the British close Windscale. The position of that plant is unacceptable from an Irish point of view. In fact, the excellent television programmes made by Yorkshire Television indicated that its location is unacceptable to people in that area because of the damage it is causing to citizens on the north west coast and in Scotland.
Some years ago I had the opportunity of visiting the atomic research centre in Denmark and I was shown the damage being done to the North Sea and the Norwegian and Danish coastlines by the leakages from Windscale and the dumping of radioactive waste in the Irish Sea. Apparently, it works its way with the currents along the north west coast of England, Scotland and across the North Sea to the coast of Denmark and Norway. I am aware that those people are very concerned about this. We should put pressure on the British to stop their nuclear operation at Windscale. The closing of Windscale is not such an incredible thing to demand, because people in Great Britain are also demanding that it should be closed. We should be giving support to those people. We should commence our own monitoring operations in regard to the Irish Sea, fish life and our beaches rather than dealing with the matter in a haphazard fashion and depending on information from British Nuclear Fuels. On two occasions recently we were told in the House that the monitoring of the Irish Sea was being carried out by British Nuclear Fuels. That is a nonsense. We should also put pressure on the British  Government in regard to the dumping of nuclear waste off our coastline, particularly in the South Atlantic, a few hundred miles off Cork and Kerry.
When he signs the convention the Minister should implement a positive policy in regard to the disposal of toxic waste generally. A facility for toxic waste was to have been provided here. Deputy Peter Barry, in his last days in the Department of the Environment, agreed to a site for such waste at Baldonnel. I questioned the wisdom of choosing that site but the decision had been made between the election of February 1982 and the time Fianna Fáil took office on 9 March 1982.
I would like to see a proper toxic waste disposal facility provided, not so much for the treatment because we have not the quantity, but at least for the assembly of the toxic waste in one national depot for export to treatment plants that are available both within the UK and on mainland Europe. It is essential that we provide that facility for our industry as soon as possible. Without that facility the temptation for industry and for cowboys in the waste disposal business is to dump this toxic waste illegally in the rivers, in the sea and on the seashore with damage to fish life and the possibility of human damage also. That is a major threat and the Minister should act, but I ask him to reconsider the decision that is there with regard to Baldonnel. I understand and am aware of the details——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair ruled this morning that, while this debate lends itself to being a fairly wide debate, it is not in order to pick out isolated topics within the general debate and expand those into a major debate within a debate.
An Ceann Comhairle: Of course, I am allowing a passing reference or a little more to incidents but I am not going to allow what might be called a Committee debate on, say, the Baldonnel proposal.
Mr. R. Burke: I am not getting into a Committee debate on the Baldonnel proposal. All I am saying to the Minister is that we should have as soon as possible a national toxic waste disposal facility available for the assembly of toxic waste from national producers of toxic waste and that that toxic waste, having been broken down into the various four or five international categories, should be in turn re-exported to treatment plants abroad. Without the toxic waste facility the temptation is there for cowboy operators in the waste disposal business to dump along our coastline and in our rivers and cause damage to fish life and also possibly damage to citizens. For example, we had a decision by Dublin County Council with regard to the proposal to dump asbestos in a site in Ballealy, Lusk. I threatened that I would take a court injunction against them if they proceeded because I was aware of the danger to people swimming in the estuary at Rogerstown and the threat along the whole coastline there to the number of people who go swimming at Portrane, Skerries, Rush, Malahide and the coastline generally. It is essential that the Minister proceed with a toxic waste facility as soon as possible, preferably not at Baldonnel.
The Minister in signing this convention should honour it in the spirit as well as in the letter. I am referring to the manner of sewage waste disposal and treatment plants for that purpose. In my time in the Department and in the time of my predecessor, Deputy Sylvester Barrett, enough funds were being given for treatment plants for major sewerage schemes around the coastline, but since we left office many of the councils have been hiding under the present Government's financial rectitude umbrella and refusing to proceed with the proposals.
Mr. R. Burke: Oh, I see. Thank you for your guidance. It is relevant to this on the basis that we do not want to see pollution of our seas and that can be caused by the lack of proper sewage treatment plants.
Mr. R. Burke: The people of Paris will be all right. It is the people of north County Dublin and people living around the coastline of Ireland that I am worried about. I will give the Minister a couple of examples in my own area——
Mr. R. Burke: It can be seen. Today 40 years ago my father was elected to this House for the first time, so today we are celebrating 40 years of continuous service to the people of north County Dublin and I am rather proud of today.
Mr. R. Burke: The point is this. I represent north County Dublin and part of the greater Dublin area with one-third of the national population in the greater Dublin area. Part of the problem facing the local authorities in that area is to provide not just proper housing, roads, lights, bin collection etc. but also proper amenities. Part of those proper amenities must be coastline and clean water. To do that we need a certain amount of money for the provision of proper treatment plants to cater for the expanding population. The population within the Dublin county boundary is the fastest-growing in Europe at this stage. The necessity for proper treatment plants to preserve the quality of the water on our coastline is essential and the need for money for that is obvious. A number of major schemes for which I gave money when Minister have now been stopped because the local authorities are hiding under this umbrella of financial rectitude raised by the Minister for Finance in that Government. The Minister for Finance will probably be removed tomorrow with votes of the Labour Party who will be totally opposed to that money going astray.
Mr. R. Burke: The treatment plant scheme to maintain and improve the quality of the water in Skerries has been stopped although money has been allocated and the scheme was going ahead. The same thing happened in Lusk. There the waste is going into Rogerstown estuary. The population in Lusk village and upstream is expanding. The same thing has happened in the Feltrim-Kinsealy area, again causing pollution of the coastline. The same thing happened in the Rolestown area which was to have a treatment plant to deal with waste going into the Broadmeadow River and in turn into the Broadmeadow estuary. It is vital that, rather than just signing conventions and agreeing in this House — all very nice and laudable — we have the backup of funds and the implementation of the spirit of the convention rather than merely the letter of it. I appeal to the Minister to be more liberal in his approach to the provision of funds for sanitary services treatment plants so that we may preserve and improve the quality of the water around our coasts.
I appeal to the Minister also to ensure that the Nuclear Energy Board undertake the process of monitoring instead of having us depend on information provided by the people who are the pollutants — British Nuclear Fuels.
I agree with Deputy Brady in regard to the possibility and the desirability of a department of marine development. That would be an important initiative for us as an island country. It would enable us to maximise the riches and the amenities of the seas around us.
Mr. Kirk: The issue being debated today is of particular importance to us in County Louth because of our close proximity to Sellafield. Recent rumours, warnings and threats have caused much fear and apprehension among the people of Louth, especially those in the Cooley Peninsula area. I refer to the danger of fish life being polluted, to unusual sightings and so on. The Louth coastline is very exposed. Some medical people who  undertook a survey in the area recently were of the opinion that a number of Downes Syndrome cases had their origin in the fifties. While there has not been any clear evidence of this, there is the possibility that the radioactivity discharged from Windscale following an accident there during the fifties was a contributing factor. A number of young girls who were attending a convent school in Dundalk at that time gave birth some years later to children suffering from Downes Syndrome. We do not know whether this was coincidence but it is a possibility that cannot be dismissed.
It is significant also that there is the highest rate of certain types of cancer in Louth. This was discovered in recent times but we do not know whether the situation can be linked to discharges from Sellafield. However, it is something we should examine immediately so that we might isolate the cause and put people's minds at rest. At the last meeting of Louth County Council there was present a representative from the Nuclear Energy Board. While what he said may have gone a long way towards putting people's minds at rest the fear remains that an accidental discharge from Sellafield could cause a catastrophe in the Louth area.
There is no such concept as an acceptable level of radioactivity. There is a real danger of discharged material from Sellafield accumulating on the seabed and perhaps manifesting itself later on the Louth coastline. One shudders to think of the effects that could have on the health of the people of the area. All these fears could eventually harm the tourist industry in that part of the country. Until such time as the plant at Sellafield can be controlled properly and we can rest assured that there is no danger of a discharge, it should be closed. The health of our people is much too important a matter to be jeopardised by the possibility of such discharges and we know that there have been accidents at the plant and that radioactive material has been discharged from it. While these accidents may have been accounted for there is no guarantee of our ever having a foolproof system whereby we could be guaranteed that such incidents would not occur in the  future. Therefore, until such time as the situation is proved to be satisfactory we should seek to have the plant closed.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Kavanagh): I wish to thank all those Deputies who have contributed to the debate and who have shown such a deep sense of commitment to the issue in question. The debate has been wide ranging. I accept the genuine concern of all those who have spoken. Some people dealt directly with the convention while others ranged beyond these terms. However, the more than five hours that we have spent debating the ratification of the convention reflects clearly the interest among public representatives in this whole area. I am very grateful for the various contributions. If I am not in a position to deal directly with every observation that has been made, I can assure the Deputies concerned that these observations will all be considered.
There are some points I should like to deal with now. Deputy Molloy raised the question of the delay in ratifying the convention. When that convention was signed in 1974 we did not have any legislation that would have enabled us to accept the consequent obligations in full. However, once the Pollution Act of 1977 and the Dumping at Sea Act, 1981, had been enacted the convention could have been ratified, but for a variety of reasons we are only now setting up the machinery to enable us to ratify it. The main reason for the delay has been the succession of elections since 1981. I could be a little political and say that one of the previous speakers, a Minister of State in my Department, had some responsibility for this delay. Perhaps the opportunity was missed on a previous occasion. Action should have matched the high concern demonstrated in the contributions here today, but it now falls to me to introduce the motion. From what all the Deputies have said this appears to have the total acceptance of every side of the House.
The fact that we have not ratified the convention has not precluded us from participation in the annual meetings of  the convention's commission and in the working groups. In addition, we have been paying the normal subscription in the budget of the commission.
Deputy Molloy raised several points, including the role of the Nuclear Energy Board in monitoring radioactivity. I welcome this opportunity to clarify the position of this monitoring in the Irish Sea. Our own Nuclear Energy Board undertake a monitoring programme which includes the sampling and analysis of fish, seaweed, sediments and sea water. Concentrations of radioactivity are measured in plaice, whiting, cod, herring and prawns. These species constitute the major proportion of the catches from the fishing grounds in the Irish Sea and are representative of the types of fish and shellfish consumed by the Irish public. In addition, these species are representative of those found near the bottom of the sea, those living in the middle depths and on the surface of the waters of the sea. Samples of fish and shellfish are obtained primarily at the Dublin and Howth fish markets and are taken from catches landed at the east coast ports of Clogher Head, Skerries, Howth and Arklow. The frequency of sampling enables a reasonable estimate to be made of the radiological doses to the public as a result of eating seafood from the Irish Sea.
Intercalibration checks are carried out with the Department of Pure and Applied Physics in Trinity College, Dublin, and the Department of Experimental Physics at University College, Dublin. Samples of fish and reference sources are analysed in the three laboratories and show good agreement, which provides an independent basis for confidence in the reliability of the measurements obtained. The results show that the radiation doses to members of the Irish public arising from the consumption of fish and shellfish from the Irish Sea are very small and are likely to be less than 1 per cent of those limits recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection and the European Community Basic Radiation Safety Standards. The doses are less than 2 per cent of the dose arising from naturally occurring radiation.
 The results for the period May 1982 to June 1983 show a small decrease on the levels of recent years and indicate a decreasing trend, probably reflecting the reduction in the quantity of radio caesium being discharged annually from Sellafield. The Nuclear Energy Board believe that the principal public radiation exposure arises from the consumption of fish and shellfish. As I have stated, the exposure levels determined from this source are extremely small and indicate that there is no significant health risk to our public.
The board's analysis of seaweeds, sediments and sea water taken from a broad spread of sampling locations around the east coast indicate that levels of radioactivity are of no significance. A monitoring programme enables the radioactivity levels of the Irish Sea to be kept under review and will be continued to enable the trends to be identified. That statement should bring some reassurance regarding many of the worries that Deputies expressed during the debate.
I can say that this Government, right from the time when they resumed office, have taken a very strong line in regard to the question of discharges of radioactive wastes into the seas in general and, in particular, in regard to such discharges from Sellafield, formerly Windscale. This  matter has been taken up by this country at the relevant international conferences. As I said earlier, the Minister for Energy asked for and obtained a special meeting with the United Kingdom Secretary of State for the Environment. At this meeting the Minister put to him forcefully the Irish view on the subject. As a result, Mr. Jenkins agreed to the Minister's proposal for improving consultations at administrative levels and for the notification of incidents involving departures from accepted procedures. He also accepted the need for greater research into the long-term effects of these discharges and undertook to keep the Irish Government informed of progress in this research.
As regards the dumping of radioactive wastes into the Atlantic, the United Kingdom have temporarily suspended such dumping, pending the completion of a scientific study to be carried out within the context of the London Dumping Convention. No great dumping has been carried out by Great Britain in 1983, or up to this period of 1984.
As I pointed out earlier, the lead Department in this whole area of nuclear energy problems are the Department of Energy. There is no conflict, as Deputy Brady would suggest, between Departments and no lack of interest and no confusion entering into the situation because of the interests of other Departments, such as Health, Environment or any of those mentioned. The Department of the Environment are the appropriate Department with whom to take up these matters regarding discharges from Sellafield. The many comments made in relation to that problem in this debate will certainly be taken up by me and I shall make the Minister aware of the concerns about these problems which have been voiced by many Deputies on all sides of the House.
Deputy Molloy stated that the level of radioactivity in the Irish Sea has been reported to be 100 per cent higher than the level found in Galway Bay. A study carried out in 1982 and 1983 did, in fact, establish that the levels in the Irish Sea are significantly higher than in Galway Bay. However, I have already stated the exact position. I have covered this aspect  fairly adequately. It is natural, with the problems with Windscale or Sellafield over the last year or so, that levels in the Irish Sea would be somewhat higher than on the west coast.
As a representative of a maritime county on the east coast, I can assure the Deputies that my interest in this area is as acute and high as that of any Deputy in this House. We, too, in Wicklow represent a constituency which depends not only on its fishing industry but also on its tourist industry for part of the economy of that county. We are every bit as concerned that the citizens either visiting the county or living there are not exposed to a high level of radiation that could damage them either now or in the future. My interest in this whole area is heightened just as much by that fact as by my concern as Minister in the Department.
Mr. Kavanagh: I did not confirm that it was 100 per cent higher. I accept that it is greater on the east coast than in the Deputy's area. I still give the figure of 1 per cent or less in the Irish Sea.
Mr. Kavanagh: I would accept that if it is negligible or nil in Galway Bay, then it could be one hundred or one thousand times higher than in the Deputy's area. I am more concerned about the level in the Irish Sea which is greater than that in Galway Bay. I am reliably informed by people in the Department of Energy that in carrying out their investigations there is not a hazard to life due to the level in  the Irish Sea. This has been under continual monitoring and if the trend changes that certainly will be made known to the general public and action will be taken. Action will be taken if the source is located as being from any particular direction, particularly if it is Sellafield or any other area. I assure the Deputy that the monitoring of the level in the Irish Sea is continual and is spread over a number of locations. As long as I am in the Department of the Environment and have some influence with the other Departments that will certainly continue and it will be closely watched to see that there will be no change in the wrong direction. We hope the change will continue to be in the opposite direction.
Deputy Molloy suggested a committee representative of all relevant private sector bodies and concerned citizens to monitor all developments in the environmental area and to co-ordinate activity. I am prepared to consider this suggestion. I would, however, point out, in relation to water pollution, that we have the water pollution advisory council which is widely representative of public and private interests. I addressed the council at 1.30 today and suggested to them that they might pay particular attention to Ireland's international obligations under the various conventions dealing with marine pollution.
Deputy Avril Doyle expressed disappointment at the statement in my brief that we will not commit ourselves to accepting the findings of the review being carried out under the London Convention in regard to dumping of nuclear waste at sea. The Deputy missed the point here. Deputy Allen had the same impression that we were not committing ourselves fully to the findings of the London Convention. Deputy Calleary got the situation quite right. It is intended that we should keep our options open in case the findings of the review are considered inadequate from our point of view or do not recommend the strict kind of controls we wish to see. Deputy Doyle and Deputy Allen can rest assured that our approach will continue to be opposition to the dumping of radioactive waste at sea.
 With regard to the comments made by Deputy Molloy about Galway Bay the impression I got was that my Department had designed and were preparing to implement a sewerage scheme which would ruin the amenity and the fish life of Galway Bay.
Mr. Kavanagh: The impression was clearly given that my Department were the Department implementing this whole scheme and imposing it on the people of Galway. I assure the Deputy that is not the case. In 1983 Galway Corporation's proposals for a sewerage scheme were sanctioned and finance was allocated to them. The corporation since decided to consider the matter further. I know this is as a result of pressure brought by public representatives from all sides of the House. I have made it clear that the loan which was already approved would not be lost while this reassessment is being completed. At this stage the ball is in the corporation's court and there are no proposals before my Department. I am waiting for an indication from the corporation of their views. Until I get them it would not be appropriate to comment any more about the situation.
Mr. Molloy: Does the Minister now feel that his responsibilities extend further than what he is stating now? Surely it is the Minister's responsibility to ensure that sewerage schemes are properly designed and that adequate provision is made for the treatment of sewage effluent? The Minister should not approve a scheme which does not provide for treatment of effluent in a case where it is obviously required.
Mr. Kavanagh: The scheme sent by Galway Corporation was approved by the Department of the Environment. I assume that concerned representatives from the area would know what they wanted and would see what the plans for the area were. They would certainly be aware of what was coming to the Department for approval. Since I came into the Department I believe I have taken the action the representatives asked me to take, that is, to visit the area at the first opportunity. I have done that. I have asked the corporation to take another look at the situation. When I get their new consideration of the proposals I will decide if we can approve them. As I said, the money made available for this scheme is being held until that reconsideration takes place. I am quite fair in my attitude to the corporation in relation to the approaches made by public representatives and the general public when I met them in Galway some months ago.
Mr. Kavanagh: Very good. Deputy Allen took the opportunity to present a wide-ranging review of our organisational arrangements for environmental control of the various programmes operating in this area. The time available  would not permit me to deal with all the points made in relation to waste, litter, air pollution, chemicals and so on but I will study his remarks with interest and take account of them where appropriate in reviewing the various programmes.
Pollution in Dublin Bay was mentioned by Deputy Molloy, Deputy Barnes and others. While a number of monitoring results in certain locations on occasions exceeded the mandatory standards set out in the EEC directive on the quality of bathing waters, the coastal waters in Dublin Bay do not, in the opinion of the health authorities, constitute a threat to public health. Monitoring for the purpose of the EEC directive is carried out at two locations on Dollymount beach during the bathing season. Since 1978 full compliance with the requirements of the directive has been achieved and analysis of the monitoring shows that results are well within the EEC parameters. I know there has been media speculation regarding the possibility of health risks associated with bathing at various locations in the bay. The Eastern Health Board are satisfied that there is no public health risk, even allowing for a number of monitoring results at certain locations which exceeded the mandatory standards for bacteriological analysis. It is useful to assure people who may have got a different impression that the Eastern Health Board, the responsible body for monitoring, are satisfied that there is no public health risk from bathing in the area.
Mr. Kavanagh: I am giving the view of the Eastern Health Board and those who have scientific knowledge of this matter. I cannot say whether a child would get a rash from walking in a garden or anything else. We have to depend on the people who are given the responsibility to carry out these duties.
Mr. Kavanagh: I am sorry that the Deputy does not feel it is satisfactory. The situation in regard to effluent has been improved over the past few years. All the authorities bordering the bay have been asked about the preparation of a management plan for Dublin Bay. We are not satisfied to leave things as they are and want to see that they are improved. Certain changes have taken place, such as the improvement at Corbawn Lane in Shankill where EEC standards were exceeded in the past. A £7 million treatment scheme has been completed there. The long sea outfall at Shanganagh which came into operation in the autumn of 1983 will ensure that the area will be improved. I am satisfied that there will be a steady improvement in Dublin Bay. The Eastern Health Board have informed us that there is not, as the Deputy suggests, a grave health hazard in the area.
Mr. Kavanagh: I have covered the point as best I can but apparently I cannot  reassure Deputy Molloy. I assure Deputy Daly that our contribution of £4,200 to the Paris Commission budget does not represent any lack of commitment on our part to the objectives of the convention. The Commission budget caters mainly for the permanent secretariat, office accommodation and clerical expenses. Budget requirements for each year are determined by the Commission and, in accordance with the rules of procedure, are subject to adoption by contracting States. Under these rules each state is required to contribute 2.5 per cent of the adopted budget in a balance proportionate to gross national product. We are paying our full contribution as determined in accordance with this formula. Ireland hosted a technical working group meeting of the Paris Convention in February last at a cost of approximately £10,000 and we will be hosting further meetings in the future. It is a question of paying a proportion of the adopted budget and there is no need for concern about the amount.
Deputy Allen spoke of the imposition of penalties on states which contravene the convention. The discharges from Windscale could not be said to contravene the terms of this convention. However, even where there is a contravention the question of imposing a penalty does not arise. Each contracting state binds itself to ensure compliance with the terms of the convention and any dispute about implementation can be referred to the commission or to arbitration. The ultimate sanction is the force of international opinion. The annual meetings of the Commission give us the opportunity to state our case for stricter controls in an international forum and to attempt to mobilise support. This is important from the point of view of small countries like ours.
Deputy Barnes asked if the Commission would have power to enforce the provisions of the convention. It is the contracting states who bind themselves to accept and implement the convention provisions. We will have a voice and a vote in the deliberations of the Commission which will have equal force to that of any other contracting state. International  agreements of this kind do not operate on the basis of imposing penalties or sanctions on those who do not pull their weight. There is a growing international concern about matters such as this and we must look to this concern in the last analysis to enforce the adoption of reasonable standards by all countries.
Deputy Brady's main contribution dealt with the Sellafield problem. I have covered that area in my reply. There is absolutely no conflict between Departments in this area. The Department of Energy look after nuclear energy problems. I do not see that there would be any benefit in setting up special Departments for every problem. We are constrained by the Constitution to have 15 Departments and if we set up one Department we must do away with another. It is incumbent on anyone who suggests setting up a new Department to say which existing Department should be amalgamated with another.
Mr. Allen: What is the Minister's attitude to an agency which would cover all matters relating to environmental protection? Does he think there is a need for it to eliminate what I would consider to be a disjointed effort?
Mr. Kavanagh: I noted a number of areas the Deputy wished to have considered. This is one to which I have not given attention but I will have the point considered by my Department. It is an area about which there is growing public awareness and concern and this solution might be worth adopting. I will come back to the Deputy on it.
Mrs. Barnes: The recommendations arising from the seminar organised by An Taisce recently make the point that the expertise lay in the area but, as Deputy Allen said, in a disjointed fashion and that might actually be the basis for the setting up of——
Mr. Kavanagh: We are considering that. I think Deputy Burke was pushing the debate a little far when he suggested that we set up a toxic waste disposal plant. That has been decided but it will not be at Baldonnel and it is incumbent on those responsible now to suggest the location. I am sure many others would like the Deputy to tell us where the alternative site is. Anyway the decision has been taken and work is proceeding in that direction. A number of areas were mentioned and it was claimed money was indicated for treatment works around the country and, as far as I could gather from Deputy Burke, in North County Dublin. The amount of money being allocated by my Department for sanitary services in 1984 exceeds that previously allocated by any Minister and I shall be glad to compare the activity in that section of my Department throughout the country with the activities of any previous Minister. Every county is benefiting from sanitary services allocations this year and the allocations are more generous than those previously made despite the stringent times in which we find ourselves.
I thank all Deputies who contributed to the debate. I am glad it has been accepted by both sides. As I said, we are all interested in curbing pollution and the decision to approve this convention is one step forward towards ensuring that the war against pollution is being carried on vigorously by this Government.
|Last Updated: 14/09/2010 08:13:05||Page of 45|