Tuesday, 1 July 2014
Radiological Protection (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 9, after line 41, to insert the following:On Committee Stage I outlined a similar amendment. It is fair to argue that this Bill is facilitating a merger, with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, being assimilated into the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, rather than there being two distinct organisations with separate profiles. I made the argument on Committee Stage, and I will continue to make it, that at the very least there should be a guaranteed separate function and office within the EPA. As I stated on Committee Stage, Professor William Reville indicated to the committee some time ago that the function of the EPA is to protect the environment from people, whereas the RPII has a function to protect people from nuclear material and radon gases. These are almost converse functions.
“Establishment and functions of the Office of Radiological Protection
15. (1) The Agency shall establish within its organisational structure an office to be called the Office of Radiological Protection.
(2) Management and direction of the Office of Radiological Protection, within the organisational structure of the Agency, shall be the responsibility of the person who becomes a director of the Agency under section 14(1).
(3) The Agency shall ensure that all functions transferred to the Agency under section 6(1) shall be administered from and carried out by the Office of Radiological Protection.”.
The EPA does good work within the science sphere and it will have an enhanced function from climate legislation, as it will have oversight of how to keep targets to be set in the sectoral plans. The difficulty is the EPA does not have the resources to really enforce some of the areas they have licensed, and there are a couple of bad examples in my constituency which I referred to on Committee Stage. I am concerned that it is quite stretched anyway and this is another so-called elimination of quangos. How organisations are put together and cultures are mixed is a challenge in its own right. This is not a merger and, if it was, it would be the sum of two equal parts, which is not what it will be. The amendment provides for the separation within the EPA and I am interested to hear the Minister of State's comments on the matter.
The Government on Committee Stage did not really seem to take on board the points Deputy Catherine Murphy and I made on Second Stage. There are two reasons to be concerned and oppose the legislation. We may have a chance to discuss one of these before debate on the Bill finishes today. The Government is rolling in two elements, one of which is an international treaty and the other is the merger of the RPII and the EPA. They should not be in the same Bill and I have a fundamental problem with such a process. I would probably support one of those elements but I do not really support the other.
Radiological protection and ensuring we are adequately protected against radiation, whether natural or generated by the nuclear industry, is a very important business. It is not something that most people worry about much of the time, and I hope we never have to worry about it in a serious way. At any time there could be an accident and radon is an ongoing problem. The issue of potential nuclear accidents is serious, and we all might be running around asking who has the plan if anything serious was to happen. One remembers the major embarrassment for the last Government when it was discovered that the big plan consisted of giving out iodine tablets, staying indoors and hiding under a table. It was not very heartening stuff when we are dealing with something as dangerous as radiation, one of the more dangerous phenomena known to man. We must have a dedicated body for dealing with this issue and not one simply subsumed under the EPA, with no guarantee that its specificity on an issue of crucial importance will be maintained or respected in a new body.
This amendment is really the minimum we could ask of the Government in order to allay such concerns.
If the Minister of State is not willing to grant this, he should at least agree to a separate agency which will be responsible for this area and maintain all the current functions of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII. If the Minister of State wanted to ensure the RPII is merged with, rather than liquidated and subsumed by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, he would accept this amendment and would have acknowledged its legitimacy on Committee Stage.
He has failed to do that, which causes me concern, to say the least, about this Bill. I do not think we should be doing this. I do not see its value or the savings. When the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy O’Dowd, introduced the Bill on Second Stage, he was very vague about the savings this would achieve. There are no real savings but considerable costs have been incurred in preparing this merger. I heard a figure of €800,000 and the Minister of State has not identified anything close to that sum in savings to be achieved. This is decorative but potentially dangerous because a body we need to watch something important such as radiation and its potentially damaging effects could be endangered. I am interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say to allay our concerns. If he was taking those concerns seriously, concerns that the RPII has strongly indicated, he would accept this amendment. If he does not, I will be forced to vote against this Bill.
I support amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Murphy. It is very important. We have all been lobbied about this and it is a very good amendment. While the EPA has an important role, the RPII also has an important and distinct role. I do not want to rehash what previous speakers have said but it makes sense to try to ensure that entity is protected, that its role is enhanced and that we ensure its distinct function is preserved and maintained not just for its own sake, but for the sake of the people and the environment to ensure that we are protected from radiation. I will also support amendment No. 10 on revoking nuclear facility licences.
I know that normally Ministers do not take on board much of what comes from the Opposition but could there be an all-party approach to radiological protection? It will affect all parties, their supporters and constituents. Deputy Murphy has put a lot of work into her amendments and I commend her on that. They are very worthwhile. Amendments Nos. 1 and 10 are the minimum that should be accepted. They are vitally important.
It was determined at the commencement of the merger process that the most efficient and cost-effective way to enable the merger was to establish a fifth office within the EPA structure, the office of radiological protection. Section 19(3) of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 sets out that “The Agency shall consist of a Director General and four other directors”. It will be the function of the director general of the new merged organisation to arrange the distribution of the business of the agency among its directors but this must be done having regard to the statutory functions and requirements of the body. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate or desirable for legislation to prescribe the divisional organisations of the EPA or to confer one of the offices with a more pre-eminent or differential status.
Nonetheless, the EPA board, including directors of the new office of radiological protection, will have to continue to ensure that sufficient resources and effort are being directed at meeting all the merged body's functions. I have full confidence they will manage their expertise and resources accordingly. This approach reinforces the findings of an independent review of the EPA, published in May 2011, which concludedinter aliathat the flexibility and change management shown by the EPA is a major strength and should not be limited by overly-prescriptive statutory provisions governing the agency’s structure.
There will be savings of €260,000 per annum from 2016. There will no diminution of the commitment to radiological protection as a result of the merger so I do not propose to accept this amendment.
We are losing the independence of an organisation that has built up confidence. The EPA will have some unsavoury things to enforce when it comes to sectoral plans, climate change and making sure we stay within the parameters as set out in the Bill. I very much hope, and have a vested interest in hoping, that the words the Minister of State used about the most efficient and cost-effective way of doing something will not jump up and bite us all in the future. It is more important that the organisation operates independently, is focused on its functions, and is distinct. I regret that the Minister of State will not accept this amendment. This is not a merger. If the RPII is to be subsumed by the EPA, the least the Government could do is provide some assurance that there will be an exclusive focus on its remit, rather than make that part of the range of the EPA's functions.
When I hear words like “efficiency” and “cost effectiveness”, I immediately get the jitters because they are often code for cuts. The notion of cost effectiveness is narrowly defined. It is cost-effective to the value of €260,000 in 2016, according to the Minister of State. This is a new figure that has jumped out since we asked about the savings on previous Stages. I would love to hear where this €260,000 will come from because it was not mentioned in the Minister of State’s Second Stage speech. Even if the annual saving is €260,000, what will it cost us if there is a serious accident and we are not prepared for it? What will it cost if in the meantime because of the pressures on the EPA staff and resources and so on, the “flexibility” of its structure means that pressure is put on it not to give the proper resources or focus to replacing the RPII’s independent single-minded focus on this very specific area of radiation threat, through a nuclear accident or radon?
One cannot mess with these very serious matters. One cannot hope for the best or play fast and loose in this regard because the consequences of serious accidents are potentially deadly for large numbers of people. That is the thinking behind this amendment. The basis of our concern about this whole Bill is that we are talking about a very important area. We are not talking about any old area of the environment - we are talking about an absolutely lethal substance. That is why we are asking for these minimal guarantees. If the Minister of State cannot give them, and instead merely offers us some words, it will not be very convincing and the Government will be making a mistake.
The EPA is an independent organisation. It is not possible to put this single division on a statutory basis. The Deputy suggested that the figure of €260,000 has jumped out of the air. That figure was arrived at in the Department. The fact is that this will come to €1 million over four years. The Deputy talks here about giving more money to the poor, the vulnerable and everybody else who is trying to find money. This is about saving money, where possible, in the best possible way. That has to happen. The hallmark of this Government is that it tries not to waste money. If it is a case of amalgamating groups and putting them together in a cost-saving way, so be it. That is the way to do it. That is the way one stands over it. As I have said, one cannot be throwing away money that is needed in other areas and for other new ventures, such as job creation.
As I have said previously, we have been really bad at building institutions in this country. We inherited many of our institutions. If we are merging the cultures of two organisations, it is quite important to give them distinctive roles so that they can maintain some level of independence. I am pressing this amendment because it is the key amendment from my point of view in relation to this Bill.
- Gerry Adams
- Richard Boyd Barrett
- Tommy Broughan
- John Browne
- Dara Calleary
- Ruth Coppinger
- Barry Cowen
- Pearse Doherty
- Séamus Healy
- Michael Healy-Rae
- Joe Higgins
- Pádraig MacLochlainn
- Peter Mathews
- Finian McGrath
- Sandra McLellan
- Catherine Murphy
- Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin
- Seán Ó Fearghaíl
- Aengus Ó Snodaigh
- Jonathan O'Brien
- Willie O'Dea
- Thomas Pringle
- Shane Ross
- Brendan Smith
- Brian Stanley
- Robert Troy
- Pat Breen
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Catherine Byrne
- Eric Byrne
- Ciarán Cannon
- Joe Carey
- Paudie Coffey
- Áine Collins
- Michael Conaghan
- Seán Conlan
- Paul Connaughton
- Ciara Conway
- Marcella Corcoran Kennedy
- Pat Deering
- Regina Doherty
- Robert Dowds
- Andrew Doyle
- Damien English
- Frank Feighan
- Anne Ferris
- Brendan Griffin
- Noel Harrington
- Simon Harris
- Kevin Humphreys
- Derek Keating
- Seán Kenny
- Seán Kyne
- Anthony Lawlor
- Ciarán Lynch
- Eamonn Maloney
- Helen McEntee
- Tony McLoughlin
- Michael McNamara
- Olivia Mitchell
- Mary Mitchell O'Connor
- Dara Murphy
- Eoghan Murphy
- Dan Neville
- Derek Nolan
- Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
- Kieran O'Donnell
- Patrick O'Donovan
- Fergus O'Dowd
- John O'Mahony
- Joe O'Reilly
- Jan O'Sullivan
- John Perry
- John Paul Phelan
- Ruairi Quinn
- Pat Rabbitte
- Michael Ring
- Brendan Ryan
- Alan Shatter
- Emmet Stagg
- David Stanton
- Leo Varadkar
- Brian Walsh
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 12, to delete lines 25 and 26 and substitute the following:" 'radiological protection" means the prevention, limitation, risk-reduction, elimination, abatement or reduction of the harmful effects of ionising radiation;".".This amendment seeks to add "risk-reduction" to the definition of "radiological protection" that is inserted by the Bill into the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. The wording is intended to bring clarity to the mission of the EPA in respect of the protection of the population from nuclear radiation. It is essentially intended as a safety valve in the form of a defined function for the agency of identifying risk factors. I accept that this function may be implicit in the range of functions already provided for in the Bill.
Comprehensive legal advice has been taken in regard to this definition to ensure that it encompasses the full range of radiological protection functions provided for in Irish and European law. The definition has been carefully drafted to this effect and I am reluctant to incorporate any additional elements that may not have been rigorously tested in this way to ensure they are appropriate and do not lead to unintended legal consequences. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 16, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:This amendment ensures that by adding the word "climate", the definition of damage to the environment includes damage to climate. Again, this was covered on Committee Stage when I was given an assurance that the definition would cover all aspects. I would be satisfied if the Minister of State put that on the record.
"(a) the climate;".
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 19, lines 26 to 40, to delete all words from and including "(a) The Minister" down to and including line 40 and in page 20, to delete lines 1 to 4.This amendment removes the ministerial veto on the awarding of a nuclear material licence. I do not believe there are checks and balances in the wording proposed in the legislation and the EPA should be empowered to make this informed decision and not the Minister alone.
This new subsection of the Radiological Protection Act 1991, section 30(4E), does not provide the Minister with powers to veto licences. This section is intended to incorporate the terms of Article 2A.4.(a) of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities into Irish law. This article allows states to exempt certain nuclear materials from the protection of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities if they believe the danger from such material is of such low risk due to its radioactivity and-or quantity that is not deemed hazardous to people, property or the environment. An example might be very rare crystal glass manufacturing using uranium rather than lead.
Section 30(4E) allows the Minister to make regulations, if so desired, to specify such materials as not requiring the full protection of the convention, after consultation with the RPII-EPA. On Committee Stage, the Deputy expressed a concern that all necessary elements of the amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities be fully incorporated into Irish law. This is exactly the purpose of the proposed new section 30(4E) of the 1991 Act as this article needs to be incorporated into Irish law.
The Office of the Attorney General provided comprehensive advice and direction as to what elements of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities needed to be incorporated directly into Irish legislation and what elements did not.
The effect of the amendment, if accepted, would be that Ireland failed to have incorporated the principles and polices of Article 2A.4.(a) of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities and would not, according to our legal advice, be able to deposit an instrument of ratification with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Furthermore, in deleting paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection 30(4E), the remaining two paragraphs would become meaningless as they are deprived of all context. Accordingly, I cannot accept this amendment.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 20, line 18, to delete "from time to time" and substitute "at least once in every two years".I hope the Minister of State will accept this amendment because, on Committee Stage, it appeared that it may be accepted. The amendment requires a contingency plan to be prepared every two years as opposed to the current wording which states "from time to time". A degree of certainty is required. I would have thought that would be fairly straightforward and that the Minister would have accepted that there be some certainty by changing the legislation to include it. It is a fairly small amendment but it gives some certainty.
Amendment No 7 removes the requirement of the RPII or the EPA to consult the Minister prior to the preparation of a contingency plan. It is open to a Minister - not necessarily this one - to be quite directional in terms of the preparation of a contingency plan. It strikes me that a contingency plan should be prepared and only after that should there be an option to consult the Minister.
Amendment No. 9 requires the EPA to consult prescribed bodies on heritage and the natural environment. I think it was said on Committee Stage that it was open to do that but it is not a requirement. There is a major difference between saying it is open to one to consult and a requirement for one to consult. The Minister of State will appreciate that it strengthens the hand of the NGOs, in particular prescribed bodies on heritage and the natural environment.
In the course of drafting this Bill, the Department, in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, examined the matter of timing of these plans in some detail and concluded that it would not be appropriate or, indeed, advisable to insert any time period for the creation of such contingency plans. The purpose of these plans is to put contingencies in place to protect the security of nuclear materials and-or facilities from those with malicious intent as threats are identified.
The plans should reflect threats, or potential threats identified by the Garda, the Defence Forces or the RPII, on a case-by-case basis. As such, the plans should be developed in a fluid and evolutionary manner, depending on the considered threat assessment. To set a time period in the legislation could lead to a view that such contingency plans only need to be made every two years when there may be a need to revise them more frequently or less frequently, depending on the threats identified at any given time.
There is very little nuclear material in Ireland to which the amended CPPNM applies. It is proper that the Minister should be consulted on any matter that relates to such a serious policy consideration, especially one that is as serious as nuclear security policy. It is not unusual for legislation to require State agencies to consult relevant Ministers on important matters of policy within the Minister's remit. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 requires that the EPA would have regard to the views of the Minister when producing any code of practice. This subsection does not interfere in any way with the independence of the RPII or the EPA. The final decision on the formation of contingency plans will be theirs. The subsection merely provides a Minister with the right to have his or her view, if any, considered.
I also note an inconsistency in the Deputy’s amendments in that she wishes that the RPII and the EPA should only have to consult with the Minister on contingency plans, if they so desire, and yet wishes to include a whole range of new stakeholders, including Ministers and heritage and environmental bodies with whom the RPII and the EPA must consult on nuclear security quality assurance schemes. On that point, the Deputy also proposes that the RPII may consult prescribed bodies with expertise in heritage and conservation in relation to contingency plans. As such bodies have no direct interest or expertise in security matters, I do not see the need for that. Furthermore, that could undermine security measures in the first place. Taking the above into account, I do not propose to accept the amendments.
I accept some of the points made. The way to deal with the issue could be more often but not more than every two years. The Minister of State has more confidence in the arms of the State than I do. One can see, for example, how overstretched the Garda is and I do not expect it to be one of the headline issues for it to consider nuclear threats.
In amendment No. 11, I flesh out the various Departments and Ministers that should be consulted. The issue should not be the exclusive preserve of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government but he is the lead Minister in the context of amendment No. 7. On the one hand we are told that it is a statutorily independent body and, on the other, that appears not to be the case because the consultation must happen in advance of the contingency plan. Could the Minister of State address that particular point on amendment No. 7?
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 20, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
“(5) The Institute may, prior to the preparation, amendment or revocations of a contingency plan, consult with prescribed bodies for the purposes of consultation on heritage and environmental matters.”.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 20, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:I raised the issue on Committee Stage and I would like the Minister of State to respond to it on the record. The intention is to enable the EPA to remove a licence from someone who does not co-operate with the development of a contingency plan. Once the reply is on the record, I will be satisfied and will withdraw the amendment.
“(7) The Institute may revoke a nuclear facility licence and a nuclear material licence for failure by a licence holder to provide such assistance or cooperation under subsection (5).”.
It is neither necessary nor possible to accept the amendment. The RPII already has extensive powers to include any conditions it so desires or thinks are necessary in a nuclear material or facilities licence under the new subsection 30(4C) being inserted by this Bill, or using the powers it has under the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000 (SI 125 of 2000). Failure to comply with a condition or any requirement of a licence issued under the Radiological Protection Act 1991 is an offence under section 40(1B) of that Act and the offender could face up to ten years in prison and-or fines of up to €225,000 on indictment.
It should be noted also that the new subsection 34A(6) that this section will insert into the Radiological Protection Act 1991 makes assistance and co-operation with the RPII and the EPA in the implementation of a contingency plan a condition of the relevant licence to hold a nuclear material or operate a nuclear facility. In any case, it is not legally possible to require that failure to co-operate or assist with a contingency plan outlined in 34A could be dealt with under the provisions of 34B as the provisions of 34B relate solely to quality assurance schemes relating to the security provisions. I do not, therefore, propose to accept this amendment.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 20, to delete lines 37 to 39 and substitute the following:“34B. (1)The Institute shall, following consultation with:Essentially, the intention is to introduce much tighter wording. Currently, the wording only requires consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The amendment outlines the other Ministers who should be consulted and specifies other prescribed organisations.(a) the Minister;
(b) the Minister for Defence;
(c) the Minister for Justice and Equality;
(d) the Minister for Health;
(e) any other such Minister of the Government as deemed appropriate by the Institute;
(f) all prescribed bodies for the purposes of consultation on heritage and environmental matters;
(g) members of the public; and
(h) any other person as deemed appropriate by the Institute, formulate specifications (in this section referred to as ‘standard specifications’) for measures to prevent—”.
I would like to clarify for the Deputy what exactly are the purposes of the quality assurance schemes proposed to be introduced by section 40 of the Bill. These quality assurance schemes relate to the individual and bespoke security measures to be put in place by a person or body licensed to hold nuclear materials, transport nuclear materials or operate a nuclear facility. It is a basic principle that security measures are not publicised and are kept secret. In fact, the amendment to the CPPNM has as a fundamental principle that member states "establish requirements for protecting the confidentiality of information, the disclosure of which could compromise the physical protection of nuclear material and nuclear facilities".
Clearly, to consult the public or bodies that have no direct interest or expertise in security matters such as environment and heritage bodies or even the Minister for Health about quality assurance schemes for such security arrangements runs counter to this principle of confidentiality. In fact, it could seriously undermine that security in the first place. If I wish to keep terrorists out, I am not going to tell them the details of my security programme such as alarm systems, guards, gates or IT security.
Also, the effect of the Deputy's amendment would be to replace the entirety of subsection (1) with her proposed text.
I do not think this is what she intended as the language of her amendment suggests she wishes to keep paragraphs (a) and (b) of the subsection. The amendment, as proposed, deletes these paragraphs and, as a result, the language of the amendment does not make sense.
I do not propose to accept this amendment.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 23, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:“National Radon Control StrategyThis amendment requires the institute to report annually on the national radon control strategy to the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. This strategy was launched by the Government because radon gas is linked to around 250 cases of lung cancer every year. These cases are preventable if we keep up the profile of this issue and if people get their houses tested. A deliberate initiative in the legislation requiring this would be positive and informative if even one case of lung cancer is prevented. I saw a person die of lung cancer and it is a grim ailment so we must do all we can. This amendment offers a very positive and important aspect to the legislation.
34C. (1) The Institute shall oversee and prepare an annual report on the implementation of the National Radon Control Strategy.
(2) Any report prepared under subsection (1) shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht within two weeks of its completion by the Institute.”.”.
The creation and implementation of the national radon control strategy, NRCS, is an administrative and managerial issue for the merged organisations and is not appropriate for primary legislation. I remind the Deputy that a comprehensive NRCS is currently in place. Its purpose is to reduce risk to the population generally and to individuals living in areas with high radon concentration. The strategy contains recommendations on a broad range of measures aimed at reducing radon risk to people in Ireland and these are set out in six thematic areas. As I stated in my opening speech, the NRCS sets out some 48 recommendations with the ultimate aim of reducing the number of radon related lung cancer cases, which amounts to 250 cases per year. Successful implementation of the strategy will require action from a range of Government Departments, public bodies and other stakeholders. The co-ordination group, chaired by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, has been established to monitor the implementation of the strategy and report annually on progress. At the end of a four year period covered by the NRCS action plan the group is to make recommendations to the Government on necessary future actions.
I do not propose to accept this amendment.
The NRCS may be an administrative issue at the moment but the point of this amendment is to elevate it to a higher level as the Oireachtas and the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht would be involved. The public function of the NRCS goes beyond an administrative issue.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 25, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“Amendment of section 27 of the Act of 1991These amendments allow Ireland to ratify fully the 2005 changes to the convention on nuclear materials and ensure the institute may not violate any international agreements, in particular the Charter of the United Nations, in carrying out its functions. I do not know why this part was omitted from the legislation as it was already a function of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII.
44. Section 27 of the Act of 1991 is amended by the insertion of the following new subsection after subsection (2):“(3) In executing functions under the Protection Convention nothing the Institute or the Minister shall do shall affect other rights, obligations and responsibilities of States Parties under international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international humanitarian law.”.”.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 25, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 52 of the Act 199244. Section 52(2) of the Act 1992 is amended by the insertion of the following new paragraph after paragraph (e):“(f) In executing functions under the Protection Convention nothing the Agency or the Minister shall do shall affect other rights, obligations and responsibilities of States Parties under international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international humanitarian law.”.”.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 25, to delete lines 12 to 18 and substitute the following:“44. Section 2 of the Act of 1991 is amended by the insertion of the following new definition:These amendments will enable the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to become the competent authority for Ireland's obligations under the Espoo Convention. The convention requires countries to undertake environmental assessments of major projects that could impact across international boundaries, including sea boundaries. The issue of Sellafield highlights the relevance of sea boundaries. Ireland signed this convention in 1991 and ratified it in 2002 but never designated a competent authority to oversee its provisions. This is the ideal time to do so and this is why I seek these amendments to the legislation.“ ‘Espoo Convention’ means the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context done at Espoo, Finland on the 25th February 1991 and deposited with the United Nations at New York on 10th September 1997.”.”.
The first proposed amendment to section 44 of the Bill is confusing and not fully understood. The Deputy proposes the deletion of a provision to align the Radiological Protection Act 1991 with the more comprehensive standard international scientific definition of ionising radiation that has been used in all other relevant EU and Irish legislation since 2000. This provision has been recommended by the Parliamentary Counsel and is wholeheartedly supported by the scientific experts in the RPII.
On the proposal to insert a new section 48, the insertion of a reference to the Espoo Convention is not appropriate to this Bill as it refers to a separate United Nations convention. The object of the Espoo Convention is to ensure that the full conventional implications of major developments are assessed in a spirit of co-operation between relevant states. In effect, the requirements of the Convention are very similar to the trans-boundary requirements of the environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive. In this regard, the convention is not restricted to nuclear facilities but applies to all trans-boundary projects likely to have a significant effect on the environment. The legislation currently in place on foot of the requirements of the EIA directive enables Ireland to implement fully the convention in the context of its application within the European Union. A statutory basis for a wider application of the EIA directive requirements was provided for in the Planning and Development Act 2000 and this allows Ireland to ratify the Espoo Convention in full.
I do not propose to accept these amendments.
Is it proposed to designate another authority as the competent authority on this convention? The Minister of State has said the amendment is not appropriate for this legislation but is the convention relevant to another piece of legislation?
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 26, line 4, to delete “not”.
It is important to have oversight. At present one requires a licence from the EPA, but this will no longer be a requirement and there will be no responsibility. I would prefer to have oversight; even if it were designated to the Minister it is important to have it. This is the main point I wish to make.
The effect of the Deputy's proposed amendments would be to require the RPII to need licences to have radioactive substances or irradiating apparatus and that these licences would be issued by the Minister. One of the central reasons for the existence of the RPII, and for its predecessor, the Nuclear Energy Board, and the office of radiological protection within the EPA in future, is that the State needs an expert body competent to license all matters relating to radioactive substances and devices. In any event, section 30 of the Radiological Protection Act 1991 does not empower the Minister to issue a licence. Even if it did, neither the Minister nor any other Minister, has the competence to undertake such a detailed specialist licensing role. Neither does any State agency other than the RPII and EPA. Furthermore, licences have to be issued in respect of any relevant substance or device held. The effect of the Deputy's decision would be that, in an emergency situation, the RPII would be prevented from immediately seizing illegally held and-or hazardous materials or devices as it would have to seek a licence from the Minister before being able to do so. This amendment would render the work of the EPA on radiological matters almost unworkable and therefore I do not propose to accept it.
As the Deputies are aware, the primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for the merging of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Bill introduces the necessary statutory provision to enable Ireland ratify the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, CPPNM. The CPPNM amendment expands the scope of the convention to include measures to protect the environment from any possible deliberate harmful release of nuclear materials or radiation through sabotage of a nuclear facility.
I stress to the House that the merger of the RPII and the EPA will not in any way result in a diminution of our commitment to radiological protection of the Irish public. The merging of the two organisations will enhance our capacity to continue to deliver regulatory and advisory functions to the highest standard as well as to foster greater synergies and linkages between radiological and environmental policies and actions. The two organisations already work closely together in a number of areas, including drinking water monitoring, waste management, water quality and the emergency response protocol. I remind the House that the EU basic safety standards directive, which was agreed during the Irish Presidency of the EU, has as one of its core principles the protection of the environment against the harmful effects of ionising radiation. There is a general move internationally to advance the crossover between environmental and radiological protection, and the amendment of the CPPNM, which includes measures to protect the environment, is a clear case where this occurs. These examples illustrate the growing synergies and interdependence between the functions of the RPII and the EPA, and this process can only be enhanced by the merger of the two organisations.
I will briefly address a number of specific issues raised by the Deputies as the Bill progressed. Ongoing engagement with the UK on all nuclear related matters, on which the Department has worked hard in recent years, will continue. I assure the House the merger of the RPII with the EPA will in no way lessen or reduce the high level of security applied to the Sellafield issue. I am told a visit by representatives of the Department, the EPA and the RPII to the site at Sellafield is being arranged for later this year.
Another issue raised in several contributions was that of radon. The national radon control strategy, NRCS, prepared by an interagency group and published in February, sets out 48 recommendations with the ultimate aim of reducing the number of radon-related lung cancer cases which have amounted to 250 this year. Successful implementation of the strategy will require action from a range of Departments, public bodies and other stakeholders. A co-ordination group chaired by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is being established to monitor implementation of the strategy and report annually on progress. At the end of the four-year period covered by the NRCS action plan it will make recommendations to the Government on what further actions are considered necessary at the time. With regard to radon control, I assure Deputies the comprehensive action plan being implemented will in no way be adversely impacted by the merger of the RPII and the EPA.
Concern was expressed about the name of the merged body. The name of the merged body will be the Environmental Protection Agency and the office of the radiological protection agency will be one of five divisions within it. The issue of naming and branding the merged organisation was very carefully considered in the course of the merger project. A number of options were examined prior to the final decision being made. The merger working group established to implement the Government's decision to merge the two bodies and made up of officials of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, the RPII and the EPA considered the possibility of a name change for the EPA. The role of the Environmental Protection Agency in radiological protection was also examined. Of the 35 members of the European EPA network, 14 have at least some involvement in radiological protection. Most of these are named an environmental protection agency, environmental agency or some derivative. None has the words "radiation" or "radiological" in its title. The issue with regard to the name was referred to the Minister, Deputy Hogan, who, after further deliberation, decided to keep the EPA name. This decision was communicated to the RPII board on 24 June 2013 and the reasons behind the decision were explained in detail in further correspondence.
The ultimate aim of the Government's agency rationalisation programme is to reduce the number of State bodies and integrate their roles and responsibilities into existing bodies with consequential effective savings. Irrespective of the level of savings, the general policy is to follow through on mergers and rationalisation unless there are strong evidence-based reasons for not doing so.
Private Members' business is scheduled for 7.30 p.m., so we will be moving on to that. The Deputy will have an opportunity now to make a final comment and then the question will be put to the House.
We must move to Private Members' Business; it has gone past 7.30. I have asked the Minister of State to move the adjournment of the debate so he is agreeing to that. We will move on to Private Members' Business.