Friday, 20 April 2012
Burial and Cremation Regulation 2011: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
When one enters the wonderful new museum and genealogy centre at Glasnevin Cemetery, one is greeted with a quote of Leopard Bloom from James Joyce's Ulysses:
How many! All these here once walked round Dublin. Faithful departed. As you are now so once were we.
Incredibly more than 1.1 million Dubliners and non-Dubliners have been buried in the historic Glasnevin Cemetery since it opened in 1832 under the direction of the great Daniel O'Connell. The 124 acres of Glasnevin Cemetery embody the social and political history of our capital city over the past 180 years. The graveyard has also been the site of a number of iconic funerals that, in effect, helped to change the course of Irish history. However, it is not just Glasnevin Cemetery and other great city graveyards such as Dublin's Mount Jerome or St. Finbarr's in Cork city that are of major importance. Thousands of parish and local authority graveyards in villages and towns up and down the country are the repository of vital local history and stand as unique memorials to our past.
Clearly, how the dead are buried and commemorated has always been an integral part of our culture and heritage from Newgrange stretching right up to the present day with a growing number of Irish people opting to have their loved ones cremated. On average, nearly 29,000 people die in the Republic each year and the disposal of human remains, whether through burial or cremation, must be carried out to the highest standards and with the strictest regulations in place to oversee the process. For this reason I greatly welcome the selection of this Private Members' Bill, the Burial and Cremation Regulation Bill 2011, for debate in the House today, as it attempts to address some important gaps in the regulation of cemeteries and crematoria. Comprehensive primary legislation would be the most effective way of addressing the lack of statutory safeguards in this complex and very sensitive area.
This Bill originated in a number of grossly inappropriate planning applications for private crematoria and cemeteries that were submitted in my own and other constituencies. I was inspired to prepare the Bill by the work of my Labour Party colleague and eminent Fingal county councillor, Peter Coyle. Last year, for example, Councillor Coyle and myself welcomed Fingal County Council's refusal of permission for a new private burial ground and crematorium beside St. Doolagh's Nursing Home in Balgriffin, Dublin 13. This proposal, in particular, also brought to light the astonishing lack of a legislative and regulatory framework for the development and operation of crematoria across the country.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, acknowledged this in a reply to a parliamentary question to myself last July when he said that there "are no specific regulations governing crematoria in Ireland" apart from the general planning process. Section 47 of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Acts 1878 to 2001 allows the Minister to "make regulations in relation to the disposal of human remains other than by burial". It has been suggested by existing crematoria operators, including the Glasnevin Trust, that an interim measure could be for the Minister to introduce regulations for cremation under this Act. At this stage I would like to pay a warm tribute to Mr. George McCullough and Mr. Mervyn Colville of the Glasnevin Trust, who briefed me, and all of their staff given their outstanding work in overseeing five major cemeteries - Dardistown, Glasnevin, Goldenbridge, Newlands Cross and Palmerstown - as well as two crematoria at Glasnevin and Newlands Cross. The Glasnevin Trust is governed by the Dublin Cemeteries Committee, a voluntary not-for-profit organisation that was first established in 1828 and re-established under the Dublin Cemeteries Committee Acts of 1846 and 1970.
Existing crematoria operators such as the Glasnevin Trust follow UK legislation and best practice. However, this is done on a voluntary basis and there is no onus on any potential new crematorium operator to follow this example. I wish to stress at this stage that the existing crematoria in Ireland are highly reputable operations and families who have opted for cremation have reported the very high standards that they have experienced throughout the whole process. However, given the growing importance of cremation in Ireland and the number of planning applications for new privately-run crematoria, it is important that we update the legislation and ensure that all future crematoria are operated and maintained to the highest standards.
In 2006, just more than 8% of people who died in Ireland were cremated. It is now estimated that between 10% to 12% of people who die in Ireland are cremated. That is a low figure compared to many other states. For example, in the same year in Denmark the cremation rate was 74%, while in the UK the rate was 72%. In New Zealand the rate was 66%, while it was 40% in Germany, 34% in the USA and 21% in Spain. Incredibly, the Japanese cremation rate is more than 99%. Given trends across the world, it is likely that cremation rates will increase in Ireland. Dublin has a higher rate of cremation at 15% than the national average, which is clearly mainly because the option of cremation is available here. Three out of four Irish crematoriums are located in Dublin with the fourth in Cork. I understand that the first non-city based crematorium is set to open in Cavan by the end of this year.
The first general UK cremation legislation, including cremation certification, was introduced in 1902 and it is notable that Ireland was specifically excluded under section 16 of that Act. In the aftermath of the uncovering of the horrific crimes of Dr. Harold Shipman in the UK, there were a number of important reviews there of the cremation certification process including the Shipman Inquiry, the Fundamental Review and the Scottish Review. The so-called Fundamental Review of 2003 found that "the death certification and coroner services were not 'fit for purpose' in modern society". A number of critical recommendations for the reform and modernisation of the UK death certification process were made in these reviews, some of which were implemented under the subsequent Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008.
I understand that the cremation certification process in Ireland is strict. For example, before a cremation can take place the medical referee must sign the relevant forms and be fully satisfied that the attending doctor viewed the body before and after the death, and completed the medical certificate and the form stating that there is no reason the body should not be cremated. This attending doctor is also required to assess whether the coroner should be notified of the death. In addition, if the cause of death is initially unclear, it would be difficult to get an immediate cremation without a coroner's cremation certificate. In extreme cases, a Garda superintendent has the power to stop a cremation.
A strict cremation certification process is clearly critically important given that with a burial the body can be exhumed if any suspicion of foul play arises. Irish crematoria operators have also informed me that they believe that a case such as the Shipman case would be very quickly flagged in this jurisdiction. However, a number of stakeholders have also suggested that the Irish cremation certification process could be looked at either through a comprehensive cremation Bill or an expanded version of the long-awaited new coroners Bill. Such a review would encompass many complicated and sensitive issues and is beyond the scope of this Private Members' Bill, which concentrates on the regulation of the establishment, operation and maintenance of crematoria. Part 5 of the Bill, however, stipulates that no cremation may take place in Ireland apart from in a licensed and approved crematorium and after the application for cremation has been approved by all relevant authorities. I urge the Minister to urgently address this matter in primary legislation.
At present it is possible for anybody to simply open a crematorium once they have applied for general planning permission for their premises. Contrast this with the process in place for running an off-licence or applying for a taxi licence where in the case of an off-licence the applicant needs planning permission for their premises as well as a three-part full off-licence to be able to run their establishment. If a licence is needed to sell alcohol or to operate a taxi business, why is it not necessary for the operation of such a sensitive business as a crematorium?
In addition, it is not clear whether local authorities and An Bord Pleanála have the expertise to invigilate crematoria proposals given the lack of regulations that are in place for their operation and maintenance standards. What guidelines are local authorities and An Bord Pleanála operating to when they assess an application for a new crematorium? One of the observations at the time of a recently refused application for a private crematorium was that the proposed cemetery site was so small that it would be in effect a funeral home with a crematorium attached. Such a system is widespread across the United States. Given the incredibly sensitive nature of this process, it is critical that clear standards are laid down now to regulate the establishment, operation and maintenance of all crematoria in Ireland to best international practice.
That is why the core part of the Bill before us provides for the establishment of a self-financing burial and cremation regulatory authority in Parts 2 to 6. One of the authority's key functions, as laid out in section 3, would be to approve the building and operation of all crematoria and to licence the practice of cremation in the State. This would be based on a plan presented by the relevant Minister on a ten-yearly basis setting out the core principles of the death disposal process in the State, including the planning, building and maintenance of crematoria. My colleague, Councillor Peter Coyle, has also called for Fingal County Council to prepare a detailed report and policy document on the care and management of cemeteries in Fingal. This could be replicated at national level for both crematoria and cemeteries in the ten-yearly strategy plan. Some counties, particularly Sligo, have drawn up such a plan for their cemeteries.
Section 4 clearly sets out that any persons or company wishing to open or close a crematorium must give notice to the authority and must ensure that strict maintenance standards are adhered to. Section 4(4) also allows that every crematorium operator must make its crematorium open for inspection at any reasonable time by any person appointed for that purpose by the burial and cremation regulatory authority. Section 4(3) stipulates that any crematorium operator must ensure that the columbarium wall, or memorial wall, at the crematorium or in a cemetery is well maintained and kept in a clean and orderly condition. I have received numerous complaints about the maintenance of memorial walls in a number of cemeteries.
The absence of clear legislative provisions is also highlighted by the national council on the Forum on End of Life in the context of the environmental sustainability of the cremation process given the problem of mercury emissions.
The national council of the Forum on End of Life is an initiative of the Irish Hospice Foundation that began in 2009 to engage with the public on end-of-life issues in terms of dying, bereavement and the disposal of human remains. The forum is chaired by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness and involves stakeholders, including the CEO of the Irish Hospice Association, the Irish Association of Funeral Directors, the Dublin City Coroner, senior medical experts involved in palliative care, the former CEO of the National Council for the Aged, the National Council for the Elderly and the National Council on Ageing and Older People.
Burial grounds are subject to legislative provisions, including under the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Acts 1878 to 2001 and the Local Government Act 1994. However, there is still a significant gap in legislation dealing with privately built and managed burial grounds, including new "green" cemeteries. The long-term financing model for private graveyards and crematoriums is a profound issue that has not been addressed in any meaningful way. In 30 or 40 years time will it yet again fall to the public authorities which run existing great historic cemeteries or local authorities to provide sustainable long-term financing and care for privately established cemeteries and crematoriums? As my colleague, Councillor Peter Coyle, stated in his formal objection to the St. Doolagh proposal:
While cemeteries can generate a lot of profit, the revenue tends to be front-loaded. As the cemetery fills up, the source of income disappears. The question of maintenance then becomes a major issue for the speculator.
Will it then become the case that privately run graveyards will be able to charge exorbitant prices for access to burial plots? The cost of burial plots has already been raised a number of times by my colleagues, Deputies Robert Dowds and Eamon Maloney. If a private cemetery operator goes bust, will the local authority or the State be left with ongoing horrendous operating and maintenance costs for burial grounds? Just as it is the case with crematoriums, it is not clear that local authority planning departments or An Bord Pleanála are in a position to invigilate a cemetery proposal which necessarily involves the long-term sustainable management and financing of memorials and graves.
In the course of preparation of the Bill I received an excellent brief from two members of the national council of the Forum on End of Life, the former CEO of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors, Mr. Gus Nicholls, and Mr. Mervyn Taylor and also from Ms. Sarah Murphy of the Irish Hospice Foundation. The national council of Forum on End of Life produced an excellent document in April 2011 entitled, The Funeral Industry in Ireland: The case for reform and regulation. The report states, for example, that "there are major problems in Ireland with regard to sub-standard funeral care. There are currently no barriers to entry and no licensing in an industry responsible for the burial or cremation of up to 30,000 people a year". It also notes that out of around 600 funeral service providers across the country, just about 250 are members of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors which lays down strict guidelines for its members. Less than 100 of the 600 providers are full-time operators. Sadly, the report also highlights the "significant particular lack of regulations and standards in the area of embalming, often carried out by untrained personnel in inadequate hospital premises". It sets out the legal framework in place in other states to regulate their funeral industries. In the Canadian state of Ontario, for example, there is a Funeral Directors and Establishments Act which established a board of funeral services to oversee the licensing and regulation of the sector. In the United States there is the Federal Trade Commission's funeral rule to ensure transparency in the provision of goods and services from a funeral service provider. In Australia the Public Health (Disposal of Bodies) Act 2002 lays out strict guidelines for the sector. In Britain there is consumer protection in the case of funeral services and contracts under sections 59 and 60 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
The national council of the Forum on End of Life has proposed a valuable reform programme for the funeral industry, including an official certification and licensing process for all funeral service providers; a self-financing regulatory framework for all funeral service providers; mandatory training for all funeral service providers and embalmers; official oversight and inspection of funeral homes and embalming facilities; and enhanced transparency with written estimates for and itemisation of funeral costs and bills. Clearly, the administration of these requirements could form a key function of the burial and cremation regulatory authority.
Given the horrific current economic circumstances, I understand some colleagues may be wary about the establishment of a burial and cremation regulatory authority under Part 2 of the Bill. Clearly, there were many unnecessary and costly quangos established during the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats-Green Party era as various Ministers attempted to outsource their key responsibilities to unaccountable bodies. In this case, however, the industry is highlighting the lack of regulation and licensing in the sector and the need for urgent Government action. The burial and cremation regulation authority would be a self-financing body as outlined in section 2(2) of the Bill through the levying of a small charge on operators in the sector. The national council of the Forum on End of Life has proposed that a new self-financing Irish model could see funeral service providers paying a levy of €25 per funeral which it estimates would generate an annual income of €722,450 based on 28,898 deaths per year. In this context, the forum has warned about the possibility that part or all of this charge would be passed on to the public, an issue which it believes must be addressed in legislation before any new levy would be introduced.
It is estimated that, on average, a funeral in Ireland costs approximately €4,500, rising, on average, to €5,000 in the greater Dublin area. It must again be noted in this context that the cost of graves has been raised on numerous occasions by colleagues in the House.
In the Bill I have proposed the establishment of a stand-alone regulatory body, the burial and cremation regulatory authorityl. However, in its report the Forum on End of Life highlights a number of other methods through which a regulatory agency for the funeral sector could be established. Its proposals include the establishment of an office within the HSE for the regulation of funeral services, the expansion of the role of the Health Information and Quality Authority to include funeral services or the establishment of an office within the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The Minister could take any of these routes or he could simply accept the Bill.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity on behalf of the many people who work in this sector and all of our constituents to raise this subject which I ask the Minister to place on the clár for future Government action.
Tá áthas orm seans a fháil labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo atá os ár gcomhair inniu. Gabhaim leithscéal an Tí ar an chéad dul síos ar son mo chomhghleacaí an Teachta Niall Collins. Theastaigh uaidh bheith anseo chun déileáil leis an reachtaíocht seo ach leagadh as an Teach é. I commend Deputy Broughan for bringing this important matter before the House. As we move towards the start of the weekend,it could be said that we are taking the graveyard slot of the week's business, but that does not take away from the importance of the issues before us. Clearly, Deputy Broughan has committed significant time and thought to the issue. It is a particularly pressing issue in the greater Dublin area, but it will inevitably affect us in rural Ireland in due course. This is an issue that affects all of us, even more than taxes. It is an opportunity to reflect on the broader issues involved. While we are sceptical about aspects of the Bill, we welcome the chance to thrash out what is needed.
Reflecting on the subject matter I am reminded of the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke's view of the State as being founded on the profound link between the "dead, the living and the unborn" and our obligation to ensure the departed generations who once shared this island are respectfully treated. Graveyards are clear symbols and reminders of our past. They bear testament to the lives of the people who shaped the areas around them and bequeathed to us the country in which we live. Memorials to past generations, family members and friends are a repository of the history of a local area. Deputy Broughan has given as an example Glasnevin Cemetery in which are to be found the graves of national heroes who defined the country. The republican plot holding the men and women who defined the fight for freedom, the round tower-peaked tomb of the Liberator, Daniel O'Connell, and the grave of the great Charles Stewart Parnell who established political party politics as we know it today are resting places that attract visitors and commemorations.
On a human level, graveyards are the place of repose of loved ones and family members. They are the final resting places of those who may not fill the pages of history books but who make up the life of the country. How we treat the dead is a major part of our heritage and culture and reflects on our values. It is in this light that I welcome the chance to discuss the Bill and the wider issues around burial and cremation.
There are several issues I would like to discuss relating to the Bill, as well as the broader implications for burials and cremations across the country, including the cost of burials, the adequate regulation of current burial and cremation practices, as well as future developments in human disposal, the role of local authorites in regulation, the proposal in the Bill for a new regulator and the need for Government legislation.
The financial implications of funerals are often overlooked amidst the inevitable grieving that comes with a loved one passing away yet, it it a serious cost. The average price of €4,500 or €5,000 per funeral is a serious amount of money, particularly for those on low incomes. With 30,000 people passing away each year in Ireland, it means €135 million is spent on funerals every year. Access to plots is a growing concern for people. In County Kildare the sharp cost is clear - a plot will cost approximately €1,100 with an additional administrative fee of €120. One also cannot purchase a plot before the death occurs so there can be no advance purchase for family accommodation. There is a significant divergence of cost across the country in this regard. For example, in comparison to Kildare, in County Offaly a plot can cost €400. Funeral directors are reacting to the rising costs by avoiding securing the plot for the departed and leaving that issue to families to resolve.
Securing additional lands for graveyards is a growing concern for local authorities. We have seen the massive growth in population over the past 20 years throughout the country, but while the houses were being built little was being done by local authorities to provide for the long-term needs of people who wished to repose eventually in the communities in which they lived. Little was done by local authorities to ensure adequate graveyard space was provided. Kildare County Council is engaged in ongoing negotiations with landowners to expand its graveyard facilities as current grounds reach capacity. The opportunity to be buried locally, near their homes and beside their families and friends, should be available to all people. Tackling the rising costs of funerals and ensuring that adequate and appropriate grounds are available for burials must be the key goal in any legislation regarding burials and cremation.
Deputy Broughan raises the issue of privately run cemeteries and crematoria and the long-term financial sustainability of such operations. The prospect of a private operator going bust and leaving the graveyard in desolation is an appalling one. Clearly safeguards must be in place to ensure that the long-term future maintenance of such graveyards is assured.
These concerns lead me onto the crux of the Bill, a proposal for a new authority to supervise the industry. Deputy Broughan has put forward a plan for a new authority, the burial and cremation regulatory authority. This has been advocated by the national council of the Forum on End of Life in Ireland. While there is a clear need to provide effective regulation of the area, I am wary of this idea as a solution to the problem for two main reasons. The first is the potential cost to the taxpayer of the new body or quango being established and the second is the repercussions it has for the role of local government. We are living through a period in which the local authorities are to be divested of their responsibilities for the provision of water and sanitary services and now it is suggested that they be deprived of their role in the area of burial and graveyard maintenance.
People are justifiably sceptical about the establishment of an additional quango. The self-financing model from Ontario Canada that is advocated, with €25 per funeral going to the authority, might not work and I fear the additional costs will ultimately be borne by the consumer and lead to more expensive funerals, rather than lowering the price as should be the aim of regulation. Will holes in the financial model be plugged by the ever embattled Exchequer and ultimately the Irish taxpayer? We have an obligation to explore other less potentially costly methods to address the issue.
Local authorities, as the local operators with real local knowledge, have the potential to expand their role in this area. As Deputy Broughan has detailed, they need a clear, strong regulatory framework to adequately supervise the evolving industry locally. The stripping from local authorities of what powers they have through the murky creation of Irish Water and leaks about the abolition of town councils do not bode well for the future White Paper on local government reform. It indicates a haphazard approach by the Government to local government. Reducing the role of local authorities through this Bill would further compound the ongoing failure to take a holistic approach to local government reform. The piecemeal approach in whittling away powers will exacerbate the problems we have experienced with a system that is not fit for purpose in modern Ireland. It would be premature to create a new body to supplant the role of local authorities in the area before we have conducted a root and branch review of the future shape of local government and what powers local authorities should have.
The evolving nature of how people deal with the end of life in Ireland presents a series of challenges for regulation. The rise of cremations as an increasingly popular choice looks likely to continue over the coming years. Ireland has a comparatively low rate of cremation but trends suggest that this will continue to rise steadily, demanding regulation in the area as new crematoria are established. There are just four crematoria in the country and one suspects there is a growing demand for such facilities to be available in regional locations. The current four crematoria operating in the State have a strong reputation that we should acknowledge, but that should not stop us from providing for the future. New methods of disposal are being developed across the globe, such as promession. This is the dipping of the corpse in liquid nitrogen. Technology in the area is rapidly advancing beyond what we previously anticipated and will continue to do so into the future in ways we cannot even imagine at present.
As part of revamping the role of local authorities we should ensure they have a clear regulatory framework to supervise these new and old industries adequately. An interim cremation regulation under the Local Government Act is one such method to deal with the uncovered area of cremation. The Deputy's Bill correctly highlights the role of the deeply important Columbarium Wall as a specific area to be protected. Regulations covering standards in funeral care, ensuring that trained personnel provide an adequate, respectful service should be set out. Specific guidelines for local authorities to decide upon graveyard and crematorium planning applications are also required. These guidelines should be integrated into the county development plan in setting out the spatial future of burials, crematoria and other end of life issues in the county. The guidelines should integrate environmental concerns, spatial impact, the social role of end of life facilities and potential cost implications.
Deputy Broughan's call on the Government to begin a comprehensive review of this area is welcome, and we support it. This review should not take place in a vacuum but as a broader part of examining the role of local government. The review should place at its heart the need to ensure that people's right to a humane final repose is maintained. The National Forum on End of Life in Ireland sets out a number of interesting ideas that are worth exploring as part of the comprehensive review. Its proposals for reform cover official certification, model for regulation, official oversight and inspection of funeral homes, embalming training to be mandatory for embalmers and embalming facilities to be regularly inspected as well as full transparency on costs involved in setting out a funeral. These ideas along with those of other stakeholders should form the core of a review and future legislation in the area.
In conclusion, I again thank Deputy Broughan for producing the Bill and reflecting upon the challenges facing a neglected area. I am glad we have had the opportunity to discuss these matters in the House today. While I disagree with the creation of a new authority, Deputy Broughan's Bill raises important matters that should be dealt with comprehensively by the Government. The evolution of how people wish to go to their final resting place, the rising demand for burial plots and the cost of funerals set the immediate agenda for reform. On a more fundamental level, there is a bigger issue. Deputy Broughan started with a quote by Joyce, so I will try to keep up the high level literary tone. Just as Joyce's image of the snow falling "upon all the living and the dead" reminds us of the flow of life, we have an obligation to ensure that the dead are respected and looked after in their final rest. I look forward to a meaningful Government response to the concerns and suggestions outlined here today. I commend Deputy Broughan on his initiative.
I compliment Deputy Broughan on bringing this Bill forward. It is alarming that there is no legislation to regulate the establishment of crematoria in the State. Sinn Féin agrees with Deputy Broughan that there is a need for regulation to ensure cremations are carried out in a proper and dignified manner. Respecting the bereaved, the family and the local community is key to this. Expecting those who carry out cremations voluntarily to follow the British code, as is happening at present, is naïve and unsatisfactory. While I understand the need for regulation and standards, the Bill is overly prescriptive. Currently, it is the role of a local authority to oversee and maintain public cemeteries. The establishment of yet another ministerial appointed quango, the burial and cremation regulatory authority, as outlined in the Bill, is not productive. Local authorities, with democratically elected members, provide some level of accountability. Quangos do not.
The requirement for the authority to be self-financing will raise alarm bells. This requirement may make the process of burial and cremation more expensive than it already is. Burial and cremation is hugely expensive at present. I have heard figures as high as €7,000 quoted, particularly in the city of Dublin. Will the public have to pay to fund another quango on top of that? I understand the need for regulation but it should come under the local authority and, in turn, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Its application, regulation and oversight should be left to local authorities.
There has been mention of private cemeteries. It is timely that Deputy Broughan has raised this matter. The Bill highlights problems that could affect people in, perhaps, 50 years time. Huge problems could be caused if a company that owned a private cemetery went bankrupt, for example. We need regulation to cover that eventuality.
If local authorities need more legislation to assist them in their duties, that is a discussion we must have. Local authorities already have wide ranging powers to regulate cemeteries. They can pass by-laws, for example. Some years ago, I was involved in introducing by-laws for cemeteries in County Laois. Many of these by-laws are being used in a positive manner by councils. In simply practical terms, local authorities are best placed to implement any set of agreed guidelines. The establishment of a national body to oversee burials and cremations would further undermine the positive role of councils and restrict flexibility and co-operation between local authorities in managing graveyards. I am referring to the joint burial boards that exist on the boundaries of local authorities where a number of councils might come together to form a joint burial board.
The Bill also calls for the approval of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to acquire, hold and dispose of land for graveyards or crematoria. This is the job of local councils. Local authorities already make those decisions based on need and demographics in their own local areas. If more land is required local authorities can acquire it. Many local authorities are facing tightening budgets but this merely underlines the need for adequate funding of our local government system. Creating another authority on top of that system will not solve the problem. The Government will have to deal with this funding issue as part of reform of local government. I look forward to that happening.
The upkeep of disused graveyards must be addressed, particularly those of older communities and minority faiths. Huguenot and Quaker graveyards come to mind. Here in Dublin and in my own constituency of Laois-Offaly some of these graveyards have fallen into disrepair and been vandalised. It is important that these burial grounds be maintained with dignity and when they become disused that any development in or around them be done in a sensitive manner. The Huguenot graveyard in Merrion Row, not ten minutes from here, is a good example of how a cemetery of historical note can be beautifully maintained, but another Huguenot graveyard has had its gravestones covered in graffiti and tumbled over to make way for development.
While the Bill attempts to deal with this issue it states that the burial and cremation regulatory authority will have national responsibility for the long-term maintenance of all cemeteries. This is a huge legal and practical challenge because there are thousands of graveyards throughout the State, owned by councils, burial boards, churches, local committees, trusts and so on. It is not practical simply to stitch into the Bill a requirement that the body would be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all of those.
Sinn Féin fully supports the need for regulation of graveyards and crematoria, particularly the new emerging private graveyards which will pose challenges in the future. However, to think the issue will be resolved by a seven person ministerial appointed authority is naïve and impractical. I urge Deputy Broughan to rethink the Bill and change its emphasis. The Bill should allow for more powers to be devolved to local authorities. A previous speaker referred to powers being taken from local councils. At present, the upkeep of cemeteries comes under water services in most of the local authorities I deal with. Here is an area where we can give local authorities extra powers to implement regulations. I would like to see national regulations established that can be used throughout the State, with local authorities having a role in ensuring they are enforced and that people are buried with dignity and burial places preserved and maintained.
Deputy Broughan does a considerable service in bringing forward this Bill. Until I read the Bill and received other information, I was unaware there is no legislation to regulate the establishment and operation of crematoria and some graveyards. It was a particular inappropriate planning application for a private burial ground and crematorium on the grounds of a nursing home in his own constituency that brought the lack of regulation to light.
I was surprised and appalled to see there are no barriers to entry and no licensing in an industry that is responsible for the burial and cremation of 30,000 people every year. It seems as if anyone can set up in this business. There is a mixture of full-time and part-time funeral operators in the country. There seem to be no regulations or standards in the area of embalming, where there are often untrained personnel and inadequate premises. Cremation, which has become more popular, is also not governed by specific laws or regulation.
Crematoria are following UK legislation and best practice but there is no obligation on them to do that, so there is, obviously, a need for this legislation. I believe the Bill is in the public interest.
Funerals and the ceremonies associated with them are part of every society and in Irish society we have a great respect and understanding for people at these difficult times. We also have great respect for burial grounds. If one walks into any Irish graveyard during a weekend, coming up to Christmas or Easter or at anniversaries or particular occasions, one sees families and friends tending graves, planting shrubs or bringing flowers. They are remembering their loved ones in death and honouring them in that way. In my own experience, the graves of my relatives and friends in the Dublin area are well tended and looked after. It causes great anguish and anxiety to people when graves are desecrated.
Regulation of crematoria is vital from an environmental point of view, owing to mercury emissions produced by dental amalgam in human remains. In preparing for this debate, I learned that in many European countries emissions from crematoria are now a major source of mercury emissions. Other ways to treat dental amalgam waste are covered by EU law but emissions from crematoria are not. This is something else to be tackled. There are also various newer approaches to dealing with human remains. These could also be a subject for debate.
The Bill contains some technical details relating to the proposed burial and cremation regulatory authority. The details on the roles, resignations and removal of members are straightforward. However, I am concerned about the bugbear of expenses. I agree that regulation is necessary and that an authority is necessary but I do not want to support legislation that could create another quango. We have enough of them.
The national council of the Forum on End of Life in Ireland has a model of licensing for funeral directors involving payment of a levy by funeral directors into a central fund. This self-financing model is similar to one in operation in Ontario, Canada, for the past 30 years. The proposal is that the levy would be paid by funeral directors in exchange for official certification and licensing. The levy would go into a fund which would finance the operation of an office which would regulate the funeral industry. The industry must be regulated according to the number of funerals a funeral director organises. Population is a major factor. Some areas such as the greater Dublin area have many more funerals than take place in other parts of the country with smaller populations. The difficulty is that the payment of the levy by funeral directors could result in an additional cost to individual funeral bills, which would not be desirable. The suggestion is that the levy would be €25 per funeral. Based on 30,000 deaths per year that would realise more than €700,000. I hope if such a levy were to be introduced that it could be absorbed by funeral directors and not by bereaved families.
It was said that the average cost of a funeral in Dublin is approximately €4,500. From my experience of organising funerals it is considerably more, while it is slightly less outside the greater Dublin area. Graves account for a considerable part of funeral expenses. Standard plots in Dublin are between €1,500 and €5,000. I cannot understand why it costs almost the same to open an existing grave as it does to open a new grave. Some funeral directors in the Dublin Central area have been most supportive of families who have been unable to cover the cost of funerals. I know of families in some communities that are struggling badly to cover the costs, in particular in the case of the deaths of young people.
We are somewhat spoiled in the area I represent - Dublin Central - because we have long-standing funeral directors who are all full time and who provide a professional service. I refer to Stafford's, Kirwan's and Jennings'. They have put resources into their funeral parlours although if anyone could use the word "nice" about a funeral parlour some of those fit the description. They are quiet, dignified places that allow families privacy and dignity. The way in which those undertakers have handled funeral arrangements at difficult times has been second to none.
Deputy Broughan addressed issues on the planning of new crematoria and graveyards. I hope the proposed authority will follow proper planning procedures because we have enough examples of irregular planning in this country. It is important that the rules and procedures relating to the maintenance and running of crematoria and graveyards are set down and followed.
In the Dublin area, Glasnevin Cemetery does a phenomenal job of looking after the graves. The cemetery has a lot of historic graves, ones which are of great interest to everyone. I am impressed with the museum that it has set up and the various walkways, which add something to the cemetery.
In the context of burials, I have been involved in cilliní. I acknowledge the work of archaeologist and anthropologist, Toni Maguire, who has been doing great work in this area. She uncovered thousands of cilliní in the diocese of Down and Connor. She is now working in Milltown Cemetery. She stresses the social importance of preserving cilliní, which involve burials carried out in secret. In some cases the babies were not baptised or some other issue arose in connection with the death. The families tried to bury the children as close to consecrated ground as they could and that must be respected. I wished to take the opportunity to make that point. Perhaps the authority could take it on board and the walls associated with crematoria could accommodate a space for the cilliní.
Another group of people of whom I am aware from my involvement with them are the ladies who lived in the Magdalene Laundries. They had no dignity in life and, unfortunately, in some cases they do not have any dignity in death. Again, perhaps the proposed authority could play a role in ensuring there is a proper memorial to those ladies who are buried in various graveyards throughout the country and that we could get rid of the word "penitents" in the graveyard in Galway.
There are examples of international best practice in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom where this area is subject to regulation. Questions arise in terms of the role of local authorities in that regard but I support the proposal in the Bill for another authority, one that will take the issues on board and get involved in licensing and regulation. I support the Bill.
I apologise for the non-attendance of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, who has other appointments today.
I thank Deputy Broughan for publishing this Bill, availing of the Friday facility for Private Members' Bills and for providing the opportunity to discuss this matter. While the Bill does provide a useful opportunity to discuss the issues involved, it does not provide a useful basis on which legislation in this area could proceed. He will be aware that related matters have been raised by other Members of this House, in particular regarding the costs of burial plots and the wider funeral industry. While the Bill does not cover these areas, I recognise the interest of other Members of the House in this area. The main legislative provisions currently dealing with the provision, management, regulation and control of burial grounds by local authorities are contained, in the first instance, in Part III of the Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878. However, these provisions were amended by Part VI of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1948 and, more recently, by the Local Government Act 1994.
The setting up and operation of crematoria is not specifically regulated in current legislation; however, the establishment and operation of a crematorium is subject to the provisions of other legislation such as the Planning and Development Acts, the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Air Pollution Act 1987. The requirements may include the need for planning permission, an EPA licence or an air pollution licence. The provisions of Deputy Broughan's Bill have been closely examined. While it presents an earnest attempt to deal with the issues he has discussed, the Government is opposing it for a number of reasons, primarily because its provisions do not effectively deal with all the areas that would need to be dealt with under such legislation. The Government also has serious concerns on the proposal to establish a new agency as envisaged in the Bill, especially given Government policy regarding agencies and quangos and the resource and cost implications of such proposals, which are critical within the context of the current financial situation in the country.
There are a number of critical matters that the Bill does not provide for and which could be regarded as fundamental. I will make brief reference to some of the shortfalls. While the Bill concentrates on the establishment and functions of the authority, there is little of real substance in the Bill dealing with the regulations envisaged for either crematoria or cemeteries. Even the detail involved in the establishment and operation of the authority is not fully addressed in the Bill. For example, there is no definition of what quorum would be required for matters requiring a vote; neither is there a provision for the drawing up or publication of annual accounts nor for the possible winding up of the authority. There is no reference in the Bill to allowing a Minister to give direction to the authority on policy matters, something that would be vital to the correct running of such an authority. Furthermore, there are no provisions for expenses, remuneration, pension payments and the like for members or staff, and no rules for the absence of a member or chairperson.
While the Bill does refer in general terms to a requirement for operators to give notice of the opening or closing of a crematorium or cemetery and the requirement to keep the crematorium or cemetery in good condition, there is no reference to more specific requirements. For example, no specific requirements are set out that would have to be met by an operator in order for his establishment to be approved by the authority. There is no reference in the Bill to guidelines or further regulations that would or should be produced to ensure consistent and effective operation of such establishments. In short, there is no provision in the Bill for regulation-making power to set standards or provide guidance, which I understand is the very purpose of the Bill.
Other difficulties in the Bill include the absence of provision for the official appointment of authorised persons; no powers of entry without a warrant; no power to direct an operator to carry out a particular function; no set time periods provided to comply with a course of action directed by the authority and, rather tellingly, no express power provided to the authority to take punitive steps against an operator who fails to comply with any standards or rules in place. Indeed, there is no reference at all to sanctions in the Bill. No recognition is given in the Bill to existing provisions contained in the Acts and regulations currently on the Statute Book and which govern burial grounds. While some of this legislation is quite old, it has served us well and will continue to do so. If and when changes to these regulations are required, these changes will be duly considered and made.
Calls for a review of this legislation in recent times have been more to do with the costs involved in funerals in general, and the cost of burial plots in particular. The current legislation does not address costs, nor should it. Equally, the Bill does not refer in any way to costs. The cost of funerals in general, and burial plots in particular, are not matters that should be dealt with through legislation. These are matters for the providers of such services and any problems in these areas should be addressed directly to the providers involved.
The proposal in section 3 of the Bill that the Minister establish strategic plans on a ten-year basis for the planning, building, operation and maintenance of all cemeteries and crematoria is not acceptable to the Government. The emphasis in recent years across Government has been one of subsidiary - allowing decisions to be made locally, at the lowest possible level. This is already the case in this area. The Local Government Act 1994 specifically removed the Minister from the previously held role of involvement in dealing with restrictions on places where bodies may be buried and restriction on exhumations. Instead, it gives this responsibility to local authorities. This allows decision making in these matters to be made at a local level where local knowledge is readily available. Neither the Minister nor the Department should be dictating from afar what should be done in a county or city council area with regard to crematoria and cemeteries when these decisions can be, should be and currently are being made at a local level.
The establishment of a burial and cremation regulatory authority, as proposed, is not acceptable to the Government. As already stated, there is a requirement to examine carefully the financial implications of the establishment of any proposed new agency. The Bill states that the authority would consist of not more than seven members. It also refers to the chief executive and staff of the authority. No doubt the agency would have to secure office space, office equipment and a new logo. It would have to pay for stationery, telephones, light and heating, and all other necessary administrative supports. This is not acceptable at a time when the Government is looking to reduce the number of State agencies and the number of State employees.
The Bill states that the authority would be self-financing. This is not really the case, as it is proposed that the authority would charge a cemetery levy on all cemetery and crematoria operators. Given that the majority of cemeteries are operated by local authorities, this levy would result in the majority of the authority's finances being sourced from the local authorities. We all know the current difficulties with regard to the financial situation in the country, and in particular the situation with regard to financing of local authorities. It would be wrong, especially in the current economic environment, to levy the local authorities with a charge of this kind, given that these authorities are the very organisations that are operating the majority of the cemeteries. It must be assumed that the local authorities, and, indeed, the private operators of cemeteries and crematoria, would simply pass such a charge on to the public through higher costs for funerals, thus increasing the cost of an already expensive service.
The Bill contains no principles or policies regarding the amount of the levy and there is no cap in place to set a maximum level. Neither is there any detail as to its application to existing public or private operators. Furthermore, section 6 of the Bill proposes that the authority would have national responsibility for the long-term maintenance of all cemeteries. This proposal could have serious and costly implications for the authority. It means that the operators of all cemeteries, both public and private, would have an opt-out from maintenance of their establishments, leaving the proposed new authority responsible for such maintenance and, ultimately, for the costs which would result from this. It would be irresponsible of us to allow for such a serious and significant option to be available to operators of cemeteries - it could result in a serious financial burden for the proposed authority in future years.
Finally, I would point out that the Bill makes no reference to offences, fines or penalties that would arise if operators of cemeteries or crematoria operated without approval of the authority. Nor does it deal with the situation with regard to currently operating establishments, how these should be approved, timescales for this process, etc. There is also no indication of how the proposed authority might enforce closure of either a previously approved or a non-approved operation and what consequences there would be for the operator and establishment.
I thank Deputy Broughan for the opportunity to discuss this Bill. We have an obligation to carefully analyse any proposal that comes before the House. Having analysed this Bill, it is clear that the contents are not comprehensive enough to adequately address the issues involved in this area. Crucially, we must question whether there is a real need to enact such legislation at all, especially given the current need to use limited resources to address the most pressing needs of our communities and the need to ensure that available resources are used in the most productive way possible. I trust that this House will appreciate that for the reasons given, the Government cannot support this Bill proceeding through the House on this occasion. I give the House an assurance, however, that the issues will be monitored on an ongoing basis and will be addressed if and when required in a considered, proportionate and effective way.
I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this important subject. It is something we all go through in our lives, whether with a family member such as a mother or father, and it is a distressing period where many families are exploited.
It used to be said that the two things one could not avoid were death and taxes. I am not too sure whether in this country over the past decade one could avoid taxes - the previous Administration left quite a number of people away with that.
Deputy Broughan's Bill is not about creating a new agency or quango, but dealing in a positive manner with what is going on in graveyards and crematoriums. Although the number of cremations is quite small by international standards, it is growing. I certainly see this in the Dublin area, where the number is growing at a rapid rate and crematoria are now part of the funeral industry - we should call this an industry.
The funeral industry in Ireland is not being regulated. I believe strongly that it is in need of reform and regulation and that this is not happening at present. The small charge of €25 under the Bill, whether it is accepted or not, is a tiny percentage of the graveyard and crematoria costs currently incurred. If it gave comfort to the public to know that the area was properly regulated and properly managed, and people were not being ripped off, it would be €25 well spent. I would support that within the formula of the Bill.
Other Members mentioned something I raised when I was a member of a local authority in that cremation poses a problem regarding emissions. There is a strong role, both for local authorities and the EPA, in monitoring the mercury element in that regard. That has not been dealt with to date and it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency to give those living in and around those areas confidence that it is properly monitored and controlled. Regulation in Ireland on this is weak.
I would like to see a comprehensive examination of the costs of burial plots and the opening of graves. On the monopoly system, I am not too sure what happens in the rest of the country, but there is clearly a monopoly situation within the Dublin area. When families are distressed, I believe there has been an element in the past of families being ripped off in some instances. Deputies Dowds and Maloney raised that matter well on previous occasions. I take the point of the Minister of State that there is a shortfall in the Bill, but it is difficult for a single Member to bring forward a Bill which does not have shortfalls. I would like to think this Bill is the beginning of a conversation and debate. Death arrives at families in a very sudden manner and people are not reassured that they are not being ripped off on such occasions.
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. It is a timely debate. I would not like to think that because the debate is being held on Friday we would go away and forget about it until another newspaper runs a story about how much the funeral industry is ripping people off. I hope the Minister of State takes on board the intentions of the Bill. Let us build on them and give reassurance to families that at a very distressing time they are not ripped off, but that the cremation industry will be properly regulated and people can have confidence in it.
I commend my colleague, Deputy Broughan, for bringing the Bill before the House. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments of Deputy Humphreys. All areas of social and economic life require democratic and transparent regulation. We know more acutely in this country than perhaps anywhere else in the world what happens when areas of life are not regulated properly. The people we represent deal with that reality every single day of their lives.
Death is an issue that affects every family and is a very sensitive area. Aspects of it, if required, should be regulated through legislation. Bereaved loved ones are entitled to the utmost dignity and respect regardless of income, social class or geographic location. This Bill can give society confidence that the Oireachtas is cognisant of that fact. As has been said, cremation is on the rise in Ireland with figures indicating about 6% of those who pass away are cremated. It is clear that cremations will continue to increase as time goes by, which is why there is an urgent need for regulation. Therefore, it is vital that citizens have confidence that the State is aware that as life is changing and the life cycle develops the State and Oireachtas are able to legislate and respond. I welcome the fact that the Bill includes a self-financing mechanism for the new agency. There is nothing wrong with establishing agencies to regulate areas of life provided they are required and appropriate. In this situation that may well be the case.
Those working with the bereaved should welcome the Bill as it puts clear standards and expectations in place. Like many aspects of local development, this area shows the need for proper planning and development. As a former member of Fingal County Council I share the acknowledgement by Deputy Broughan of the work done by Deputy Coyle and all the other Labour Party councillors on Fingal County Council. In my area the need to identify areas for new graveyards is crucial and it is vital that the local authority responds to that need.
In terms of the need for good planning, I would like to put on the record of the House the outstanding work done on the north side of Dublin by my colleagues the Minister, Deputy Burton, and former Deputy Seán Ryan who was ably succeeded by Deputy Brendan Ryan, who championed the need for proper planning and sustainable development, often in the face of criticism from developers and, in particular, elements within the Fianna Fáil Party who have not championed good planning and sustainable development over the years.
I commend this excellent Bill and hope, as Deputy Humphreys said, that if for technical reasons it cannot be accepted today, the issue will come before the House again and we can ensure there is proper regulation of cremation. It is in the interests of already excellent providers to ensure there is best practice in the country.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Broughan, for raising this issue. I take the response of the Minister of State on board, namely, that the Government cannot support the Bill. I support the substantive issues proposed in it. I am delighted the Minister of State said the issues will be taken on board.
As everybody knows, this is an emotive issue. I am from a rural constituency where anyone who wants to be cremated has to drive to Dublin. I would like that situation to change. As Deputy Humphreys said, the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Death is something we will all have to deal with at one time or another. I thank Deputy Broughan for his hard work. The Bill has revealed that there are difficulties in this country with regard to funerals, burials, cremations and afterlife care.
I was quite amazed to find this area is not on a statutory footing. Local authorities have responsibility for graveyards and graveyard maintenance. We have come a long way from a situation where benevolent farmers gave fields to villages to be used as burial plots. I was quite surprised to find there are currently no barriers to entry and no licensing of an industry responsible for the burial and cremation of up to 30,000 people a year.
I did not think Deputy Broughan advocated a move away from local authorities, but perhaps he can clarify that in his summation. There are up to 600 funeral directors in Ireland, of which fewer than 100 operate full time. Many operate other businesses. People who were interviewed by the forum quote problems like funeral directors not having enough staff and incidents of neglect, misconduct and, perhaps more worryingly, unqualified people carrying out specific technical and important duties like embalming.
The varying degrees in standards in practice and facilities tend to have a negative impact on grieving families as their needs are not met. At a time such as the passing of a loved one it is simply not good enough to have below par services which cost a substantial amount of money. There was also evidence of invoices which had no itemisations outlined on them and ambiguous invoices being issued. There were reports of hospital and mortuary staff being petitioned by funeral companies to encourage business.
While historically it has not been a very popular choice, there has been an increase in those seeking cremation as an end of life option. There does not seem to be any regulation of the area. As Deputy Broughan pointed out, if somebody can obtain planning permission he or she can open a crematorium. I talked to some local authority staff to find out their policy on cremation, burial grounds and how we will deal with this situation in the future. They said they did not have a policy and they were unsure if it was a planning matter. They felt it was more of an environmental matter.
It is a matter for planning and environment departments. Local authorities did not think there was such criteria and said they did not have a defined policy on this issue because there was no national policy. Perhaps it is time that we decided on a national policy. I was startled to find that previous Governments had a lack of policy on this issue. Local authorities have environmental SPCs.
Perhaps the Government and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government could send a directive to local authorities to instruct them that this is another area for which we need to devise a policy so we can proceed with clarity in future. I support the substantive issues raised in the Bill and I congratulate Deputy Broughan.
I thank the Minister of State and the Acting Chairman for being here as well as our other colleagues, Deputy Ó Feargháil, Deputy Brian Stanley, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and my party colleagues, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, Deputy Pat Nulty and Deputy Ann Phelan for taking part in the debate on this legislation.
I brought forward the Bill to try to start a wider debate and to bring to the attention of colleagues in the House the lacunae and the significant gaps I have found in legislation in this area, especially in the case of crematoriums. My meetings with stakeholders brought home to me the difficulties. I could not believe there was no law for crematoriums. The Minister of State indicated he would keep the matter under review but this is an important and highly sensitive aspect of our lives and those of our families. Yet, there is no relevant law in this State. It is incumbent on the Minister of State, the Minister responsible, Deputy Phil Hogan, and our other colleagues in Government to bring forward legislation to address the matter, or simply to take the legislation in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and implement it here.
Earlier I quoted extensively from the Forum on End of Life in Ireland, an outstanding body made up of all stakeholders in this area. Ms Angela Edghill of the forum contacted Members this morning by e-mail stating the forum is keen to see a wider holistic legislative response to the issues involved in this area since the funeral, cremation and embalming service industries are among the least regulated businesses in Ireland.
Since publishing the Bill in 2011 I have accepted the issues relating to section 3, which deals with the functions of a cremation regulatory authority. In my 20 years in the House as a member of the Labour Party I have invigilated hundreds of Bills including dozens dealing with the setting up of new bodies. I am well aware of the important sections which would require a vote relating to functions of any proposed body. The Minister of State indicated that the areas of sanctions and penalties and full administration are not addressed. I accept the point made about staff. I envisage a small staff of perhaps between four and six people and that stakeholders would be involved on the board. Section 3 needs to be expanded to include the invigilation of the funeral directors industry as well as the provision and maintenance of burial grounds and crematoriums.
Almost all of my colleagues have referred to the role of local authorities. I enjoyed being a member of Dublin City Council for many years and I continue to liaise closely with the city council and Fingal County Council, the two councils covering the area I represent in the Dáil. I have always believed in increasing the powers of councils. I envisage a continued role for councils because they are the effective owners of many burial grounds. As the Minister of State and others suggested, they have a role through their environment departments in maintaining historic burial grounds. The role of local authorities is paramount. I thought deeply about this when I was studying the establishment of an authority and I deliberated on whether the local authority route or reform of the Local Government Act were appropriate methodologies to address these matters. However, my experience of several recent applications has raised some issues. I made a submission on behalf of Dublin North-East and Dublin North constituents some weeks ago related to a major new private development which is directly on the flight path of and close to the main runway of Dublin Airport. At present the local authorities do not have the expertise or legislative clout to address adequately such proposals, especially in respect of long-term maintenance. I quoted Councillor Peter Coyle on this issue several times. One may produce a proposal but for graveyards, the most holy of places for our deceased, one must include plans for 40, 50 and 60 years into the future.
Some years ago I studied history at third level. I remember examining graveyards from the 17th century in Wexford, my ancestral county, parts of the midlands and other parts of Ireland. I was always struck by how carefully people from as far back as the 17th and 18th century tried to preserve these memorials in such a way that someone studying the area 200 years later could study adequately the history of their native place or surrounding districts. I envisage the local authorities being heavily involved even if we go down the route proposed, that is, through the Department or the HSE. One proposal involves a unit in one of these bodies to bring an overarching approach to the matter.
The Minister of State referred to the Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878. I learned from my colleague, Councillor Peter Coyle, that section 174 of the Act forbids the location of a cemetery less than 100 yards from a dwelling house. It is not possible to propose a cemetery within 100 yards of a dwelling house. This is the law as it stands. However, there is no such restriction on a crematorium. Let us consider urban crematoriums. Urban or town public representatives could be faced with a proposal for a crematorium close to residential accommodation. These are some of the proposals our councillor colleagues in the local authorities are trying to grapple with. I believe profoundly that we need a comprehensive licensing and legislation system for the sustainable operation and management of cemeteries and crematoriums. While researching the area I noticed there is a plethora of applications for cemeteries, for green graveyards and crematoriums throughout the country, including in South Tipperary, Wicklow and County Clare.
The Bill started life as an effort to bring in some rules. I was hoping the Minister responsible, Deputy Phil Hogan, would introduce a statutory instrument to the House to deal with the invigilation of crematoriums. Between 12% to 15% of people who die in the country are cremated. I referred to comparable statistics in other jurisdictions throughout the world. All the indications are that the numbers will increase here. At present any private operator can set up a crematorium once they have general planning permission.
The Minister of State referred to EPA approval. Air quality emissions is one of the key issues that has not been addressed and that the local authorities find difficult to address. The Forum on End of Life in Ireland has stated that annual emissions of mercury from dental fillings in crematoriums in the European Union are between two and five tonnes. The UK Federation Of Burial and Cremation Authorities estimates that approximately 16% of all UK mercury emissions are from crematoriums. This figure may rise to 25% by 2020.
One of our most important cemeteries, Mount Jermone cemetery in Harold's Cross, has installed a new filtration system and a new crematory furnace. The staff have indicated that they are now compliant with the latest EU environmental legislation. Mount Jermone cemetery is home to 250,000 of our predecessors. Between it and Glasnevin, some 1.5 million people who lived in this city and region over centuries have their final resting place.
My colleagues and I have stressed the importance of the long-term maintenance of graveyards. I have several examples in my constituency of Dublin North-East which relate specifically to drainage issues. These are Balgriffin, a major cemetery in the heart of my constituency run by Fingal County Council; Dardistown, which forms part of the Glasnevin Trust; and the very historic cemetery at St. Mary's Abbey in Howth. A former Labour Party councillor, Ms Anne Carter, raised the major flooding and drainage problems at Balgriffin and Dardistown on several occasions in Dublin City Council. Again, there did not seem to be any prescription in regard to drainage, which is just as vital as air emissions in cemeteries. Relatives of deceased persons buried at Balgriffin have been very upset to see new graves completely waterlogged as a result of flooding of the nearby river. These drainage issues have not been dealt with either by Fingal County Council or the Glasnevin Trust. Before Christmas last year bad weather led to major flooding on the Howth Peninsula, resulting in a whole section of the graveyard at St. Mary's Abbey being washed down and several coffins of recently deceased persons being opened due to the disturbance of the earth. Fingal County Council is doing very important work in restoring the walls and graves. These three examples from my constituency show that local authorities must be given stronger powers in this area or else consideration should be given to establishing an overarching authority.
An issue I did not have time to address in my opening statement is the assessment of future burial needs. The current economic crisis has placed a question mark over the ambitious predictions for the State's population growth in the coming decades. Unfortunately, the equivalent number of people in a full Croke Park on all-Ireland day left the country last year, despite the Government's best efforts to address the crisis. The recent census figures showed that half of the approximately 78,000 people who left our shores last year were native Irish people. As such, the projections for a population of 6 million plus by the end of the decade commencing in 2020 may not come to fruition. We must all hope the Government will be successful in addressing the macroeconomic situation, notwithstanding my opposition to some of its policies, and that the population will continue to rise. In that context, there is great concern among communities, particularly in the greater Dublin area but also in towns throughout the country, that it will be increasingly difficult for bereaved families to access a burial plot at a reasonable distance from their home. Sligo County Council prepared a very interesting burial ground policy for the period from 2006 to 2010, something which all local authorities, if they have not done so already, should replicate. Sligo County Council's survey in 2005 showed that in ten key burial grounds in the county, space was either limited or non-existent. Part of the work of a regulatory authority such as the one I have proposed in the Bill would be to plan for future needs in an holistic way across the State.
My Labour Party colleagues, Deputies Robert Dowds and Eamonn Maloney, and others referred to the increasing cost of burial plots and charges for the opening of graves, as recently covered in the media. For instance, South Dublin County Council recently hiked the cost of plots from €1,200 to €1,800, while prices are also to rise in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Deputy Dowds highlighted the incredible prices being charged in some Dublin cemeteries, with one Dublin family paying €6,000 for a plot in Palmerstown. Cremation with an urn now costs between €596 and €626 at Glasnevin, with such fees formerly generally running at approximately €500. The cost of cremation and being placed in a column-bearing wall is now €1,296. This is another area in which administrative oversight could be assumed by a burial regulatory authority. I mentioned in my opening contribution that the Forum on End of Life in Ireland is anxious that all undertakers and funeral directors be subject to a full licensing and training programme, as their own association has recommended. While we all acknowledge the great work done by firms throughout the country, all such operators should be subject to national legislation. I accept the point made by the Minister of State in this regard.
I take the opportunity to refer briefly to green cemeteries and associated new technologies, to which Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred. A recent proposal for a green cemetery in County Galway referred to minimal development being necessary because the green infrastructure was already in place. However, that is not really acceptable in the long term. I have in mind the new graveyard on Mount Leinster, for example, in which several people I knew have been laid to rest. This, too, requires long-term care and maintenance. In the case of the various new developments such as promession and other chemical disposal methods involving liquid nitrogen and so on, as the author of a recent article in The Economist observed, all such new technologies require associated legal frameworks.
Reference was made to a burial regulatory authority being just another quango. I dislike quangos as much as anybody else, but the Minister of State might have noticed that what is proposed in the Bill is based on the Property Services Regulatory Authority. Under previous Administrations, I consistently urged the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to introduce such a body. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, finally signed the relevant order in recent days and the authority is being established. However, the horse has already bolted. Action was not taken when it was needed most, in 2003 or 2004. I acknowledge that this was directly and absolutely the fault of Fianna Fáil in government. However, it now falls to the Minister of State to take on board the issues I am seeking to address by way of this legislation. He has said he will keep the matter under review. I hope the Department will examine these proposals and the points made by colleagues and come forward with a plan to legislate. We are available for discussion.
These Friday sessions have been very valuable in facilitating Members to bring forward useful legislative proposals. I contributed to the debate on Deputy Mattie McGrath's Bill some weeks ago. It would be helpful if Departments engaged to a greater degree with Deputies in bringing forward Private Members' Bills by identifying the gaps in the legislation and suggesting how it could be made better by the insertion of X, Y or Z. Such co-operation would help to make Bills more Dáil-proof. Having Friday sittings is a great innovation and the Government deserves to be commended for their introduction.
On the issue at hand, I reiterate that all of the stakeholders, particularly the Forum on End of Life in Ireland, the Glasnevin Trust and other operators, impressed on me the urgent requirement for legislation on cemeteries and crematoria. I urge the Minister of State to ask the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, to examine our proposals.