Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 July 2010

10:00 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Heritage and Local Government the position he has taken in response to threatened EU fines for failure properly introduce planning and environmental legislation; if will make a statement on matter. [30553/10]

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Since entering office, I have attached the highest priority to the transposition and implementation of EU planning and environmental legislation. I have secured the closure of 30 infringement cases during the past three years and my Department is in discussions with the Commission with a view to further closures later this year.

In areas for which my Department has responsibility, the European Commission is currently in correspondence in respect of 21 cases covering the transposition and implementation of EU planning and environmental legislation, two of which relate to the late transposition of EU directives. These are the directive providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment and the directive establishing an infrastructure for spatial information in the European Community.

I expect that the proceedings on the public participation directive should be addressed to the satisfaction of the Commission very shortly following completion of a number of steps including the commencement of a relevant provision in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 and the making of further regulations to address issues. As regards the directive establishing an infrastructure for spatial information, I expect to sign regulations into law shortly that will transpose it.

The transposition date for one further European Union directive, on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, was 11 June 2010. My Department is working to ensure that the transposition of this directive will be completed as soon as possible, thus avoiding the initiation of infringement proceedings.

The Commission made a decision on 29 October 2009 to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice for an imposition of fines in relation to the directive on the quality required of shellfish waters, while deferring such referral for three months. Following comprehensive work by my Department to address the outstanding issues involved, the Commission closed the case in March 2010.

Ireland has never been fined by the EU for an environmental infringement. I have met Environment Commissioner Potocnik since his appointment to reassure him of my commitment to resolving outstanding cases and to ensuring that Ireland is fully compliant with EU environmental law.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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To what extent did the Minister have discussions with the Commissioner on fines to be imposed on Ireland? The Minister is at least three years in office and has had ample time to transpose into Irish law the various directives affecting the environment, for which area he has specific responsibility.

How long will it take to transpose into Irish law all the remaining directives relevant to the Department? From the Minister's discussions with the Commissioner, will he indicate the seriousness with which the Commissioner will consider Irish compliance failures? Has he assured the Minister that there will be no fines imposed on Ireland?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I have had extensive discussions with former Commissioner Dimas. Commissioner Potocnik has taken over from him. I made it a priority to speak to the Commissioners directly in the company of a number of officials. I had similar conversations with them. I discussed possible outstanding infringements and did so very comprehensively. I was probably not the only Minister responsible for the environment seeking meetings on this issue because it must be a priority for all of them.

When I took up this position, there was a very serious issue in respect of potential fines. This is why I keep the matter under constant review. I said to the former and current Commissioners that I take a very simple view on the matter; I say that we will do whatever it takes.

EU directives have been very good for environmental protection. Without them, there would be an inferior state of play in so far as the environment is concerned. It is a matter of regret that we point to Brussels critically too often.

I recently saw the "Prime Time" programme on the protection of habitats, including 32 raised bogs.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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We were talking about that today at the Joint Committee on European Affairs. The presence of the Minister would have been greatly appreciated.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Yes. I spoke on the issue at the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is an extremely important issue, yet it is being used for political purposes. Misinformation is being circulated. I am sure the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor, has seen-----

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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We are too old for that dictum stuff. The Minister should tell it to somebody else.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The concept of the urban-rural divide, which is totally false, is regrettable. Let there be no mistake that it is being used for political purposes.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I asked the Minister a question.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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During my tenure as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I have not believed we will be fined. We are taking every precaution possible and doing the work necessary, although we are playing catch-up.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Has the Minister been given a guarantee? The Commissioners must have been very impressed with him.