Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Environmental Policy: Motion [Private Members]
Deputies will be aware that people who are burning solid fuel in rural areas are those who are at the highest risk of fuel poverty. It would do significant damage to their ability to heat their homes. The alternative would be that it would undermine the basis of the ban we already have. If such a case were taken successfully, it would undermine the ban that applies to Dublin and to the 26 other substantial towns. I am not willing to expose us to that risk. That is the reason I am adopting the incremental and proportionate way I have set out. It would be dishonest to pretend that a nationwide ban does not carry the probable outcome for either the ban in Dublin and in other urban areas or for rural areas, and I am not willing to do that.
The motion also raises issues concerning water quality. I recognise that the recent report by the EPA is disappointing and shows water quality deterioration in some river basins. We recently introduced a water quality strategy that is set out in the Government’s River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018-2021. It sets out a comprehensive agenda to address the issue. It is one we need to pursue vigorously and that will be done.
We must be also very conscious that some of the sources of the pollution are coming from farming and wastewater discharges. Both Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the EPA are working with agricultural bodies and farmers directly and providing free advisory services to help them improve the run-off from land that is causing some of the damage to water quality.
As Deputies are aware, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has identified through Irish Water 255 projects that will improve water treatment in urban areas. Some 94 of the projects have been completed up to 2018. In addition, there is a marine strategy for clean and healthy, biologically diverse sustainably used marine waters.
The motion is so wide that it is very difficult to deal with the range of issues that have been raised in the ten minutes that are available to me.
I am very conscious of quarry licensing, which is an issue that has been exposed in a recent RTÉ programme. While the legislation is in place, issues clearly arise in terms of more effective enforcement. We must be fair and recognise that there is a need for the courts to take such offences more seriously. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will engage with the planning authorities to help them to develop more decisive actions.