Wednesday, 29 June 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Morgan: I was concluding my contribution on a reference to hot food. The Minister’s body language indicated that the regulations are not aimed at convenience outlets. At what are they aimed? Are they aimed at hamburger stalls? They are already well regulated by the environmental health officers, HACCP and other arrangements.
Mr. Morgan: I look forward to the Minister’s explanation on that. The other issue relates to off-licences. I am happy enough to see wine sold from a fridge in a corner of the store. How will the Minister be prescriptive about that? Can he keep it to a small scale? The issue relating to turf cutting is not unique to the midlands. We in County Louth have our own meadows, though I will not sing “The turfman from Ardee” for the Minister. Turf cutting continues to this day right up into the Cooley Mountains. I am concerned that small, individual plot-holders who cut turf for domestic use may be caught by the provisions and look forward to clarification on the matter.
We should remember that regulations and by-laws on the use of four-wheel vehicles and quad bikes caught a number of sheep farmers, which was not the intention. Sheep farmers require quad bikes to travel on mountains for legitimate purposes and have no intention of damaging the hillside environment. I understand, therefore, the concerns of other speakers that domestic or small-scale commercial turf cutters will be caught by the regulations. The Minister’s body language tells me we should have no major worries in this area. I look forward to his response.
Mr. Cuffe: I understand the Minister made certain references to the Green Party earlier. I wish it to be clear that the Green Party wanted the draft regulations to be discussed in the House to ensure they were considered in the open, that every Member who wished could contribute and that members of the public could attend. I am not sure the introduction of draft regulations in the Dáil on the last sitting week is a proper and fitting way to do business.
Mr. Cuffe: I note also that the Minister remarked on my absence earlier. I have responsibility for two portfolios and have not yet mastered the art of bilocation. I hope the Minister will take account of that.
Mr. Cuffe: It is very hard to absorb the substance of the three proposals for change in the short time available for their discussion. To the best of my knowledge, Members were not circulated with the full text of changes to the regulations and it was up to ourselves to seek them out. I acquired them only recently.
The red tape and bureaucracy surrounding the sale of alcohol is a complete mess and there is a real need for rationalisation between the planning and liquor licensing codes. I am not convinced that cobbling together provisions on off-licences will deal satisfactorily with the issues involved. I am not sure, for example, that alcohol should be available for sale at garage forecourts as it makes little sense to have shops attached to petrol stations which are bulging with alcohol. We are aware, after all, of the dangers of drinking and driving.
I wonder what submissions the Minister received on the matter being acutely aware that there seems to be a licensed vintners’ cumann within Fianna Fáil which has lobbied him very strongly over the last month.
Peat must be acknowledged as a finite resource. The principle behind environmental impact assessment is to consider where there will be an impact on the environment. It makes sense to regulate peat extraction as we cannot continue with a slash and burn approach to finite resources. We must look carefully at saving such resources, especially in the context of the purchase by the Dutch and other governments of bogland for the Irish Government to hold in trust. It is indicative of their lack of confidence that the Government is doing enough on the issue. I am worried by the exemption of one of the largest peat extracting interests in the country, over which there is a significant question mark.
I cannot understand why the Minister is only partially incorporating the Aarhus directive in the regulation. Why is there a delay in incorporation in the context of provision for the right to challenge in a court of law public decisions which have been made without respect for environmental law? As such provisions are seminal to proper planning and development in the State, I am at a loss to understand why the Minister has failed to transpose the directive wholly and completely. My guess is that it is an example of a Government policy to make it more difficult for the public voice to be heard. The Government first charged members of the public €20 to make a planning submission, then prevented them from appealing a decision unless they had made a submission in the first instance and is now about to embark on a course of action which will deny individuals to make appeals by removing the opportunity for a second bite of the cherry. Such provisions do not serve the public interest.
Given the Minister’s pride in being a good European, I cannot understand why he pleads as his reason for introducing the regulation the probability of a daily fine by the EU. Fear of fines is not a good reason for the introduction of regulations.
Ms C. Murphy: I received a note yesterday explaining the regulations. I understand changes in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 which removed the restriction on the transfer of licences to any part of the State have led to the establishment of many off-licences in urban areas. Changes to establish necessary planning control over the significant increase in the number of large-scale off-licence premises and balance consumer interests are needed.
I represent a primarily urban constituency, much of the development of which is recent. While it is the kind of area in which one would expect to see new pubs, I have mainly seen new clubs, hotels and off-licences. This observation is relevant to the point which has been made about the way in which people circumvent the licensing laws in the development of new facilities. I have seen supermarkets and forecourts expand from the sale of wine to more extensive sale of all kinds of intoxicating liquor. One sees in these outlets rows of alcoholic products in response to public demand which in turn has responded to changes in pricing policies. In contrast to the scenario in the case of tobacco, it is clear that increases in excise duties have changed patterns of behaviour rather than reduced the level of alcohol consumption. One hears from taxi drivers that they regularly bring to discos people who are drunk before they leave their houses. A fundamental change in behaviour has taken place.
My aim is to establish the motivation behind the regulations. Is the intention to limit the number of off-licences or to respond to the aim of publicans to reduce competition, with which they clearly take issue? It is not at all clear that the regulations will modify behaviour as the fundamental issue in that context is price. If one’s aim was to modify behaviour, one would revisit the Intoxicating Liquor Act which caused the changes rather than make regulations. I cannot see how the regulations can be implemented in practice where, for example, an application is made to build a supermarket which can be licensed in a commercially-zoned area. It is very difficult to see how local authorities would turn that down, and if they do turn it down, how would An Bord Pleanála respond to that, given that the establishment is in a commercial zone? Will the regulations be accompanied by directions to local authorities? Will local authorities be issued with guidelines by the Department specifying what is required from them in terms of the number of off-licences that is desirable. I am not clear on how the regulations actually——
Ms C. Murphy: I am not convinced it will solve the problem because although many things are regulated when people make a planning application they often end up getting permission. It will not stop every off-licence so which ones will be stopped and how many?
Kildare is an area with significant wetlands. I have a difficulty with what I perceive to be a reactive change rather than a proactive change, in that the regulation appears to be designed to avoid a fine rather than being based on a definite idea about how wetlands should develop. The one organisation that has had a positive role in getting us to value our bogs is the European Commission. I would hate to think that what we were trying to do is more or less to get around a sanction it is trying to impose for a very good reason. I am concerned about what will be the result of this. Too often we have seen situations where the likes of Bord na Móna has applied for cutaway bogs to be used as landfills. It appears that the only value put on wetlands is an economic one, rather than for their value as a distinctive habitat, from a tourism point of view or simply because they have existed for centuries before any of us arrived.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Roche): I thank Members for their contributions. I wish to make a couple of points specifically on the manner in which this matter was handled. Deputy Gilmore disagreed with me regarding how this matter came before the House and not before the joint committee. I suggest he has a word with the Labour Party Whip. I want to put the matter straight.
The Government wanted this matter to be discussed at length in committee because that is the appropriate place to deal with a technical issue like this. Deputy Boyle objected and said he had issues he wanted discussed in the House, which he is entitled to do. Because there was no unanimity, the matter came to the House. The Labour Whip agreed with Deputy Boyle’s point. Those are the facts.
Mr. Roche: Deputy Gilmore is repeating his false allegation. The reality is that last week at the Whips meeting Deputy Boyle indicated he wanted this matter discussed in the House. He did not speak to me about that and Deputy Gilmore’s Whip agreed with him. On the basis that there was no unanimity, it came before the House. The Deputy should not tell this House something that is a pack of——
Mr. Roche: I was going to suggest what Deputy Gilmore said was probably inadvertent but obviously it was not, as he said himself, it was just a political charge. I am telling the House the truth. Deputy Boyle disagreed with it going to the committee, which he is entitled to do and Deputy Gilmore’s party agreed with that. That is the reality. Deputy Gilmore appears to be besotted with conspiracy theories — perhaps the first sign of a man who has entered into some form of mid-life crisis——
Mr. Roche: ——as his delusory meanderings in this regard have displaced all logic. Alternatively — I hope this is the case — he is a man who has spent far too much time in the sun without the benefit of his pit helmet.
Mr. Roche: Whatever the explanation of Deputy Gilmore’s wild-eyed delusions in this matter, the fact remains that the Government wanted to deal with this matter in an Oireachtas committee, not least to give Members from all sides of the House the opportunity to explore — as Deputy Catherine Murphy tried to do — their concerns on the issue.
Mr. Roche: I am sad that the propensity of the Opposition to seek to make a political football out of everything has now started to displace all logic. This has resulted in the worst manner of handling this issue. This matter could have been before a committee. I was anxious and willing to go before the committee. I wanted to go before the committee and was prepared to give this matter hours of debate before——
Mr. Roche: Let us move to the issues. I am not confused but Deputy Gilmore is misleading the House. He is doing a disservice to democracy when he says one thing in the secrecy of the Whips committee and another thing in public here.
Mr. Roche: I will not allow that to happen. Let us deal with the issues. Deputy O’Dowd disagreed with my proposal to introduce planning applications for off-licences. I am amazed at his position on that. To return to the point made by Deputy Catherine Murphy, under the existing legislation, planning permission is required for one to open a chipper but it is not required for an off-licence. I do not know where other Members are coming from but I think that is a bizarre situation.
Mr. Roche: His party has been holding anti-social behaviour meetings around the country with varying levels of success. There was a very low turnout in one case but I will not embarrass him on that. Maybe the next time he is holding one of these he will explain to voters why he wants off-licences to be able to operate on an untrammelled basis here.
Mr. Roche: Let me get to the points as they were made. Draft regulations were circulated. There was a great response, some of which were very detailed. We are working through that issue in the Department. I expect to be in a position to publish the new regulations later in the summer.
Mr. Roche: At that stage, maybe we will have a logical debate on them in committee. I mentioned this in the Oireachtas committee the week before last, I will also publish draft and management guidelines relating to planning to ensure consistency in planning authorities.
That I am bringing forward this legislation on peat extraction, demonstrates my willingness to meet the European Commission’s concerns on Ireland’s performance in the environmental area, a point touched on by Deputy Cuffe. This change in natural heritage areas, NHAs, will meet the outstanding concerns of the EU Commission and the Court of Justice. Deputy Gilmore asked what has changed. The reality is that the Commission has been in continuous contact with us on this issue. It is anxious that we should ensure that planning authorities have the possibility of stepping in to halt industrial scale peat extraction where that is necessary. I remind Deputies that we are talking about peat extraction in excess of 10 hectares, which is 24.71 acres. That is certainly not a year’s supply for a farmer.
Deputy Naughten raised the issue of forestry, which is not dealt with in these regulations. Telecommunications masts were dealt with by Deputy Gilmore, who again shows signs of senility in this matter, because these issues were dealt with in the 2001 regulations and discussed at some length. I contributed to the discussions. As a spokesman on environmental policy I am amazed that Deputy Gilmore appears not to be aware that masts now require planning permission. Matters like this——
Mr. Roche: ——in an Oireachtas committee. Two of the parties in this House conspired to ensure it would not happen. Deputy Gilmore has made wild-eyed, delusionary assertions that, somehow or other, I managed to persuade Deputies Boyle and Stagg——
Mr. Roche: We have an illustration of how Deputy Gilmore will operate from now on, that is, by distorting the truth, telling the first fable that comes into his mind, being delusionary and denying the reality.
|Ahern, Michael.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Andrews, Barry.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Blaney, Niall.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Brady, Martin.||Brennan, Seamus.|
|Browne, John.||Callanan, Joe.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carey, Pat.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Collins, Michael.||Cregan, John.|
|Cullen, Martin.||Curran, John.|
|Davern, Noel.||Dempsey, Noel.|
|Dennehy, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Ellis, John.||Fahey, Frank.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fitzpatrick, Dermot.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Fox, Mildred.|
|Gallagher, Pat The Cope.||Glennon, Jim.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Hanafin, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Healy-Rae, Jackie.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||Lenihan, Conor.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGuinness, John.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moloney, John.|
|Moynihan, Donal.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M. J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donnell, Liz.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Flynn, Noel.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Malley, Tim.|
|Parlon, Tom.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Sexton, Mae.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Smith, Michael.||Walsh, Joe.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Breen, James.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Crawford, Seymour.|
|Crowe, Seán.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Deasy, John.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Enright, Olwyn.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Gregory, Tony.||Harkin, Marian.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kenny, Enda.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McCormack, Padraic.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McGrath, Paul.||McHugh, Paddy.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.|
|Murphy, Catherine.||Murphy, Gerard.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Noonan, Michael.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Pattison, Seamus.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ring, Michael.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Ryan, Seán.|
|Sargent, Trevor.||Sherlock, Joe.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Twomey, Liam.||Upton, Mary.|
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