Thursday, 11 February 2021
Dumping at Sea Act 1996 (Section 5(12)) (Commencement) Order 2021: Motion
That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft: Dumping at Sea Act 1996 (Section 5(12)) (Commencement) Order 2021, a copy of which has been laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 3rd February, 2021.
I will share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. I thank the House for agreeing to debate this motion. The purpose of the motion is to approve the draft text of the order to commence the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 in relation to the decommissioning of offshore oil and gas facilities. As the Minister responsible for marine environmental policy, this falls within my remit. However, the Act requires that this function be commenced by Government order and that the text of the order be first approved in draft motion of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Government has approved the making of the order in principle and I now seek the approval of the Dáil and Seanad for its text. I express my gratitude to our colleagues in the Upper House who approved the text of the order by motion last Monday, 8 February.
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications wrote to my Department last year, seeking the commencement of section 5(12) of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996, as amended, in order to facilitate the decommissioning of the Kinsale Head and Seven Heads gas fields. Section 5 of the Act sets out the dumping at sea permitting functions for which the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is responsible. However, section 5(12) states that:
This section shall not come into operation as respects offshore installations until such day as the Government may by order appoint.
Section 5(13) of the Act states that the text of the order requires the approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is necessary now to commence this function, which will allow for different options to be considered for elements of the decommissioning process of the Kinsale and Seven Heads gas fields. If we do not commence this function, the Attorney General's advice is that it will be necessary to remove every element of the Kinsale and Seven Heads gas installation, including pipelines and cables, regardless of what is the best environmental option and what options might be available.
The Dumping at Sea Act 1996 has been in operation for nearly 25 years in all respects save as it applies to the decommissioning of offshore installations. It was amended by the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Act 2009 which gave the EPA full and independent implementation and enforcement powers under the Act. This Act also gives effect to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, the OSPAR Convention, of 1992 for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, will provide further detail on the OSPAR Convention and its importance to the environmental protection of our seas. It prohibits the deliberate dumping of any substance or material in Irish marine waters from any vessel or aircraft, or by deliberate incineration within the maritime area. Section 4 of the Act specifically prohibits the deliberate disposal of an offshore installation in the maritime area or any substance or material from such an installation. In certain cases, the EPA may grant a permit to applicants to dump materials at sea if it is satisfied that it is safe and appropriate to do so. However, this is not the case in relation to the disposal of offshore installations, as this function has not been commenced. If this function was commenced, it would allow the operator of Kinsale and Seven Heads the possibility of seeking a permit to leave elements of the offshore installations in place. They would have to demonstrate that this was environmentally appropriate or preferable to do so. It would then be a matter for the agency to determine whether or not to grant a permit considering the potential environmental benefits and impacts.
The Minster for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, advises me that the decommissioning process of the Kinsale and Seven Heads gas fields is being undertaken in three phases. The first phase requires the plugging of the wells and the removal of the top structures from the offshore platforms. The second phase requires the removal of the platform legs. The third phase relates to the decommissioning of the pipelines along with associated hoses and control cables, these being referred to as "umbilicals". The Minister further informed me that for the first two phases, the appropriate environmental assessments have been made and legal consents granted. The wells will be plugged and platforms and legs will be removed from the sea in their entirety. However, the Minister's Department has advised that the possibility of leaving the pipelines and their associated umbilicals has been raised by the operator and may be preferable from an environmental perspective. Were such an option to be considered, I am advised that this process would require three legal consents, two of which would have to be made by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. I understand that the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, has been provided with more detail of these consenting processes by the Minister's officials and he will shortly outline them to this House. However, a dumping at sea permit would also be required from the EPA. As it stands, the agency could not consider such a permit application, as the necessary powers under the Dumping at Sea Act are not commenced.
The purpose of this motion is not to decide whether these pipelines and umbilicals should be left in place. It is merely to provide a legal basis for the possibility to be considered. Without this order being signed into law, the pipelines and umbilicals would have to removed, even if that is deemed undesirable from an environmental perspective.
Deputies may have noted that no date has been set in the order for the commencement of this function. The office of the Parliamentary Counsel advised that it was not possible to include a date in the order as any unforeseen delay in obtaining the necessary approvals or in making the order afterwards could require the date in the order to be changed. This, in turn, would require resubmission for approval by the Houses as a change of date would be considered a substantial change in a commencement order. However, I can advise the House that the intention would be to commence the legislation at the earliest possible opportunity should approval of the text be granted.
I will conclude by asking the Dáil to approve this motion. Without the order being made, the operator will have no choice but to pull up the pipelines and umbilicals. This could potentially be a worse option. By making the order, the House would be allowing for other options to be considered and to see if they are more environmentally beneficial. It will also allow the best environmental options to be considered when it comes to the Corrib gas field's turn to be decommissioned.
I also thank the House for agreeing to debate this motion. As just stated by the Minster, Deputy O’Brien, the purpose of the motion is to approve the draft text of an order to commence the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 that relates to the decommissioning of oil and gas facilities. As, unfortunately, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, cannot attend today due to prior commitments, I will address his Department’s rationale for seeking this commencement at this time on his behalf and the related environmental considerations.
The Kinsale area gas fields, incorporating the Kinsale Head, Southwest Kinsale, Ballycotton and Seven Heads gas fields, which are approximately 50 km off the Cork coast, ceased production on 5 July 2020 after 42 years of operations and are the first offshore gas production facilities in the State to be decommissioned. The Corrib gas field will also undergo a decommissioning programme once production from the field has ceased. Production from Corrib is now in decline and is projected to stop around 2030.
As mentioned by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, a phased approach has been agreed, with applications relating to consents for the decommissioning works split into three, each subject to robust regulatory and environmental assessment. To date, two applications have been made to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and, following independent environmental assessment under relevant EU directives as well as technical assessments, the following consents have been granted subject to a number of conditions. Consent No.1 relates to the plugging and abandoning of all wells in the Kinsale area gas fields and the removal of the two platform topside structures located in the Kinsale Head gas field. Consent No. 2 relates to the removal of the legs of those two platforms. A third and final application is expected in the coming months in respect of decommissioning the pipelines and the cables and hoses referred to as umbilicals. The operator has advised the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications that it will be seeking consent to decommission the existing pipelines and umbilicalsin situ. This is based on the outcome of a comparative assessment it undertook which concluded that the leave in situ option represented the lowest level of seabed interaction and disturbance. Notwithstanding the operator's view on the optimal approach to leaving the pipelines in situ, the application will be subject to extensive assessment from a number of regulatory and environmental perspectives.
For consent application No. 3, the operator will also require the following statutory consents: approval by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications of an addendum to the gas fields' plan of development, pursuant to the petroleum leases granted under section 13 of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960. Any works to alter or remove objects on the seabed will require the consent of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications under section 5 of the Continental Shelf Act, following consultation with the Minister for Transport in respect of safety of navigation.
A party wishing to abandon petroleum infrastructure requires the approval of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications under section 17(4)(a) of the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995, with the consent of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. As previously stated by the Minister, without the commencement of section 5(12) of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996, as amended, there is no alternative but to remove the pipelines and umbilicals. Subject to commencement, the Environmental Protection Agency will be the competent authority responsible for making an assessment based on the submission made by the operator. The EPA will decide if consent to leave the pipelines and cables in situis granted or not.
I understand that issues were raised regarding the resources available to the EPA to carry out these functions when Deputies were being briefed on the motion. At the end of 2019 the EPA had increased its staff levels to 420. Recognising the July 2020 programme for Government targets, in 2021 the EPA's allocation also includes provision of €1.185 million for the recruitment of an additional staff complement of 28, subject to approval by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is engaging with the EPA on its overall resourcing requirements in line with the budgetary allocation.
As the Minister stated, the Dumping at Sea Act gives effect to the OSPAR Convention of 1992 for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic. The contracting parties to OSPAR include all EU states bordering the Atlantic, including the North Sea, or which have river basins that empty into the north-east Atlantic area. The EU itself is a separate signatory. Non-EU contracting parties are the United Kingdom, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Ireland currently holds the chair of the OSPAR Commission, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is the competent authority for ensuring Ireland's compliance with the convention.
As well as requiring that contracting parties prevent dumping at sea, OSPAR requires monitoring and sets requirements across a range of other areas. These include harmful polluting substances, radioactive substances, protecting species at risk and biodiversity, monitoring and addressing dumped munitions and mitigating the harmful effects of human activities such as noise and marine litter. OSPAR also has a committee dedicated to ensuring that the offshore oil and gas industry operates to a set of environmental standards using the best available technology and best environmental practices. Among other things, OSPAR has set standards for the decommissioning of offshore oil and gas installations.
I conclude by reiterating that this commencement order would allow us the scope to consider what the best environmental option might be in relation to the decommissioning of the Kinsale and Seven Heads pipelines and associated elements. With this in view, I ask the House to approve this motion.
I welcome the opportunity to address this motion. I offer Sinn Féin's support for the measure, but with conditionality. The powers that will be afforded to the Ministers following the agreement of the motion are complementary to the marine planning and development Bill on which the Department is currently working, which will have far-reaching consequences and leave a long-term impact on coastal communities and the fishing industry. I accept there needs to be strict oversight and scrutiny of any application to dump materials at sea by the Ministers and their successors. Dumping at sea should only take place as a last resort and where no other alternative is available. Under no circumstances should any toxic materials ever be dumped at sea to cause harm to the marine environment. Marine planning is essential to ensure a viable and sustainable future for all on the island who use and, in some cases, depend on the marine environment for their livelihood.
I wish to raise an area of real concern with the marine planning and development Bill. The functions of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are excluded from the scope of the Bill. It appears that aquaculture licensing is not included in the Bill, which is a major problem. For years, the potential of the aquaculture industry to create thousands of jobs in remote coastal communities, including in my constituency of Donegal, has been blocked and stymied by shocking levels of bureaucracy and under-resourcing of the application and appeals process. Some aquaculture licence applications have dragged on for more than ten years. The company, Mowi Ireland, previously Marine Harvest, is a world leader in aquaculture. It is based in the Fanad Peninsula in north Donegal. It has been held back for years from creating many more jobs and wealth in Donegal and on the west coast. Norway, Scotland and even the Faroe Islands produce multiples of the annual production in Ireland. This shocking failure has cost us thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in lost revenue. The report of the 2017 independent review of the aquaculture licensing process was supposed to change all of that, but the recommendations have not yet been fully implemented. That must be urgently addressed. One of the key areas of change is the separation of the aquaculture licensing function from the monitoring and enforcement of aquaculture licences. I appeal to the Minister to take aquaculture licensing under the scope of the Bill and away from the failed model under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
One other very important issue that will affect the future of fishers and coastal communities is marine protected areas. I took on the role of Sinn Féin spokesperson on fisheries and the marine last summer. Since then, I have engaged extensively with fishers and their representatives. Irish fishers are extremely concerned and angry with the Government and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. For a long time, they have seen themselves as a forgotten industry. They have been sacrificed at every turn in EU negotiations to get a better deal for other sectors. Not alone have they faced Covid-19, but they also face Brexit. Without doubt, fisheries has been the industry most damaged and the one that has faced most disruption since the Brexit trade deal at the turn of the year.
There have been reductions in quotas, displacement of vessels, difficulties landing in ports, significant reductions in prices of some species and the collapse of export prices. I raise these issues because the next significant issue coming down the tracks is marine protected areas. These are the responsibility of the Minister and his Department. In every meeting that I have held with fishery representatives, marine protected areas, MPAs, are raised. Our fishers are the custodians of the sea. They need sustainable stock to preserve their traditions and livelihoods. I stress that they are not against marine protected areas. They want to be included. They need to be engaged with and they must be part of the decision-making process.
I have read the Department's report, Expanding Ireland's Marine Protected Area Network. While it is welcome, the report is entirely academic and science-based. There is no engagement with fishers and this is unacceptable. Ireland does not currently have legislation governing MPAs. This is an opportunity to allow engagement to take place. There need to be widespread consultations with the fishing sector to agree the best approach for marine protected areas in Ireland. There have been positive experiences with fishers in Galicia and the Canary Islands when introducing MPAs. I ask that we ensure the same happens in Ireland.
Sinn Féin wants a robust and transparent marine planning system that supports our coastal communities, protects the marine environment and facilitates timely development of offshore energy sources. All three of these objectives can be achieved with the right level of planning and the right policy framework. It is the Minister's job to get all of these right. We have real concerns that the draft general scheme of the marine planning and development Bill is weak on ensuring full consultation with all representative and stakeholder bodies in coastal and other communities.
We need to ensure the protection of the marine environment and a community dividend for communities where offshore wind projects are planned and will eventually be located. We must ensure maximum access and passage are preserved for our fishing fleet, especially our smaller inshore fleet, and that fishers' livelihoods are protected. We must study and request further studies of international best practice regarding where offshore wind farms are currently located and that a maximum distance from shore is ensured where possible.
We can get this right. Ireland can be a benchmark for other countries. Planning, which is included in the Title of the Bill, is paramount. Protecting our marine area and ensuring a sustainable environment for our coastal communities and the country generally are paramount. We believe that sustainable economic fisheries, aquaculture, marine protected areas and offshore wind energy farms can all coexist but they can only coexist with meticulous and inclusive planning. Change can be good. It can create opportunities and it is needed to secure our future and address our climate change requirements.
We in Sinn Féin will continue to engage with coastal communities, environmental NGOs, scientific experts and industry to advance our three objectives of protecting and sustaining our marine environment, supporting the sustainable development of our coastal communities and facilitating the delivery of renewable energy through offshore wind farms.
I reaffirm the absolute necessity of ensuring that the aquaculture licensing process comes under this legislation. How can we have marine planning if we do not include aquaculture licensing? People have a right to see the advertisement, to know the location and to be properly aware of it. They have a right to object and submit environmental considerations. That decision should be made in a timely fashion. One cannot develop an aquaculture industry if one does not know if one will have a licence and might be stuck for ten years. I reaffirm the point and I appreciate that the Minister responded in the positive.
It is important that we take this opportunity to introduce a marine planning framework to correct the mistakes that we made, allow people to have their say and protect that right, while, at the same time, allowing the industry to grow and achieve the substantial potential we have seen achieved in countries such as Scotland, Norway and even the Faroe Islands, which have multiples of what we have. I wish the Minister well in those endeavours and I am willing to work with him to achieve that goal.
I thank the Minister and Minister of State. The Labour Party supports this motion. When it appeared on the Order Paper last week, it raised some eyebrows. The language seemed almost hostile and environmentally damaging. I thank the officials from various Departments for the briefing they gave to spokespersons on Monday, which set out what this was about and what it would lead to. The previous speaker's points were well made and I am sure more will be made. The delicate ecology of our seas and its protection are important. One thing we have seen in the pandemic is an increased use of our coastline amenity.
The Minister and I share a constituency with a number of coastal communities. He will be aware of a number of constituents who live by the coast but had never set foot in the sea, yet have become avid sea swimmers and have taken an interest in the delicate environment around our coast like never before. That is a positive change. This is a somewhat technical matter and we are waiting to see what the EPA applications will ultimately look like. How we decommission the behemoths at sea will be a test for our nation. I think we will get this right. We are all invested in ensuring this delicate ecology and environment is protected.
I do not think there is any need to speak further on this motion. I look forward to seeing what emerges from it. Hopefully, we will pass those ecological and environmental tests as we progress.
We are discussing the decommissioning and removal of the Kinsale alpha platform. It is a relic of a time when we drilled holes in the ground to suck out gas and oil to burn. We took so much of these fossil fuels from the ground and burned them over so many decades that we have destroyed our environment and destabilised our climate. In the 1970s, when we sought our oil and gas fields, we did not know of the damage. It was a different era with far less consideration of our environment and limited knowledge of how emissions and carbon dioxide could overheat our planet. Cheap and abundant energy was our primary concern. We know much more today. We know that we can no longer continue to extract and burn fossil fuels. We know that across this country and across all parties, there is a desire to address climate change. We know that in some parties, there is willingness to act and not just talk about it.
Last week saw one of the most significant announcements ever in the battle to reduce fossil fuel use and emissions. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and our partners in government agreed that no more new oil or gas exploration licences will be granted. This is a significant step. Previous Administrations admitted that Ireland's action on climate change was insufficient and that we were laggards in that regard. With the Green Party in government, there has been a ban on new licences, no liquefied natural gas or fracked gas imports and a commitment to reduce our emissions in line with science, which has put us on the world stage as leaders in climate change.
We will depend on the marine environment to provide our future energy needs as we wean ourselves off our fossil fuel dependency. We look to a decade of development of offshore renewable wind energy. Our aim is to achieve 5 GW in the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea in that time, followed closely by 30 GW of floating offshore development as that technology improves. This harnessing of our strong wind potential is to provide clean green energy and energy resilience, with many new jobs across the entire supply chain of offshore renewables over the coming decades. There will be surety of supply through interconnectors and we will no longer be reliant on being at the end of a pipe with a €6 billion fossil fuel import bill. Substantial community funds will be derived from these developments, which will benefit communities across the country.
We can be leaders on renewable energy as well as on climate action. These developments can and will have environmental impacts. The construction, operation, maintenance and eventual decommissioning of wind turbines, cables and substations, just like the decommissioning at Kinsale about which we are talking today, needs careful monitoring. We need to ensure that we have the highest level of scientifically based environmental assessment of any proposed construction. The life expectancy of an offshore wind turbine is about 30 years. It is a very harsh environment and after approximately 25 or 30 years, they have to be repowered. Such repowering is required, as is maintenance on and upgrading of turbines, underwater cables and substations during the expected lifespan of the facility. All of this must be done in a manner which puts the preservation and protection of the marine environment to the fore. That has to be our number one priority. Energy resilience and coastal communities are considerations but protection of our marine environment has to be to the fore.
We depend on the marine environment for climate balance. That is not discussed very often but, as a planet, we really are dependent on a healthy ocean and a healthy marine environment to balance our climate needs. Leaving the cables and remnants of these developments behind in the sea when these installations and turbines reach the end of their lifespans should not become the norm. We should build that into the planning process and we should look at how it is to be monitored and managed in the future.
I am delighted to see that the Minister's Department has produced a plan to designate marine protected areas. I am particularly glad to see that this is being led by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. We need to make sure that the designation of marine protected areas does not lag the consent process for offshore renewable development. These processes must work in tandem. We need to protect, but we also need to develop and those things should work in tandem. Just yesterday, the Oireachtas joint committee completed its pre-legislative scrutiny report of the marine planning and management development Bill, which will be produced next week. For the benefit of Deputy Mac Lochlainn and to address the questions he raised, we recommend that aquaculture be considered either through this Bill or through other marine planning processes that will be developed under the national marine planning framework. Consideration of public consultation was also raised as an issue. I am glad to tell the House that we considered this matter at length in the committee. I thank members for the cross-party agreement that was reached in the committee for the placing of marine protection and public consultation to the forefront of the recommendations in the report, which is to come shortly.
This Bill is essentially the planning Act for the sea. With the marine protected area legislation, it will be the framework for marine protection and development for the future. If we get this right, and I do believe this Government will get it right as it has the commitment and support to do so, I foresee that any future Minister standing before the House in 50 or 60 years' time discussing the decommissioning of wind turbines will not be looking at the same issues we are looking at today in respect of the Kinsale gas field. I would hope that such a Minister will be able to acknowledge that a government with foresight, acting with knowledge on how to reverse climate chaos, stopped further drilling for gas and oil and gave us carbon neutrality. We have a commitment to do that and we will deliver on it. By then, the Kinsale gas field will truly be an ancient relic and a reminder of a time when we came close to destroying our planet.
Táim buíoch as a bheith ábalta labhairt anseo. Tá an t-ádh orainn i nDún na nGall go bhfuil muid beannaithe le 1,100 km de chósta ar bhéal ár ndorais. Níl radharc níos deise ann ná radharc an Atlantaigh fhiáin. Is é an cheist atá ag an lucht is mó ná ceist faoin mhéid atá faoin uisce agus faoin dochar a bhaineann leis. Dúradh go bhfuil timpeall ar 240,000 tona d'airm cheimiceacha na Breataine i ndumpaí ar chúl Oileán Thoraí. Tá imní ar mhuintir na háite faoi seo. Cad é go díreach atá sa dumpa? Cé mhéad atá ann? Cén dainséar a bhaineann leis? Chímid an tionchar a bhí ag na ceimiceáin ar na míolta móra agus na deilfeanna a tháinig isteach ar thránna le blianta anuas. Caithfimid a fháil amach cén nasc atá ann idir na dumpaí seo agus sláinte na n-ainmhithe sin.
At the end of the Second World War, in Britain alone there was in excess of 1.2 million tonnes of surplus ammunition and bombs. The disposal method adopted by the British at the time was to dump it at sea. Unfortunately, we are aware of a number of these dumps off the coast of Donegal. In 2010, an OSPAR report stated that there were five separate dumps off the coast of Donegal, each with dangerous and potentially lethal substances such as mustard gas and phosphorous. The report states that the true extent of the dumps and the danger they pose is unknown. The reality is that this could be seriously dangerous for inhabitants of this area. The people of west Donegal have raised concerns about the nature of these chemicals and the risk to inhabitants, sea life and the environment.
A deep-sea diver recently gave an interview on Raidió na Gaeltachta. I myself spoke to a deep-sea diver who had been diving in the area on a different occasion. Both described how they found a large area of the seabed littered with large black drums with hazard signage on them in the waters off Tory Island. The diver said:
We were looking for shipwrecks, went down 40 to 45 metres and came across black drums with green stuff growing on them. There were a few thousand of them. They were heaped in a hill-like structure and had skull and crossbones on them.
The diver to whom I personally was speaking said that all he could see around him in every direction were these barrels on the seabed. To me, this account is deeply disturbing.
There is a wider debate to be had regarding these concerns in west Donegal and other similar concerns. In 1995, the then Minister, Hugh Coveney, told this House that a report would be published in respect of the issue by the year 2000 and that this would contain comprehensive analysis. We have raised this issue through the local authorities. Donegal County Council unanimously called for the Department to examine the matter. I have raised this with previous Ministers, including Deputy Kelly, but no action has been taken.
My question and the question some in west Donegal also have relates to their legitimate concerns about the dump behind Tory Island and other dumps off the coast of Donegal. Will the Department look at the stability of these chemical weapons which, in some cases, were dumped nearly 100 years ago? Are they still safe? What is in them? How large are they? Is it okay to leave them on our seabed?
I thank the Ministers for giving us the opportunity to debate this matter today. The Social Democrats will be supporting this proposal. This is a long overdue measure being brought in to deal with the decommissioned Kinsale gas field. Kinsale is the start of the Wild Atlantic Way and is situated on a section of coast that is valued for its natural beauty and its role as a tourism amenity. In the process of decommissioning, it will be essential that the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is fully resourced with staff and is given sufficient time to ensure that all environmental protections are afforded to this very special area of our country. With my Cork South-West colleague, Deputy Cairns, I am eager to ensure the agency is properly resourced. I ask the Minister to make sure that is the case. There must also be engagement with local communities and any decisions must be made in a very transparent way in consultation with those same communities.
We are here today talking about the issue of cleaning up after works and operations which have been going on for decades and after decades of exploitation of our natural marine resources. It is important that we do so and that we do so in an environmentally friendly way. However, it is also important that we look at what has happened to date and learn from the mistakes at the past. We must look at our record and at how we are managing these systems now so that, as Deputy Matthews said, the Minister standing here in 20 or 30 years' time will be able to look back and say that we did the right thing.
Most people think of our atmosphere as being at the front line of climate change when it is really our marine waters that are at the coalface of our warming planet. The capacity of our waters to absorb carbon dioxide is dwindling and so too are our chances of recovering our most vast and important lifeline. Our seas and oceans are under tremendous pressure from the combined impacts of climate change, acidification, shipping, economic exploitation and fossil fuel exploration. Since Ireland was declared a dolphin sanctuary in 1991, cetacean strandings have increased, including an increase of 350% over the past ten years. The effects of offshore oil and gas exploration practices are increasingly being linked to these events, while marine biodiversity continues to come under great pressures.
We saw recently the public outcry when Fungie disappeared and we realised how much we valued one particular individual animal. We should be protecting thousands of our whales and dolphins and ensuring that we enhance and recognise how fragile our relationship is with nature and how we need to ensure that we change course in how we deal with our marine resources.
Unfortunately, instead of changing course the Government is, in fact, working in two opposing directions. Despite the banning of fracking in Ireland there has been no movement by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to ban liquefied natural gases, LNGs, and related infrastructure, with no ban in sight on the importation of fracked gas. Despite the ban on future oil and gas exploration, there have been no attempts by the Minister to dismantle a liberal licensing and tax regime which continues to support the fossil fuel industry and those with existing exploratory licences. The honouring of existing licences will enable companies to proceed with projects around areas like Barryroe, Corrib and other fields for many years. Furthermore, Ireland continues to hold a very sympathetic licensing regime of fast-tracked environmental assessments, lengthy licensing terms, and one of the lowest tax-take regimes in the world with Government subsidies amounting to the tune of €4 billion. We need a ban on licensing and to remove the current tax breaks and subsidies as well as resourcing and enforcing the EPA to carry out full environmental impact assessments until we completely sever our ties with the fossil fuel industry.
The conversation also needs to shift away from the idea that gas is a transition fuel, a sort of less-corrupted younger brother to its fossil fuel relative. We need to amputate the Government’s special relationship with the oil and gas sector and to decommission not only failed exploration projects but also excessive lobbying by the industry which has embedded itself culturally at the centre of Government decision-making for many years. We need to end the narrative that gas and oil companies provide us with energy security as we transition to a low-carbon economy and end our support of free-trade mechanisms such as the investor court system that grants extrajudicial status to energy companies most likely to use this mechanism, which further erodes the State’s ability to legislate for climate action and will essentially just tie the Government's hands.
We are still waiting for legislation on the designation and protection of marine protected areas, MPAs, and a revised management plan for carrying this out. Just think, Ireland has one of the largest marine areas in the EU by proportion of its size and despite this considerable marine territory Ireland has only 2.33% of its marine extent covered by MPAs, which is the second lowest coverage in the EU.
What we need to do is rather than focusing on some sort of green-washing process, we need to be realistic in what we are doing and to ensure that we are on course to preserve and protect our marine waters in pursuit of climate action and this needs to be a focus of Government. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I, like the vast majority of people, welcome any approach that would limit any potentially dangerous sea and water pollutants and protect the delicate ecologies that already exist there. On the existing structures that have reached the end of their lifespan, a target of complete removal is clearly preferable, but where that is not achievable the deconstruction process must undertake a clear objective of minimal environmental damage and pollution.
I am left wondering, however, why we take these stringent measures on our offshore waters while we still continue to take such a poor approach to our inland rivers and waterways. One would think that being from a midlands constituency, an environmental priority would be there for our rivers and inland ecosystems. Yet a clear legislative commitment to protect those waterways, their habitats and the local communities along these rivers is still yet to come. This is not to mention the fact also that most river pollutants lead to the sea in any event undermining some very good work that is being carried out there.
One egregious example of this level of neglect and pollution in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath is in Athlone along the River Shannon where there is a horrible history of contamination with sewage and other waste. This is due to having an inadequate infrastructure in place which cannot deal with the constant threat of flooding which the residents of the east and west banks of the Shannon have to endure. Such unacceptable contamination is not unique just to that town, however, and there is a track record of other rivers and lakes being polluted, in some cases beyond what is considered safe for humans to use.
I have argued before in the Dáil for a common agency to manage the River Shannon with a comprehensive flood defence plan to replace the existing combination of Government bodies such as the ESB, Waterways Ireland and numerous local authorities, each of which having responsibility for its own section of the river. Commonsense would dictate that what happens upstream will have a direct impact downstream. At the moment, where we see a high level of rainfall and rising water levels, water is drained into a sewerage system in order to prevent flooding. It is impossible, of course, to store an ever-increasing supply of water in a system that is archaic. That rainwater mixed with sewage is then released back into the Shannon. That is beyond acceptable. This is 2021 and nobody should have to look out their door and smell that on their doorstep. This flooding has been caused by a multitude of factors along the Shannon and it is very easy to place blame at many doors but one place that blame cannot be placed is on local residents who are paying the price for poor governance and decision-making which was outside of their control.
Finally, we see some good work in Athlone which is beginning to improve the system and end this practice because it is extremely damaging not only to the health and well-being of local residents and environment but also to the habitats and the businesses that operate in and around that region. It is unfortunately too little too late because some of the damage that has already been done may never be undone. Today, most of our rivers and lakes are in a sorry state. Only 53% of our rivers and estuaries are in a state of ecological health and our overall surface water quality continues to decline. In many cases the heart has been torn out of our rivers and it is undermining their basic ecological function, which is why we see a growing demand for a modernisation of the Arterial Drainage Act.
With the indulgence of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle I will make one final point. If this Government is serious about protecting all of our environment, that must include inland waterways, lakes and rivers.
I am sharing with Deputy Murphy. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I am increasingly smelling a rat in this discussion and it may be a green one. The reason I say that is because when one listens to what this motion is trying to do, it is telling us that it needs to decommission the infrastructure from the now-exhausted pipeline near the Old Head of Kinsale but at the same time wants to leave what it calls the “umbilicals”, that is, the pipelines in the ocean, to be considered for other options because it may be more environmentally damaging to remove them. I accept that. It may be more environmentally damaging to remove those umbilicals but the other option still remains. In the same week that we are passing this motion, the Government and specifically, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has given the go-ahead to Providence Resources to proceed with the next level of surveying works at Barrymore, which is in the same area as the exhausted pipeline near the Old Head of Kinsale.
We have just heard a very eloquent speech from Deputy Matthews of the Green Party on how we will never again drill for oil and gas and how we have done a wonderful thing by banning it in the last week or so. Yes, we have, and it is wonderful that it is banned for the future but the Minister also has the power not to issue the sort of licences for Barrymore and not to provide any more extensions or renewals. It is clear in the legislation that he has the power to do that but he chooses to allow Barrymore to proceed to the next level of drilling for oil and gas in the same region as we are decommissioning Kinsale. That is why I smell a green rat. We cannot speak from both sides of our mouth by saying that we are banning the development and drilling for oil and gas in one piece of legislation and then allow it to proceed with another order at the stroke of a pen. What I do agree with the Green Party Ministers on is that the next generation and the current one, the Fridays For Future Ireland generation, will not put up with this nonsense. The best thing we can do with oil and gas is to keep it in the ground because the science tells us - just because the Green Party is in Government does not change the science - that 80% of known fossil fuels have to remain in the ground if we are to save the planet and people who inhabit it. Nothing changes. The Green Party seems to live on planet “B”, which is a pretend planet on which it can do both. One cannot do both.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. We need a commitment or guarantee from the Government on this issue that any parts of the decommissioned oil and gas rigs that are left behind are left as such solely because it is the most environmentally sound way of doing this and that no parts of them can be used in any circumstances as part of any new projects.
On the broader point, I echo what Deputy Bríd Smith said. I listened to the contribution of Deputy Matthews. Last Tuesday, the Green Party announced on its Facebook page and across the media that it was banning oil and gas exploration. It seemed to be a good news story following years of campaigning by environmental activists, following Deputy Bríd Smith's Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it in the Ground) Bill. A couple of hours later, we had the announcement that Providence Resources had been given permission to push ahead with the next steps for the drilling of the Barryroe gas field. It seems that even the company's investors were surprised at their luck, with the share price jumping by 5%. This sums up the two-faced nature of the Green Party. It sent out press statements claiming to be tackling the big oil and gas companies at exactly the same time as the green light was given to those same companies' plans. The Green Party should be ashamed of itself. It is time to take on big oil and gas companies, stop their destructive plans and keep these resources in the ground.
I would also like to comment on the need for a fuller review of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996. We must protect our oceans much more, not just from dumping but from damaging trawling practices. Many big trawling companies still engage in so-called "bottom trawling", which is incredibly damaging to our oceans. It ploughs up the bottom of the oceans, destroying habitats in the process and releasing large amounts of carbon. The UK has banned this practice in a number of protected marine areas. We should be leading the way in banning this practice. In 2010, the Government promised to designate 10% of our seas as marine protected areas but 11 years later, we are still at only 2.4%. We must protect our oceans, the habitats in them and the carbon stored in the sea floor. We must stop their destruction by massive trawling companies and other big businesses that are dumping waste in our seas.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. We have been advised that the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has stated that a permit application from an operator may follow shortly after the commencement of this section of the 1995 Act, which relates to the decommissioning of offshore oil and gas installations. I would like more information on that and the potential impact it may have on our marine environment. Will we have an opportunity to consider and debate this issue or will that responsibility lie entirely with the EPA?
On water pollution, I read over the debate in the Dáil on the Dumping at Sea Act in 1995. It was interesting to note that the Act introduced a prohibition on the dumping of sewage sludge from vessels at sea. It was stated in the Dáil at the time that the "dumping around our coast of raw sewage into the sea can no longer be tolerated". While it was of course right to ban the disposal of raw sewage at sea by ships, 25 years on we continue to pump sewage from the mainland into the seas off our coasts. The EPA's 2020 report found that raw sewage was flowing into our rivers and seas in 35 places in the State. This is a serious public health and environmental issue that stems from the State's historical failure to invest in wastewater treatment facilities over the course of decades. It must be addressed as a matter of priority.
I commend my colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, who pointed out that those involved in fishing are the custodians of the sea. In many parts of the country, anglers and angling groups are the custodians of our inland waterways. In my town of Kells, the Kells Anglers Association has done tremendous work in looking after the Blackwater river and the people involved have a forensic knowledge of the river.
On the issue of offshore wind farms, when this Act was introduced oil rigs off our coast were common and legislation was needed to govern that area but offshore wind farms were not as common. They are a more recent phenomenon. The next decade will see a significant increase in the construction of offshore wind farms, first in the Irish Sea and then, hopefully, that will be followed in the south and west coasts. These construction projects are vital in helping Ireland to achieve our renewable energy targets, reduce our carbon emissions and also position our island to become an exporter of green energy to the EU. This development will give rise to questions regarding the responsible construction of these installations, their impact on the marine environment and the plans for the future when these wind farms may need to be decommissioned or replaced. Has the Minister examined this issue specifically with regard to offshore wind installations? If so, he might address whether this legislation is adequate for this area. It is a prospect which we need to grab with both hands.
We have all heard the old saying, "The nearest to the church, the farthest from God". While I might be the Teachta farthest from the sea, representing the most inland constituency in the country, as the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment this is an area in which I have a great interest. I have probably taken an interest in this area where many of my predecessors did not because I see the great opportunity it presents. It is important that we consider and fully explore these opportunities.
At the briefing last Monday, I raised two specific questions with the Minister's officials and indicated I would ask those questions again today. I hope I will get answers to them now. The first issue concerns not wanting to see a repeat of the sugar shambles we witnessed in the 2000s when we decommissioned our whole sugar processing industry. Those facilities could have been used to process sugar beet and produce domestic bioethanol to blend in with petrol at garage forecourts, rather than importing bioethanol from the other side of the globe. I do not want to see that happen in respect of the topic we are discussing.
This legislation allows for the partial removal of the undersea facilities that have been developed over the past 43 years. When I was the Minister with responsibility for this area, I asked my officials to do an assessment of the use of these wells off the south coast for carbon capture and storage, CSS, and the potential to use the Whitegate gas-fired power station for that purpose. I also asked about the potential to use the wells for the storage of natural gas. When the Corrib natural gas field is exhausted in ten years' time we will be dependent on two gas interconnectors that link us with the United Kingdom and bring in supplies from outside the European Union. That is our only source of natural gas. In that context, there is a potential opportunity to store that gas off our coast. Whether these wells are geologically suitable for that purpose is a question which should be answered properly today. I would like to know what the position is in that regard. I was told at the briefing on Monday that we do not have that answer yet as we are still considering the matter and we will have it at some point in the future. Yet again, Dáil Éireann is being left in a position where Members are being asked to make a decision without having all the relevant information presented to us as parliamentarians.
The second question I asked the Minister's officials on Monday was whether the requisite capacity existed in the EPA to process these applications. The answer I got was that the EPA does not deal with many applications regarding dumping at sea, and that is correct.
Those officials are involved in other work on a day-to-day basis, however, and that has to have an impact on that.
I will raise two specific issues with the Minister. On 13 January, I raised with his colleague the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, the fact that there are hospitals in this State that do not have enough bins to store the waste personal protective equipment, PPE, that is being generated. They have not the capacity to do that. We are aware, from responses I have received on the floor of this House, that one third of the Covid infections in hospitals are acquired in the hospitals. Surely if we are not properly managing the storage and maintenance of waste PPE, it poses a potential risk.
For the past three years, the EPA has been considering an industrial emissions licence application that would allow for this PPE to be treated on site in each of our hospitals across the country. We are still waiting for a decision. I asked the Minister for Health whether he would intervene in this regard and just last week I received a response to say that no, it was nothing to do with him, and that it is the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications who has to deal with that. We have large-scale Covid-19 infection in our hospitals, with a potential risk associated with the management of waste in our hospitals, and the first thing the Minister for Health does is to kick the ball onto the other pitch. It is a case of "Not my problem".
My other point is on the end of waste status for recovered waste materials. Given the number of applications currently with the EPA on this matter, and based on the rate of processing those end of waste applications, it will be 16 years before the applications currently on hand will be processed by the EPA. This is for material that is currently going into the very limited landfill facilities in Ireland. This material could be recycled into new products. It is being put into landfill because the EPA will not issue licences for the reprocessing of those particular materials, be it glass or other materials. This includes construction materials, which is an issue for the Minister's own Department. The Minister will be aware that construction material is exported from Ireland to go into landfill in other parts of Europe, some of which could be reused here in the construction and road industry. Because the EPA is sitting on those licences, however, it is not happening. We are now putting more work on top of the EPA without giving it the resources.
The dumping at sea motion provides that the responsibility for the Dumping at Sea Act be transferred to the Environmental Protection Agency. Dumping at sea creates water pollution but it does not stop at the sea. There has been a lot of discussion today about renewable energy, oil and gas, which is away from where we are going. Dumping at sea is an awful and huge issue in the area I live, which is a coastal area. I see rural social workers, community employment workers and TÚS workers cleaning up the pollutants that come into our coastline. It is a huge issue. Deputy Bríd Smith has left the Chamber but I listened to her speak on the Barryroe gas field. That licence was given well before licences had stopped being rolled out. It is not fair to pinpoint that. Deputy Smith called it the "Barrymore" field but it is Barryroe in west Cork. I know where it is because it is in my constituency but the Deputy should do better research than she is doing.
Whether the dumping is at sea or elsewhere there is massive illegal dumping in my constituency along the coastline. I praise the Bantry Tidy Towns group which last week had to pick up 22 bags of clothes and five bags of rubbish. There is a massive amount of illegal dumping going on.
We must also consider the sewerage systems in west Cork that continuously cause massive pollutants. These have not been rectified. I could name the areas here, one after the other. I ask the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to at least look into those issues going forward. It is not just that people can smell this pollution, they can also see it. Some people have to swim in it. It is totally wrong and incorrect. I plead with the Government to look at it and provide proper funding for it.
I too would like to speak on this important issue. I salute all of the Tidy Towns groups up and down the country, and the angling clubs and game clubs, including those in the three parishes in my area. They do excellent work for habitats through restocking and so on.
I am currently assisting a group of small independent farm plastic recovery operators in circumstances where they perceive the existence of a non-competitive structure and behaviour in the farm plastics recycling sector. We all want to recycle and encourage our young people in this regard. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí and they can teach us an awful lot. Broadly speaking, all suppliers of farm plastic such as silage covers charge a levy on sales to farmers. The purpose of that levy is to fund the recycling of these plastics. The problem for the independent operators, and there are a good few of them, is that 100% of the levy is paid to one company, the Irish Farm Film Producers Group, IFFPG. I am informed that this company is obliged to recycle just 70% of the farm plastics but receives 100% of the levy. Independent contractors, on the other hand, receive no levy and no financial assistance whatsoever. This is very unfair.
A previous speaker referred to the closure of the beet factories. Those closures were a shame. The factory in Tuam was closed first and then Thurles, Carlow and Mallow. Those plants could have been used to do some valuable work. We should be thinking of where we are going.
As I understand it, the charge to the farmers for the levy is currently €140 per tonne. This clearly puts independent operators at a major competitive disadvantage. There are a number of anomalies within the sector, and IFFPG is apparently Ireland's only Government-licensed recycling compliance scheme. A number of independent operators are also licensed to carry out the same activities as the IFFPG such as the collection, washing, storage, baling and onward shipment of farm plastics. The difference appears to be that the independent operators cannot collect the levy. I put it to the Minister that this will cause huge problems and I appeal to the Minister on it. I respect the Minister's bona fides on this. Will he meet me and some of the parties via Zoom to discuss this serious anomaly and the unfairness? The anomaly is that the current structure has the effect of putting independent operators out of business and thereby places the entire farm plastics sector in the hands of one monopoly. Our experience of monopoly in this country is frightening, we see it every day of the week. This is a hugely important issue for the environment. I have an-chara liom, Declan Doocey, fear uasal ó Lios Mór, Contae Phórt Láige, who is being prosecuted at the moment. He has it on stock in his yard and he cannot move it on. I appeal to the Minister to look at the independent contractors. A very good friend of mine is a member of the Barrington family in County Clare. They were trying to collect the plastic, wash and clean it, and manufacture plastic stakes, which is a great idea for greenways and so on because they last forever, while using up the waste plastic, but they got no support. I ask the Minister to look into this, with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. I ask the Minister to please meet with this group to discuss this anomaly and this perilous situation the independent are in. They are good people who set up independent businesses themselves and now they are being forced out of business, and are even being prosecuted and intimidated by the big companies.
Kinsale Energy Limited published a report on the decommissioning of gas fields and facilities project more than two and a half years ago, on 12 June 2018. At that time Kinsale Energy was preparing for the decommissioning of the fields and facilities, which were coming to the end of their productive life having been in production since 1978. It is a very useful and interesting report.
The motion before us refers only to the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 but there are many other connected items of legislation, regulations and licensing terms. The licensing terms of 1992 state, with regard to decommissioning, that the Minister should be given at least one year’s notice and that the Minister must be sent an abandonment plan in writing, which must contain information about abandonment and removal of facilities. Is it right to think that the Minister's Department has had the decommissioning plan since mid-2018 but that this motion is now urgent because the Environmental Protection Agency is about to receive an application to dump at sea by the Kinsale group?
My take on the matter, following a short online briefing earlier this week, is that it has already been decided that the Environmental Protection Agency will approve the application. Obviously, this matter has come before the House today because it needs to be considered as an option for the EPA to grant a licence. God forbid, we could not expect it to remove the stuff it put in there and made money out of in recent years.
The dumping at sea application relates just to the pipelines and so-called "umbilicals" of the gas fields. The wells are being plugged and abandoned and the platforms are being entirely removed. However, the legs of the platforms will be cut at the seabed. We were told that there would be no trace of the platforms. The evidence that the gas fields were there will be in the seabed. However, not all the pipeline is buried. At the briefing this week, we were informed that the pipeline is only partly buried. About 13 km of pipeline is buried, 3.5 km is covered by rock, 3 km is free-spanning above seabed, and 35 km to 36 km is currently exposed. Apparently without this function the only option is to remove all the infrastructure in place. What is wrong with that?
As outlined by previous speakers, Ireland currently holds the chair of the OSPAR Commission. The OSPAR Convention of 1992 is the legislative framework for international co-operation on environmental protection of the north-east Atlantic. Decision 98/3, paragraph 2, relates to the dumping and leaving wholly or partly in place of disused offshore installations. It states that it is prohibited within the OSPAR maritime area. However, Ireland as chair of the OSPAR Commission is going to actually approve this. It makes sense that the Government is siding with corporations and making life easier for them, rather than adhering to the principles of international conventions.
I am sure Kinsale Energy Limited will make the application to the EPA and it will be approved because that is the only reason for dealing with this motion today. I believe the legislation was passed in the 1990s and this part of the legislation was never commenced. It was never an issue because the Kinsale field was not going to be decommissioned at that stage, so it would continue to wait to happen. We have reached the stage where it must happen to allow the EPA to grant this facility.
I have been looking at how our Governments do not seem to enact any legislation and then it all becomes a big rush. The Government does not seem to be aware of some aspects of legislation that it should be interested in. I am particularly thinking of the licensing of UK fishing vessels where the Department did not even know anything about it, and it was up to the vessel owners to highlight the issue. For 20 years this legislation has been sat upon and nothing was done and nothing happened. Now it is coming through as a rush job. One positive aspect is that it signals to us that something out of the ordinary is happening where Kinsale Energy Limited is going to lead the process for decommissioning and not the other way around.
I thank the Deputies who contributed, many of whom made relevant and constructive comments, while others made comments about other areas that are outside the subject matter of the debate. We will respond as best we can to the matters that were raised.
I thank the House for agreeing to debate the motion and allocating time to it. It is very rare to seek approval such as this for a commencement order from the Oireachtas. However, it provides us with an opportunity to consider this and discuss other areas relating to our marine environment. I want to make something clear to some Members who believe some matters are preordained. I stated earlier that commencing this legislation does not commit us to any particular course of action.
Regarding aquaculture, the Chairman on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Matthews, gave a very important contribution here today. The marine planning and development Bill is a priority for the Government. The committee has already made a recommendation on how the potential of aquaculture can be realised in the future in a balanced way. Like other speakers, I also represent a coastal constituency. I have lived in my home area for my entire life and I have a great regard for our marine environment and its potential. The Government is absolutely on the right path.
It is unfortunate that is some who contributed earlier used this debate to attack others. That is not what this is about. This is a significant day because we are discussing the full decommissioning of these facilities, as Deputy Matthews outlined earlier on. We can look back 40 years to when exploration in these fields was happening and now, we are looking at how we can carry out their full decommissioning.
The former Minister, Deputy Naughten, raised some issues which have been passed to officials and answers will be forthcoming to him on the possibility of some of these fields being used for carbon storage in the future. That is still being looked at. A steering group has been established and it will report in due course on the potential use of these sites in the future.
The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is doing crucial work on marine protected areas. On 15 February, we will commence a six-month consultation with all stakeholders, including fishing communities, coastal communities and other interested parties. It is a very significant piece of work and the Government is committed to expanding the marine protected areas and to working with our coastal communities as well.
The Government has been very clear on the actions we are taking regarding climate action. Some of those who contributed earlier on may say that they are also committed to it, but when it comes to introducing any measures that will genuinely tackle climate change in real terms, they oppose it or they will want to be Tadhg an dá thaobh on things. They will say they want to back one group versus another group without any real change. Change is important and needs to happen in this area. What the House has agreed here today is significant and allows us to take a further step forward. It is quite exceptional here too.
We will endeavour to give answers in writing to the points raised by Members which relate to this issue where I have not had the opportunity to do so. I would suggest that Members take up other matters which do not relate to my Department or to the motion before the House with the respective line Ministers or Departments. I think the House for the opportunity to debate the motion today. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Matthews, for their assistance and contributions. I thank all Members who have indicated their support for the measure in the debate.