Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am quite distraught. At 5.30 p.m. yesterday, I got notice from the Minister's office that he wished to decline the Second Reading. Micro-beads and micro-plastics are of great concern not only here in Ireland but also across Europe and the world. I cannot believe that only hours before its Second Reading, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government serves notice that the Bill will not be read a Second Time. That shows lack of leadership and management because this Bill has been on the Order Paper for the past number of weeks during which time the Minister, and the Department, had every opportunity to consult with me if there was any part of it he felt was not above board.
This Bill was prepared by a colleague of mine, Aengus Ó Corráin, who is from the Minister, Deputy Coveney's county of Cork. We looked at the Bill in terms of making it straightforward and its objectives easy to achieve. We recognised that there are many other issues on the Minister's agenda but this is an issue on which momentum is building already across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Italy, which are already proceeding with legislation to ban micro-beads and micro-plastics in the marine environment. The fact that legislation is already under way in those countries I felt, being a new Green Senator in the Seanad, that we could bring forward a straightforward Bill on this issue and get a ban introduced as soon as possible, which will be to the benefit not only of the marine environment but for the common good.
Currently, in supermarkets, corner stores and pharmacies there are bottles of product on the shelves for exfoliating, which I do not do much myself, shaving creams and toothpastes which contain tiny beads of plastic. They are in multiples of cosmetic products on every counter in Ireland. What happens when people use facial cream? Those small, round plastic beads go down the drain because the infiltration system does not stop them. Trillions of these micro-plastics are seeping into our lakes, rivers and seas, which is shameful. Molluscs, cockles, mussels, crustaceans such as shrimp and other little fish ingest this plastic into their systems and then die because they have no nutritional value. If caught in nets, they end up on Senator Norris's or Senator Alice Mary Higgins's plates, and they ingest them.
We are concerned about this issue. Science is showing that pesticides are attaching to these micro-beads and micro-plastic so when we drive our cars, some of the diesel fumes attach to the beads.
There is no nutritional value for the species ingesting these micro-beads and micro-plastic. There is the potential of a detrimental effect on our ecosystems and the lives of different creatures, be it fish, crustaceans or whatever. We cannot allow that to continue. Every time someone exfoliates or puts cream on their face, these little particles get into our marine environment. We are causing that problem. This is pollution at a very basic level.
The reason I referred to Canada, the US, Holland, the UK and Italy is because momentum is building in those countries in terms of addressing this problem. It is on that point that I query the Minister. He stated that this Bill is not rigorous enough. It is a start. If we always sit back and wait until we dot every "i", we will lose time. That is why I am so upset that the Minister has literally shut down the debate. He is stopping us having the Bill read a Second Time and moving it forward. That is undemocratic and fundamentally unfair. This is something that should have happened without objection. If the Minister believed in putting forward an amendment or if Fianna Fáil, whose members are sitting on the opposite side of the House and with their huge interest in the environment-----
Exactly. They say they have a major interest in the environment. It was only the day before yesterday that it came to our notice that Fianna Fáil wanted to table a Bill on the issue. Is that the reason Fine Gael has decided to jump on board? We know the Labour Party also considered tabling a Bill. When I moved the Bill on First Stage I know there was a general feeling of consensus across parties that these micro-plastics are bad for the environment and that this would achieve momentum but it has been stopped dead in the water. We are losing time while these particles continue to be washed down our drains.I hope that the Minister may reconsider his move. I fully intend to work with whoever will make this Bill happen because there is general consensus that these micro-beads and micro-plastics are polluting the water.
In 1986, I had the good luck to be in Antarctica for six weeks on board a Greenpeace ship. I will never forget sailing into Antarctic waters. We expect the polar regions to be pristine, because they are the last wilderness, and I was shocked to see plastic bottles floating around in those waters. Is that what we want in Ireland? Do we want to contribute to this kind of plastic waste in our oceans? Our country took leadership and banned plastic bags and charged a price if anyone wanted to buy one. We became for a time the beacon of Europe and the world because people saw that as a very positive measure. This Bill should get a further hearing and we should once again take leadership and be seen to do the right thing for the marine environment, the rivers, the lakes and the human species.
There is research under way in the United Kingdom on the impact of micro-beads and micro-plastics on the marine environment. The Minister told me this morning that when bringing forward a Bill like this we should inform the European Commission. That is his job. When legislation is prepared, if any authorities, in this case the European Commission, need to be informed it is up to the Minister or the Department to do that. That is a totally unsatisfactory excuse for not reading the Bill a second time. I ask the Minister to consider enabling this Bill to go forward and not to disable the process. He should not slow down the process any further. We have all agreed that micro-beads and micro-plastics need to be banned from our environment. Let us get going and leave this Bill as it stands in place and receive a second hearing. Short of that, I offer the Minister every constructive help to ensure that we ban the manufacture and sale of micro-beads as soon as possible. I would rather that my Bill, which is relatively simple, go forward to Committee Stage for amendment. If the Minister insists on killing it and continuing to enable and allow pollution every second of the day into our rivers, lakes and marine environment, that will be a big error because we are continuing to create more problems in our environment and not working towards solutions. I ask him to consider what I say.
I will share time with Senator Ruane. I commend Senator Grace O’Sullivan’s passion for, and deep knowledge of, marine ecology and environmental concerns. She made this a priority as soon as she entered the Oireachtas. It entered the Order Paper some considerable time ago. There has been immense co-operation from our group with the Government in discussing when it might be taken. We have moved the date of this Private Members' business slot to accommodate the Government. We have endeavoured at all points to ensure constructive dialogue. It has been deeply and well signalled as an area of concern. We have heard concerns expressed across the House about micro-beads and micro-plastics and their impact on the environment. While I may not have had the time on the seas that my colleague had, I have seen, as I am sure many others have, the horrible testimonies and videos of the devastating impact of these micro-plastics, a throwaway element in many products, on marine ecology. It seems extraordinary that the Government would seek to block the reading of this Bill a second time. As I understand it, in the amendment, which we might hear although I am still hoping it will be withdrawn, legal concerns are expressed. I highlighted on the Order of Business the way that these legal concerns are being put forward now yet on this very day an appeal to the European Parliament that the investor dispute resolution courts which raise serious concerns in respect of the EU treaties be referred to the European Court of Justice. We have not heard resounding support from the Government for the referral of these investor courts to the European Court of Justice simply to check their legal compatibility. If we are going to invoke arguments of legal compatibility, we need consistency in that regard. Moreover, we are confident that the precautionary principle, a fundamental principle in EU law and practice, does absolutely justify the measures in this Bill. Even if that were not the case, there would be plenty of time to deal with it.
If this had been taken in good faith, surely we would be considering an amendment from the Government to remove section 2, relating to the manufacture and sale of micro-beads. Instead, we have an order from the Government to kill the entire Bill, including sections which relate very directly to our domestic authority, for example, the water analysis. Is it the view of the Government that there should be no Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, analysis of, and sampling from, coastal waters? Is it the view that there is a problem if we monitor the level of this in our waters? Does the Government have a problem with section 4, which calls for an environmental analysis? If there is such consensus in the House, from Fianna Fáil, who with the exception of the Acting Chairman are unfortunately not here today, and Labour which has expressed concerns about it, let us move ahead with the other sections of the Bill, the environmental and water analyses, and section 6, which gives power to the Minister to make orders in this area. If the Minister is serious about this area, I ask him to withdraw his amendment and work with us towards Committee Stage and the many positive and constructive elements of this Bill.
I am dismayed and genuinely angry at the amendment the Government has tabled in the Seanad today. This Bill banning micro-beads is a small but important one. I was very much looking forward to debating it today and seeing it progress to Committee Stage. That the Government has now moved to block this Bill is grossly unfair and is a clear effort to silence debate on this important environmental issue. I do not think it would be possible for any Senator to argue that micro-beads are not an environmental disaster. These micro-plastics are a very damaging example of plastic waste and have a very detrimental effect on our marine environment. If Ireland truly wishes to project a green image internationally it is clear that banning them from cosmetic and other products should be a high priority.If we are all in agreement that micro-beads and plastics are objectively negative and harmful, how can the Government justify an effort not to ban them? Its reference to Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union does not stand up as a justification for not allowing the Bill to pass Second Stage. As a number of EU countries have already banned or are in the process of banning these damaging plastics, it is nonsense to say we must await EU-wide measures. If we all agree that micro-plastics are bad and that EU rules do not pose an insurmountable barrier to the progression of the legislation, how can the Government justify its amendment?
The Bill was introduced in the Seanad on 26 October and the Government has had almost one month in which to raise concerns about it. Even when Senator Grace O'Sullivan indicated to the Bills Office and the Leader's office that this legislation would be taken in the Private Members' time of the Civil Engagement group, we still heard no objections. It is particularly unfair and unacceptable that we received notification at 5.30 p.m. yesterday, less than 24 hours before the Bill was due to be debated. In the Civil Engagement group we take what we table during Private Members' time very seriously. We strongly consider the best possible issue to feature in consultation with our civil society partners. Our contributions in this Seanad have involved some of the most worthy actions taken by the House since my election, including Senator Alice Mary Higgins's motion on the CETA and Senator John Dolan's motion on disability rights and housing.
It is incredibly unfair that one of our few chances to choose what we debate in this Hose has effectively been taken from us. It is obvious that the Government is preventing progression of the Bill owing to the recent publication of a very similar Bill by Fianna Fáil. It is clear that the Government is allowing political expediency to trump its commitment to protect the environment. We are allowing a good Bill to get caught up with who gets credit for passing legislation.
We are allowing environmental protection to fall victim to parliamentary politics. We cannot even pretend to be living in the era of new politics when party politics is so obviously and clearly dictating the agenda in this House.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: Seanad Éireann declines to give the Bill a Second Reading as:
- the Bill could place Ireland in breach of Articles 34 and 35 on the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU which relates to the principle of the free movement of goods;
- the EU’s analysis, consultation and notification requirements of member states which wish to seek an exception to this principle on environmental grounds have not been met;
- furthermore, the Bill has significant flaws and would also create unintended consequences concerning extraterritorial effects;
the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government intends to:
- engage in the necessary consultation with stakeholders regarding a domestic legislative ban on micro-beads to commence at the earliest possible date;
- develop proposals for a wider Marine Bill to be published in 2017 which would, among other things- provide the legislative basis for a network of marine protected areas as required by the marine strategy framework directive,- continue the ongoing work which Ireland undertakes, both domestically and in co-operation with our regional and international partners, to educate on, prevent and undertake research into the causes of marine litter, including micro-plastics;
- make necessary amendments to the Dumping at Sea Acts, and
- contain the legislative basis for a domestic ban on micro-beads that would be compliant with EU law;
- continue to actively campaign for an EU-wide ban on micro-beads and work collaboratively with the European Commission when it commences work on this issue in early 2017.
I wish to add balance to the debate. While I do not doubt the bona fides or intent and passion of Senator Grace O'Sullivan and others who have spoken about this issue, it is already national policy that we work towards banning micro-beads and the dumping of plastics, particularly micro-plastics into our marine waters. Without wanting to sound patronising or lecture, I urge Senators not to take offence just because the Government does not accept their Bill. They are doing a job of work in raising awareness through this debate in the Seanad. They have already done this in bringing the Bill before the House. However, the Minister and his officials have already indicated that they are working towards a wider ban on micro-beads by working with our EU partners and the European Commission. I was an Opposition Senator for almost five years, during which time we introduced many Bills in the House. Ironically enough, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the time was former Deputy John Gormley. None of the Bills was accepted, but we did not take offence because sometimes Opposition Bills will inform or urge the Government to take action. I, therefore, urge the Senators not to take offence just because Government is opposing the Bill.
The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is a former Minister with responsibility for the marine. Like Senator Grace O'Sullivan, he has been participating in marine sports and other marine interests throughout his life. I come from the same county as the Senator. While I do not have the same background in marine activities, I take a deep interest in them. No individual or party has a monopoly of green interests; I certainly have such an interest. However, we might have different views on introducing legislation to address the deficits. This is one area in which there is a deficit and the Government is committed to taking action to deal with it. The Minister has indicated in correspondence and otherwise to Senators that he is working with EU partners and the European Commission to introduce legislation in 2017. He has indicated - I say this with no disrespect - that the Bill is flawed and that it does not go far enough in some areas. While it covers personal care products and cosmetics, it does not take into account detergents and scouring agents. More thought and consultation with stakeholders are required to ensure these areas will be included, leading to more effective legislation when finalised. Further thought needs to be given to regulation and sanction, while engagement with stakeholders is also required.
I urge Senators not to take offence. They have support in the House and more support than they believe from the Minister. With continual engagement in coming months, a more effective Bill will be introduced that will take into account the concerns of the proposers of the Bill before the House. My colleagues and I will work to ensure this because we all have an obligation to ensure we have a sustainable environment on land and at sea. We have made strong progress in recent years in that regard. Senators have alluded to the plastic bag levy and the smoking ban. We can make further progress in areas such as waste management and on how best to sustain the environment. I, therefore, ask Senators not to take deep personal offence, as they seem to be taking. In parliamentary politics the Government will often oppose in order to try to enhance legislation. In the first instance, the Senators have started a debate that is warranted and created awareness of micro-beads which are a terrible ecological affliction on the environment, which we all want to work towards eradicating but in more complete legislation that will be brought before the House in 2017.
Fianna Fáil cannot support the Bill. While we strongly support a ban on micro-plastic beads, we are anxious that the legislation to introduce a ban be conclusive. Studies have shown that micro-beads can be ingested by marine animals, leading to physical harm, including reproductive toxin effects. There is also evidence that micro-plastics are entering the human food chain and potentially damaging human health.
The Bill is poorly drafted and a number of its provisions have not been properly thought through. Its scope is not wide enough to reduce micro-plastic marine pollution caused by micro-beads. This is because it would only apply to cosmetics and body care products but not to detergents and scouring agents. Fianna Fáil will introduce its own Bill on the issue which will have wider scope and provide a stronger more robust legislation framework.
In the USA a ban on micro-beads in cosmetic and personal care products is due to be phased in in the coming years. There have been calls for a similar ban in the United Kingdom and the European Union to address what is considered by most experts to be a damaging and an entirely unnecessary source of micro-plastic pollution in marine environments.
Unfortunately, the Bill is in breach of Articles 34 and 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union with regard to the principle of the free movement of goods. Ireland should support a ban at EU level. The European Commission is due to commence consideration in early 2017 of a ban on micro-beads. Engagement at EU level should not preclude us from proceeding with a national ban; however, under EU law consultation would have to take place with the European Commission first.
The Bill does not set out a robust legislation framework or a realistic enforcement regime. In particular, weak enforcement mechanisms are set out in the Bill as no office would be tasked with investigation of production bans.
As this is all new to me-----
To be honest, that is why I am reading it, but I am learning a lot. Fianna Fáil will not support the Bill. As previous speakers said, it is really good that we are all working together to promote this issue.
Shame on both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. They wonder why mainstream politics is losing its footing in this country. It is doing so because of what we see here today. We have, as my colleague, Senator McDowell, said at the weekend, a Government in office but not in power. The Green Party, with three Members of the Oireachtas, including my colleague, Senator O'Sullivan, has introduced a Bill that neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael thought to introduce.
They do not have a clue. They thought, "Wow, here is something we can grab." They thought the Bill would grab the public imagination. They thought they should take the old Green cloak, quickly wrap it around themselves and claim to be concerned about the environment. To hell with their concern for the environment. If there was something wrong with the Bill, why did they not talk to the woman, amend it and bring forward what they needed?
Fianna Fáil claims it will introduce a much broader and far more encompassing Bill, which Fine Gael will then shoot down because it has a better Bill. All the while, these horrible little things float around in the waters off the coast of this country. Shame on Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for their deceit and their attempt to try to suppress the smaller party in the Oireachtas. What has gone on is disgusting, and to land this on that woman's table yesterday at 5.25 p.m. is the lowest of low tricks. Senator Murnane O'Connor did not did do it. It is okay. I will get to her in a minute.
The Minister of State is a decent guy. I know he did not send a letter to Senator O'Sullivan at 5.25 p.m. yesterday. It strikes me that at the 24th hour, or the 23rd hour and 59th minute, the Department suddenly woke up and realised that the Bill was to come before the Seanad the following day and that it had not had the time to consider it. It had been so tied up in housing and all the other issues. The Bill suddenly landed on its desk. What would the Department do? It would shoot the Bill down. How would it do it? It would get the two bigger parties to agree that it would not see the light of day. What has happened is a disgrace. The Bill could be read a Second Time, and there is plenty of time to table all the amendments the Government wants to encompass anything it wants on Committee Stage. However, as somebody said this morning, the old bed is warm between the two parties. They are enjoying each other's company. The coalition is alive and well, although Fianna Fáil does not have the ministerial salaries to go with it. It would be disgraceful if we were to accept the Government amendment. We need to rock on and get in behind the Green Party on this. If changes are needed, they should be made on Committee Stage. We should be mature about this.
I am mindful of one thing tonight. There is talk of a better Bill being introduced. Sir Humphrey's famous words were "in the fullness of time and at the right juncture". In the fullness of time and at the right juncture, we will have a Bill, but God knows, it will probably be 20 years by the time it sees the light of day. The Minister of State should take his courage in his hands and say he will accept the Bill and table amendments-----
Senator O'Sullivan will, I hope, confirm that, as Leader of the House, I have spoken to her with the Minister, Deputy Coveney. We have facilitated debate this evening on the Private Members' Bill. If one were to read some of the tweets-----
The Minister has been clear. He will debate with Senator O'Sullivan. In principle, what is trying to be achieved is what the Minister wants to arrive at as well. There is a fundamental problem, however, and sometimes Senator Craughwell finds it hard to understand that to get to point C, one must go through point B.
Some people oppose Government at every opportunity. They should reflect on how we manage our business and get things done. I give credit to Senator O'Sullivan for the Bill she brings before us and the aspiration within it, which we support and want to see enacted. However, to achieve the result we all want, a process must be undertaken and gone through. The last thing we want is to have the end result thwarted, the Bill declared unconstitutional or the result not achieved, as articulated by many Senators in the House today, including those opposite.
I will let the Minister remark on that in his address. It is important to recognise that much work has gone into the Bill. Those of us who support its ethos want to see the right result. We should try to arrive at and achieve the end result. In fairness to the Green Party and Senator O'Sullivan, for whom I have much admiration, we want to see a Bill that is constitutional and that can arrive at the result she and all of us want. However, if we talk about new politics and want to see things done, one cannot do things erroneously, by mistake or without getting to the right result. Sometimes it absolutely baffles me, Senator Craughwell, when I see some people coming in here to grandstand, play to an audience and then leave, knowing full well that they cannot get what they want.
We should acknowledge, to be fair to Deputy Coveney, who is a constituency colleague of mine in Cork South-Central, that he has demonstrated, since this Seanad convened, a willingness to come into the House, engage and work with Members to make legislation better, and that applies to this Bill. Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised issues, and the Minister came in and addressed them. The Minister is willing to come to the House, debate and negotiate. I regret, and I mean this genuinely, that we did not have an opportunity prior to today to iron out properly with Senator O'Sullivan any difficulties the Minister had to ensure the passing of the Bill. Nonetheless, I hope we can arrive at a conclusion that will be mutually beneficial to the Green Party and the Minister. My point is that, of all the Ministers to come before the House, Deputy Coveney has demonstrated a willingness to work and a flexibility to get things done, whether with the Fianna Fáil Party, Sinn Féin, Independents or the Green Party, and that should be put on the record of the House.
I know. I just wish Senator Humphreys was back in our bed because the Labour Party was a very good partner and we worked well together.The proof is that the country is flying again. It was a partnership Government that brought it back, to be fair.
I regret that Labour opted not to come back into the bed. The former Minister of State, Senator Coffey, has outlined - as will the Minister of State, Deputy English - why the Government cannot support the specific wording of the Bill but that it will agree to the principle of what is trying to be achieved. It is important that rather than divide the House, we take what is good from the Bill and, in line with the Minister's commitment, make better legislation in order to achieve the end result. The Minister will consult Senator Grace O'Sullivan and he is willing to engage. It is important for that process to be undertaken. The Minister is quite clear that for the ban to be considered, there has to be a certain amount of consultation and a process. I hope the Minister will engage again. We all want to achieve the principle behind the Bill. The Minister has committed to the campaign and to working with our European Union colleagues to actively campaign for the ban. We should all try to live up to that aspiration.
I have a genuine regret that we did not see better consultation. I am happy, as Members know, to work with Senator Grace O'Sullivan in making this a better Bill and achieving the overall result, which is what she wants.
On a point of order, the Leader referred to how people come in and constantly oppose the Government. I frequently vote with the Government in circumstances where it deserves my support. I want to make that clear.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Ba mhaith liom fáilte mhór a chur roimh an mBille seo agus go háirid roimh an deis labhairt air sa Teach seo. Bhí sé náireach go ndearnadh iarracht srian a chur ar an mBille trí leasú ó chairde an Aire Stáit i bhFianna Fáil. Tá ceist truailliú na bhfarraigí an-thábhachtach do chúrsaí bia agus an comhshaol. Mar sin, is fiú an díospóireacht a bheith againn ar a laghad.
I welcome this Bill. Sinn Féin supports Senator Grace O'Sullivan's Bill on the grounds that there is widespread agreement that micro-beads are a dangerous pollutant. They pose significant risks to the health and safety of marine life and potentially to human life. In the short period that micro-beads have been contained in products for mass consumption, they have already caused significant damage to a number of environments, for example, at Lake Erie in the United States, which marks part of the latter's border with Canada.
Let us cut to the chase. We are all very aware that Fianna Fáil have great expertise in cosmetics. One can see that when one sees how well they are turned out every day here in the Seanad.
-----make-up when he was spending €60,000 a year on cosmetics. It is quite clear that the Government motion is purely cosmetic as well. We all know that what has happened is that Deputy Dooley threw the rattle out of the pram because he wanted to get the kudos in the Dáil for introducing similar Bill. He went to his colleagues in Fine Gael and they had to bend over.
So Fine Gael had to roll over and accept the Bill. It is like an episode of "Callan's Kicks"; it is unbelievable. This is the welcome to the new politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coalition that the Independent Senators are being given.
This is a very serious issue. We have seen recently across Europe and North America a growing awareness of the dangers that micro-beads pose to our environment. After debate, the United States, Canada, the UK and six other countries have all come to a conclusion that legislation should be introduced to end the use of micro-beads. It is amazing that we are all playing catch-up with the United States on an issue of environmental damage being caused through activity by large companies. Micro-plastic debris in marine environments is growing in volume. It is likely to have a range of environmental impacts. There is evidence to suggest that micro-plastics are entering the human food chain. On the basis of current evidence, micro-plastics and seafood are not currently thought to represent a risk to human health, although uncertainties remain. Micro-plastics come from a number of sources such as larger pieces of plastic breaking down over time and industrial scrubbers used to blast-clean surfaces. A small percentage of marine micro-plastics come from micro-beads and other micro-plastics used in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products such as scrubs and toothpaste. As has been mentioned previously, these particles of plastic can enter the environment when consumers rinse them down the drain.
A number of companies are voluntarily phasing out micro-plastic in some cosmetic products in the EU. Some environmental organisations have been calling for a legislative ban on the use of micro-plastics in some cosmetic products. They believe that this will be a simple way to speed up industry efforts and to tackle an unnecessary source of micro-plastic pollution. A recent research report commissioned by the European Union recommended that more information be collected to help determine whether a ban is required and whether the industry is responding adequately to the issue. The European Commission is currently considering whether additional measures are needed to address the problem. We favour of a micro-plastic ban in cosmetic and personal care products.
The micro-bead campaign has also provided useful statistics on the amount of plastics currently in our oceans. According to it, 86 NGOs from 37 countries are supporting the campaign. Already, 117 different manufacturers that produce 446 brands have promised to remove plastic micro-beads from their products. On the campaign's website, it is possible to follow whole waves or clumps of plastics moving around our oceans, just as weather systems do. The European Parliament Research Service has also carried out research on the issue. Most of this points, as I have already stated, to increased levels of plastic and the unknown effects it will have on the food chain. My colleague in the Northern Assembly, Caoimhe Archibald, recently voiced Sinn Féin's support for a ban. She said concerns have been raised about the build up of plastics in oceans, their effect on fish and other marine life that may mistakenly eat them and also the potential for them to enter the food chain. She was told by the relevant Minister that departmental officials will work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the other devolved administrations on the detail of proposals and legislation to be introduced.
The micro-plastics that are ending up in our streams, rivers and oceans are now entering the food chain because they are being consumed by fish and shellfish. As of yet, there are no conclusive studies on the health impact this will have on humans. However, studies conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden demonstrated that fish exposed to an environment polluted with micro-plastics will consume the plastic in preference to zooplankton. At the very least, this will affect the nutritional quality of the fish in Irish waters. However, the study also showed stunted development and cognitive deficiencies in the fish that consumed plastic compared to those in a clean environment. This indicates a significant risk both to the health of consumers and the survival of fish stocks. My colleague in the European parliament, Lynn Boylan, MEP, has been critical of the overall Irish Government response to the issue. Reflecting on the failure to act in a national manner and to look to Europe to take a line they can hide behind, she said:
This is typical guff from the Irish government who are as usual trying to export their excuses for inaction to Europe when the simple truth is that they don’t want to take any action themselves. ... If the government had bothered to do their homework, they would know that the European Commission has already said to the British government as recently as August that it can proceed to introduce a ban on micro-beads, explicitly stating that "a ban on certain substances on environmental grounds could also be compatible with the internal market". ... On top of this, France has already passed a law that will ban the sale of exfoliating cosmetic products containing solid waste particles from January 2018 whilst Sweden and Denmark are also in the process of preparing to move on this issue as well.
She continued, "I call on the government to spend less time on weak excuses and instead follow the example of these countries and come forward with a legislative proposal to ban these unnecessary micro-beads in cosmetic products." Therefore, a protracted consultation process before banning could result in significant environmental damage in the meantime. We agree this needs to be tackled at an EU and international level but taking action nationally would still go a way towards protecting marine resources at a local level. However, the period of research and consultation to decide how to go about banning micro-beads could make a large difference in the amount of environmental damage.
If there is concern about the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland, an amendment could be tabled to exclude certain medicinal products from the Bill and just have a blanket ban on cosmetic products. The amendment being putting forward states that the Bill could breach EU law but the Government is fine with flouting EU law when it comes to tax evasion on VRT.
Nach aisteach an scéal é mar sin go bhfuil an Bille atá ag Fianna Fáil os comhair na Dála-----
-----agus gur thug siad leithscéalta faoi bhfáth nach bhféadfaidís tacú leis an mBille seo. Beag nó mór, tá na leithscéalta céanna i gcorp leasú an Rialtais anocht. Tá go leor cainte déanta sa Teach seo ar uisce.
Tá go leor uisce ann faoi thalamh freisin. Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an mBille seo, faoi mar atá mo chomhghleacaithe ón Eoraip agus ó Thuaisceart Éireann ag tacú chomh maith.I really do think that the way that this is being covered up, between the Government partners, the de facto coalition in the new politics is disgraceful. I note that the former pin-up boy - Senator Craughwell himself - has come to that conclusion and I welcome that. I call on all Senators to support the Bill, and let us not kick another can down the road.
Maybe five and three, depending on how I go. This is the new politics. I find the spectacle before us this evening depressing. I commend my colleague Senator Grace O'Sullivan, and her colleagues in the Civil Engagement Group, for bringing the Bill forward and for persisting with it. For Government and Fianna Fáil representatives to stand up and give some kind of an excuse as to what has happened is quite embarrassing. It is an embarrassment to this House also. Clearly what has happened is that a last minute phone call from Fianna Fáil to Fine Gael, their buddies, asked them to scrap or to oppose-----
The hard work put into the Bill by the Senator is being opposed. The Labour Party and my colleague Deputy Sean Sherlock also have a Bill on this very issue to be tabled next week. That, however, is not preventing us from supporting Senator Grace O'Sullivan's worthy Bill.
Apparently, the reason for opposing the Bill is that there is some hastily found EU law that will spare Fine Gael's blushes. I would like to lance that one if I might. the Labour Party has carefully considered the position of whether EU law would prevent member states from taking action on the issue. Articles 34 and 35 of the treaty set out the principle that as a single market is an area without internal borders, restriction on the movement of goods are not allowed and the free movement of goods should be guaranteed. Undoubtedly an Irish ban on the sale of products containing micro-beads would have the effect of restricting certain imports. However, Article 36 of the treaty goes on to say that "The provisions of Articles 34 and 35 shall not preclude prohibitions or restrictions on imports ... [that are] justified on grounds of ... the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants". The EU treaty directly acknowledges that national measures can be taken to protect the environment and this undoubtedly is one of those measures, as has been very well put by my colleague Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
In December 2014, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden issued a joint statement to EU environment Ministers calling for an EU ban on micro-plastics in cosmetics and detergents. A January 2016 research report, commissioned by the European Union Commission, looked at what EU mechanisms were available to reduce micro-bead pollution from cosmetics. That report concluded that introducing a ban on micro-beads at EU level would be more complicated than the law used in the US and Canada. The report said that it was unclear as to whether any of the existing directives and regulations that had been identified would be suitable. In light of this hesitancy at EU level we believe that domestic action is necessary and appropriate. The Government cannot hide behind EU law in this instance. It is true that our proposed legislation amounts - on the face of it - to a trade barrier but there is a well-established procedure for dealing with this if the mindset was there within Government and within its coalition partners in Fianna Fáil.
The EU Transparency Directive sets up a procedure obliging the member states to notify the Commission of all draft regulations and products before they are adapted in national law. The notification triggers a standstill period of three months. The Commission and the other member states can use this time to examine the notified draft regulations to determine whether or not it complies with the EU treaty and the principles of the free movement of goods and services. If there is no reaction the draft can be adopted after the three month standstill period has expired. This is exactly the procedure that the de facto Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin had to follow when he introduced the ban on smoking in the workplace. There was a standstill period for the new rules and then they came in to full force and effect. The EU Commission can block the proposal if the draft legislation concerns a matter where the EU itself proposes to act. This is clearly not the case on micro-plastics.
Fine Gael should stop pretending, or hiding behind EU law. The fact is that a last minute phone call took place by Deputy Timmy Dooley throwing the dodie out of the pram, he wanted the credit for himself, and an extremely good piece of legislation from the Green party, supported by the Labour Party - even though we had our own Bill in the mix - is now being shot down. The pair of you should be ashamed of yourselves.
I thank Senator O'Sullivan for the work she has done on this Bill and in bringing it before the House. Unfortunately the Leader has left the House after criticising other Senators for doing the same thing. With regard to the environment, we had our own problems and the Green Party had battles with Fianna Fáil on climate change and climate change legislation in getting it onto the Statute Book. Unfortunately it was not successful. The Labour Party had those battles also when we were in Government, with the former Minister, Commissioner Phil Hogan, on climate change legislation. Thankfully, Ireland was one of the first countries in the EU to put climate change on the Statute Book, which was brought in by us with Fine Gael.
My colleague has outlined Article 36 very clearly and the conditions in which this Bill can move forward. We have a clear choice. We can lead by passing this Bill or we can follow. We can lead to protect our environment or we can wait and cause further damage. We can lead to protect the health of our citizens and show leadership to the rest of the EU - and the world - by passing this legislation this evening. We can lead to protect our rivers, lakes and oceans or we can wait and do further damage. This is a time when this country needs to show clear leadership. We are an island nation with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Irish Sea on the other. We know very clearly how plastic can damage the environment. We do not know the level of damage micro-beads can do. We know they stay in the environment, that fish can eat them and they damage the wildlife. We know also that micro-beads can act like a sponge to pick up dangerous chemicals which are then transferred into the food chain.
I thank the Senator for bringing the Bill forward. I very much reject the Government's amendment and I want the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage.
It does not matter which party gets the honour of putting this legislation through. We need, for the sake of our children to move on quickly and let us get the legislation onto the Statute Book, where other countries can follow. There was joking and laughing earlier in regard to who is in what bed, but I want to see a safe environment for our grandchildren. There is a lot of debate on climate change but this is one very small step we can do this evening.
We can move this Bill on to Committee Stage. Senator O'Sullivan is very much open to amendments to the Bill when on Committee Stage in order to enhance it but we need to get it on the Statute Book. Let us make this Chamber relevant. Let us not listen to Members in the other House who say, "I want my Bill on first". Deputy Sean Sherlock has done a huge amount of work on this issue and has said that he does not care about who gets the legislation through. We just want to get it on the Statute Book and on to Committee Stage.
I appeal to Fianna Fáil to let this Bill go forward. If Fianna Fáil does not know what has been going on in the background - there were several remarks on dark forces, etc. - let us forget all that. Let us do the right thing. Let us guarantee and ensure that our children have a future. Let us make a very small step here by moving this on to Committee Stage thereby bringing the Bill a step closer to enactment.
I second the amendment.In many ways, this is a healthy debate and it is important that we have it. The House has been involved in leading the debate on many issues and I compliment Senator Grace O’Sullivan on starting this one.
The Minister has made known his view on how he believes the Government should address the issue. It must be addressed and the Minister has proposed clear guidelines. In 2017 he hopes to introduce legislation to deal with the matter. That is to be welcomed. Since we need to move forward, we must do so appropriately and the Minister has stated how that will happen. I am in favour of his proposal. I hope that, after stakeholders have been consulted properly in 2017, we will be in a position to move forward, as doing so is important for everyone. The politics of the issue have been discussed, but we must move forward with everyone on side.
I have known the Minister for many years. He will work with all stakeholders, be it the Green Party, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or industry, to ensure they are involved in the debate and an appropriate solution is found. He has the credibility to do this, given his marine background and understanding of the issue.
I am happy to support the Government's motion proposed by Senator Paudie Coffey. I hope that in 2017 an appropriate Bill will be introduced to deal with these important issues.
I welcome the Minister of State. I do not see how there would be a problem with leaving the Bill on the Order Paper. It could be amended or stopped and voted down on Committee Stage. Operating a guillotine which is what the Government is doing seems unnecessary, but there is nothing I can do about it, except to try persuasion. I hope reasonable voices will be listened to so as to ensure the Bill will be sustained.
I would like a direct answer from the Minister of State on my next point, if possible. Let us suppose the Bill fails at this point and the Government, in its usual dog-in-a-manger fashion, insists on introducing legislation of its own that can be stamped "Fine Gael", what is the timeframe? Can the Minister of State give us any indication-----
That means before the end of next year. At least we have extracted that amount of information from the Minister of State, for which I thank him. It is helpful.
To be honest, I only heard about micro-beads in the past six months. I had no idea that there were tiny pieces of plastic used in everyday cleansing agents and so on. I am surprised and alarmed by this. Like other Senators who have spoken about their travels around the world, I have travelled to remote parts of the Caribbean - uninhabited islands - and seen shorelines covered in blue plastic bags from all over the world. It was horrifying. The beads are small and visually unobtrusive but subtly dangerous. Companies introduced them in their products without any concern for the downstream effects. They are now waking up to the problem and it is welcome that a number of them have acknowledged the danger. Colgate Palmolive phased micro-beads out in 2014, while unilever phased them out in 2015, as did Boots. L'Oreal, a large cosmetics company, will have phased them out by the end of next year. That represents a 50% decrease in levels. The beads are spherical micro-plastics and used in scrubbers and so on. Interestingly, they were originally based on natural materials until the companies discovered that it was more efficient and easier to produce them mechanically in large quantities in factories. There has been a shift towards plastic and away from natural ingredients. They are also composed of larger plastic units that have been broken down on the ocean bed. Micro-beads comprise a small proportion of marine micro-plastics, estimated to be 1% to 4%, but this equates to 2,400 to 8,000 tonnes of plastic entering the marine environment per year, which is a hefty amount.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I understand the Netherlands has already introduced these provisions. It was certainly calling for this as far back as 2009. In June 2014 Illinois became the first US state to ban the manufacture of products containing micro-beads. On 24 March 2015 the Canadian House of Commons voted unanimously that the Canadian Government should take immediate measures to add micro-beads to the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999. A series of serious political actions have been taken around the globe. In our neighbouring country I understand there has been a technical hitch in introducing the legislation, but more than 350,000 people have signed a petition to have micro-beads banned. In 2015 the UN environmental programme called for the eventual phase-out and a ban on the use of plastics in cosmetics and personal care units. There is a growing chorus calling for a ban on the use of these materials.
The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Pollution is known as - I hate these acronyms - GESAMP. It reviewed the evidence on micro-plastics and found that the research was relatively new. It is clear that we need additional information and research, but that should not delay the introduction of this type of legislation. One of my colleagues humorously referred to micro-plastics landing on my dinner plate. I am afraid that they are so small I would just gollop them down. I probably would not notice them at all. It states in the document that the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 micro-plastics per year. This strikes me as something that could do damage, but GESAMP states there is a gap in education.
We should press forward with the Bill. I hope there has been some communication between the various ministerial Members - all except the one directly responsible, of course - who have attended the House today and the framers of the Bill in order that it may be left on the Order Paper and allowed to go through. No damage would be caused. If fatal flaws are found in it, they could be dealt with at a substantially later Stage. No one is fooled by the idea that it is being delayed for technical reasons because of non-compliance with EU regulations. My colleague, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has burst that bubble. It is just not true. The evidence has been given by the Senator. The Government, therefore, does not have that fig leaf. It is repulsive to find, once again, that important legislation is being delayed for party political reasons because a collection of dogs in the manger do not want to give credit to the Green Party, but that is not unusual. I prepared a Bill on the direct provision system that would have solved all of the problems, but it was held up because-----
I thank Senator Grace O'Sullivan and the Civil Engagement group for bringing the Bill to us. It is disappointing. Senator Paudie Coffey made a point about respectful engagement across the Chamber. It is important. People are looking at the Seanad and seeing how we conduct ourselves. The past few days have been disappointing. Inevitably, we get angry, annoyed and disappointed. It is because we are passionate about the subjects we come here to discuss and represent people on. The Senator made a valid point. While our engagements may not be manifested in direct legislation, amendments or regulation, they may feed into it. This is where we need to change. The people have spoken. They want the Seanad to be here. The quality of the debate is higher here than in Dáil Éireann, dare I say it. The engagement is constructive, most of the time. This is an important point.
The Bill proposes to prohibit the sale and manufacture of products containing plastic microbeads and to monitor and report on the levels of microplastic and microbead pollution on the Irish coastline, waters, flora, fauna and Natura 2000 sites. It is very reasonable. As I was coming into the Chamber, there were two televisions on, one showing the Dáil and one showing the Seanad. Deputy Catherine Martin was speaking in the Dáil and Senator Grace O'Sullivan, the first Green Party member to be elected to the Seanad, was speaking here. It is not often that two Green Party members are speaking in two Chambers in this building at the same time. It reminded me again of the significance and importance of the Green Party and its contribution. While all parties claim to have green credentials, the Green Party has done great service in a very difficult time by returning to these political Chambers and being very effective.
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has returned to his chair. I have not spoken since he left, which is a coincidence in itself. The Minister timed it well. With no disrespect to any Minister of State, I appeal directly to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, Mr. Nice Guy, as everybody tells me, to let it go in good faith. It should go to the next Stage. The Minister should not block it. Again, I pay tribute to Senator Grace O'Sullivan for her impassioned debate on "Morning Ireland". She captured her enthusiasm with the subject and her frustration at how the Bill has been blocked and stymied. It came over very clearly. I do not know whether the Minister was listening to it on his way here. I was driving here. The Senator was very committed to it. It is an environmental issue.
Certain Senators have chosen not to be here to engage in the debate, and this is one of the clear features of the Seanad. During the past six months it has been an eye-opener for me to see how few Senators want to come in here and engage in real, meaningful politics. We talk about new politics. I do not believe there is new politics. I believe there is a new reality, that one has to do business. The members of the political establishment - I do not mean the Minister personally - would not do any business if they did not have to in the new scenario. It is disappointing. The Minister has the power to do it here, now. I appeal directly to him, sitting in the Ministers' chair, to allow the Bill to go to the next Stage and allow people to have a meaningful engagement. It is all about consultation and meaningful engagement. We spoke about other issues earlier.
I do not care who brings in the legislation on microbeads, and neither does Senator O'Sullivan. We just want good legislation. The Minister, his Department and all parties knew the Bill was coming. They are not here with amendments. Where are the Government Members who have such enthusiasm for the environment? Why are they not here proposing amendments? The Minister needs to answer. Why are the Government Senators, who were elected and who were determined to be here, not here contributing with amendments? Why are the Fianna Fáil Senators not here?
They could flag or indicate their amendments. It is fair and reasonable. Senator Coffey made the point that it is about being respectful of each Member. The Minister, and the Minister alone, should make a decision to allow the Bill to go to the next Stage and let us see what other issues we can tease out. It is reasonable and fair, and it would be a measure of his commitment to new politics.
My apologies for temporarily leaving the House. I was in the other House listening to Senator O'Sullivan's Green Party colleague speaking on the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2016. We are going to do this. There are fundamental problems with the microbeads Bill, which I will outline. This does not mean I do not share the view that we need to ban the use of microbeads and implement a series of other measures to protect the marine environment, which we are committed to doing and which we will do within months. This is not going to go on ice. I will happily involve Senator O'Sullivan in the process. I know something about the Senator's background regarding understanding and protecting the marine environment, which is where she comes from politically. There are others in the House who care about the marine environment, and I happen to be one of them.
I am not going to pass legislation that we are going to have problems with in our efforts to resolve the issue. The Bill has triggered my Department. On this week's agenda, we must deal with a proposal to ban microbeads, which is something I did not know much about, although I know a lot about marine litter and plastics. This week I launched a new green flag module around global citizenship and marine litter. I was previously the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There are approximately 6.2 trillion particles of litter in our oceans. That is 1,000 particles for every person on the planet. There are approximately 100 million tonnes of marine litter in our oceans. This is having a devastating consequence on marine ecosystems everywhere. In the middle of the Pacific ocean, there is a garbage patch that is twice the size of Texas. This rubbish has gathered there as a result of ocean currents.
I have had, and will continue to have, progressive conversations with European Commissioner Karmenu Vella, who is deeply committed to the issue. We will introduce legislation next year, to deal with the issue, which I have learned much more about due to the proposals in the legislation. Our legislation will also deal with some of the broader issues regarding dumping at sea and some of the measures we can take, such as designating areas at sea as marine conservation zones, which we will do next year, as well as moving on the issues the Senator is pinpointing in the legislation to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetic products. I am happy to do it, we have signalled we are going to do it, and we have already signalled that we want an EU-wide ban. I ask the Senator to please accept my bona fides. I am not seeking to stymie it. It was frustrating for me to look at social media, where I am being attacked on the issue, as if I am blocking it or undermining what the Green Party is trying to do.It is not the right thing to do.
Amendments will not deal with this and I will explain why. I reassure the House that I, as Minister with responsibility for marine environmental protection, and the Government generally recognise that microbeads used in cosmetics, body-care products generally and also products like detergents and scouring agents are potentially harmful to our river and marine environments. Indeed, Ireland has held a formal position that we wish to see microbeads banned throughout the EU. Over recent years, scientists, experts and policy makers have become increasingly concerned about the levels of waste or marine litter winding up in our seas and oceans. As Senators are aware, it can be found in every aspect of the marine environment and ranges in size from large objects such as fishing nets or shipping containers to micro and nanolitter particles. However, the extent of the marine litter problem and the harm it causes to the environment are not fully understood at this time and are subject to ongoing research. Nevertheless, it is clear that this is an issue we need to address and, at the very least, we need to do so under the precautionary principle, about which Senator Grace O'Sullivan has spoken. Marine litter also causes socioeconomic harm by affecting tourism and consumer confidence in seafood, but the core issue here is that it is destroying an eco-system that we have a responsibility to protect.
Plastic is a particular problem for the marine environment. It does not biodegrade and persists in the environment for a very long time; many lifetimes in fact. It can break down into secondary microplastic particles through erosion which is evidence that both large plastic items and microplastics are being ingested by marine fauna with undetermined consequences for them and the creatures higher up the food chain who eat them, including ourselves. Microplastics are also entering the marine environment in other forms including microfibres and artificial fibres worn off clothes during washing. However, a certain amount of marine microplastic litter is caused by plastic microbeads, which are used in cosmetics, body-care and cleansing products, detergents and surface cleaning agents, entering the marine environment via wastewater discharges into rivers and estuaries. Such microbeads cannot be easily removed by treatment of wastewater. In fact, it is virtually impossible to treat it according to my understanding.
Microbeads might only represent a small fraction of the microplastic litter entering the marine environment, but they are a particularly pernicious product in the sense that they are ready-made microplastics which cannot be removed once they reach the marine environment. Microbeads cannot be regarded as a major human necessity. They are often present merely for decorative purposes. As some Members will probably know better than I, microbeads are used as exfoliating or scouring agents. A wide array of established safe and biodegradable organic particles or natural mineral alternatives are readily available. The relevant industries are fully aware that the tide of international opinion is turning against the use of microbeads on account of their potential to cause harm to marine ecosystems. They are already banned in Canada and the proposed US and UK bans are due to commence in 2017. A number of EU member states, of which Ireland is one, have formally stated that they seek such microbead bans across the EU. Thus, industry is already turning to other alternatives.
The fact that marine litter is a transboundary issue means no one country can solve the problem on its own. While a domestic ban by a population of 5 million in isolation may send a positive message, banning the use of microbeads by a population of over 500 million would be much more effective. However, I recognise that there is a value in sending a positive message with a domestic ban. If we are going to do this, we have to do it properly. It is my job to ensure that we do it properly rather than to try to do something to support a colleague I happen to think has the right view. As a legislator, my job is to ensure that I take legal advice and take the correct approach. I have taken some initial legal advice on the issue and my primary concern in the first instance is that a national ban could place Ireland in breach of Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which provide for the free movement of goods, unless a process is put in place to allow us to do it. Furthermore, under Directive 2015/1535 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical regulations and of rules on information society services, which is an "EUism", if I may use that term, there is a requirement for Ireland to formally notify the Commission that we intend to introduce such legislation. Introducing a Bill like the one being proposed today prior to such notification would place us in breach of the directive and open to immediate and probable successful challenge. As such, it is not possible for us to introduce such a Bill at this stage.
Even if it were possible, there are other flaws in the Bill that I have a responsibility to highlight. For a start, it is more limited in ambition than our current policy position. It does not cover detergents and scouring agents, which can also contain plastic microbeads. The problems with the Bill are not confined to that issue. If they were, we could address them by way of amendment. For example, the Bill does not appear to provide any investigative or enforcement powers. The penalties laid down are disproportionate and out of step with recent legislation. The specification of a fine of up to €10,000 per item could mean that a shopkeeper with a carton of 100 bottles of eye make-up containing plastic glitter for sale could be liable for a fine of up to €1 million. I do not want to create a drama about that but I note that there is a process here by which we need to test the legislation to ensure that it is right. The Bill does not provide the Minister with sufficient principles and policies to make regulations and the monitoring programme it proposes is far too broad in scale to be either useful or scientifically justified. The advice I have is that the legislation proposed would simply be unworkable, costly and ineffective and I have an obligation to let the Senator know that.
Nonetheless, I see advantages in Ireland leading by examples on microbeads. With this in mind, the Government will develop proposals to ban microbeads nationally in the context of a wider marine environmental Bill to be published next year, which will also provide the legislative basis for a network of marine protected areas, as I mentioned earlier and as required by the marine strategy framework directive, and make necessary amendments to the Dumping at Sea Acts. We will consult the relevant stakeholders in advance of this, draw up our justification for a derogation under Single Market rules and notify the Commission as required. In conjunction with this work, we will continue to lobby for an EU-wide microbead ban at the earliest opportunity. As I stated earlier, marine litter, like climate change, is a transboundary problem and we will only be able to start to solve it by concerted international action underpinned by research and supported by awareness raising activities. In advance of that, I intend to write to the Commission in the coming days to notify it of my intention to proceed with a ban on microbeads, going even further than the ban proposed by Senator Grace O'Sullivan this evening. We are going to follow through on this. I mean that.
The Government recognises the need for measures to prevent microbeads entering the marine environment through wastewater discharge. We welcome the principle and acknowledge Senator Grace O'Sullivan's sincere effort in progressing this important issue. I recognise that this can only realistically be achieved by a ban on their use in cosmetics and the other products we have mentioned. I have heard Senator O'Sullivan on the radio and seen the frustration and the eagerness to progress the legislation. I take that on board and because of it I am making a commitment today to write within a few days to the European Commission to inform it that we plan to proceed with a ban. We will start the process we need to trigger to ensure that when legislation is introduced it is not challenged by the industry in a way that undermines our efforts. If we do that collectively, we will have done a pretty good job.
I thank the Minister for his reassurances. The Bill was introduced several weeks ago and something possibly could have been done in the meantime. As for the notification to the European Commission, again, the Department could have exercised that right and it could be under way as we speak. It is pertinent we move as fast as possible with this measure.
Senator Paudie Coffey earlier spoke about the importance of issues. I am new to this political system and have not come from a local authority background, unlike Senator Paudie Coffey and others. Coming in here, however, I understood my job was to be part of a process to introduce and scrutinise Bills. As a newbie, I did not expect to have all the tools in the bag. Accordingly, I am relying on consultation and support.
What Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said earlier literally threw the Minister's legal advice out of the window because Article 36 squashes the Minister's argument. Yesterday at 5.30 p.m. was a little late in the day to come forward with the notice of the amendment. It indicates the Seanad is not really being listened to in time. We can put forward legislation but Fianna Fáil is not listening. That was clearly evident from Senator Jennifer Murnane-O'Connor's contribution. She clearly was not prepared for this issue. The Minister and the Department were also not prepared for this. That leaves me feeling incompetent and that I am surrounded by incompetence. I do not like that. I hope that in my time in the Seanad that I will work and collaborate with everybody. When it comes to issues such as marine pollution or housing, I am absolutely committed to work as hard as I can and to consult with other Members to get a good process.
The Minister might claim we were not prepared enough with this Bill. I think we were and we could have got this together. Our duty is to introduce and scrutinise legislation. With amendments from the Minister and Fianna Fáil, we could have proceeded to Committee Stage. As a new Senator, it would have enabled me to see the process while moving the momentum forward. There is international momentum on this issue too.
The Minister asked us to accept his bona fides on this. I would like to know when the consultation date will be. There are so many crises in the country under the Government's leadership. If I do not get a date, it will go down the Swannee, nothing will happen. It will be put on the long finger and kicked to touch. I am looking forward to the Minister getting the notice letter to the European Commission.
In the meantime, I feel disheartened that we could not have made progress within the Seanad system. I did my part in introducing this Bill and getting it to Second Stage. The Department had it on the table for weeks on end and could have scrutinised it and consulted. However, I had no phone call or no knowledge of the Department's intention. I do not accept what the Minister put to me yesterday. For that reason, I would like the support of my colleagues to put this to a vote. With that, we will see what comes out. The Minister gave me due recognition and he knows I will work tirelessly with him to ensure we ban micro-beads and micro-plastics from the marine environment.
- Catherine Ardagh
- Paddy Burke
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Maria Byrne
- Lorraine Clifford Lee
- Paudie Coffey
- Martin Conway
- Mark Daly
- Aidan Davitt
- Maura Hopkins
- Gerry Horkan
- Tim Lombard
- Gabrielle McFadden
- Michelle Mulherin
- Jennifer Murnane O'Connor
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- John O'Mahony
- Ned O'Sullivan
- James Reilly
- Neale Richmond
- Keith Swanick
- Diarmuid Wilson