Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Environmental Policy: Motion [Private Members]
Economic growth should not equal environmental decline but this is what has happened in our country as our economy has expanded in recent years. Our natural environment has taken a punch in the gut from industry, agriculture and transport. The mantra of "Ireland being the best small country in which to do business" is followed by a full stop. We know that Ireland is not the best small country in which to have secure and affordable accommodation. We know also that Ireland is not the best small country in which to be looked after when one suffers ill-health and that it is certainly not the best small country for reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.
In 2011, during the very depths of the economic crisis, Ireland's rivers were in improving health. Dublin became the first capital city in the world to have three salmon rivers, the Liffey, the Dodder and the Tolka. Salmon only run in healthy rivers with minimal levels of pollution and they are a very simple but telling indicator of ecological health. After three years of economic decline, the health of our rivers was improving and toxicity levels were decreasing. During the Celtic tiger years, for example in 2005, the Tolka River was one of the most polluted rivers in Europe. We are back to square one now.
Water quality in nearly half of our rivers is failing to meet a satisfactory level with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, stating that less than 1% of our rivers are pristine. Salmon and trout levels are in decline as our rivers become more polluted. Water systems are a key indicator of the environmental health of a country and ours is in failing health. The lack of regulation of industry and agriculture by this Government has allowed this to occur. We must make changes to our economic model and prioritise environmental regulation to prevent harm. We must hold accountable those who cause environmental destruction.
We also have a major problem with air quality in our major towns and in our cities. The EPA's Air Quality in Ireland 2018 report found that levels at monitoring sites in Ireland were well below European Union standards. Also, several sites throughout the country were above the World Health Organization's guidelines for fine particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide. In Dublin, the report pointed to St. John's Road beside Heuston Station as a spot where data from monitoring suggested that levels of nitrogen dioxide would exceed the EU limit value in the near future. It also pointed to the entrance to the Dublin Port tunnel as exceeding the EU limit values. Traffic, as well as industry, has been found to be the main contributor of nitrogen dioxide to the atmosphere around Dublin. The increase in traffic over the last few years, leading to Dublin being one of the most congested cities in the world, has brought us to this point and it is no surprise to me that the port tunnel and motorway intersections are the worst affected areas.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends low emission zones to combat poor air quality yet investment in public transport continues to lag behind. We need the urgent delivery of MetroLink for Fingal. Sustainable, greener forms of transport are not only a commuting necessity, they are an environmental necessity which will help save lives. With traffic emissions in our major cities at chronic levels, air quality is also further compromised by the continued use of smoky coal throughout the country. The partial ban has been a qualified success but is now time to extend it nationwide. The Labour Party call for a nationwide ban on smoky coal makes sense. It is supported by the EPA and, most important, it will save lives.
According to Ms Ciara McMahon, programme manager at the EPA, smoky coal causes the deaths of up to 1,000 people per annum. This is damning data, which should lead directly to a nationwide ban. We are failing to meet our carbon emission targets and we are set to miss our EU 2020 targets, at a cost to the State of upwards of €150 million. If we continue to track as poorly as we have been, we could face billions of euro in fines by 2030.
The latest announcement to extend the smoky coal ban to 13 towns is another tepid measure. If the evidence is that smoky coal is a problem, then we need a nationwide ban. Government has talked the talk on housing, health and climate change but it has not walked the walk. Not one decision has been made that one could say is brave or transformative. It is tinkering around the edges of all of the major issues with one goal in mind, namely, to remain in power and avoid the judgment of the people. It is rapidly running out of road.