I welcome the Minister to the House. As was said, we must wake up to the problem. The Minister has been, and has been shown to be, very courageous and wide awake. He went into the Department with his eyes wide open and his actions have demonstrated courage. He could never be accused of not being courageous. He has been a very courageous Minister who took a stand where necessary and on issues where other Governments failed.
Today we are talking about the climate change Bill. Before I became a Senator I looked at things from the outside and had great faith and hope that something would done about climate change, particularly as the Minister at the time was John Gormley. Perhaps he got an anaesthetic and slept during his watch. However, I commend and compliment the current Minister, Deputy Hogan, on his assurances.
I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The committee worked on the heads of the climate change Bill and the policies and made recommendations. I will comment further on the matter but I could not resist replying to Senator Ó Murchú’s remark about going to sleep. The earth is our only home which we share with seven billion people and, therefore, we must mind it, protect it and ensure it is protected. The Environmental Protection Agency and the RPII, which it was agreed today will merge with the EPA, are charged with protecting the environment.
I have great confidence they will do so. Environmental issues, whether ozone depletion, greenhouse effect, global climate change, environmental pollution, the green economy, biodiversity reduction are all important elements on which we must ensure that positive steps are taken to protect our environment. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan has been very positive in ensuring that our environment is protected. Thanks to his achievements in the Department, environmental policy is no longer a niche or peripheral area but has become mainstream Government policy in recent times. This is very progressive and shows that as a society and a Government we have evolved and recognise the importance of conservation and environmental protection.
The Minister has had to implement many reforms that were not popular and were criticised. It took courage to implement them, particularly to work on the EU recommendations. When he took office he was faced with 32 infringements of EU law and he has reduced that number to eight. He did not say how much money that saved the country. Had the infringements been allowed to continue, the Government would be out of pocket by €12 million annually. If we had to continue to pay that €12 million, as had been paid prior to Deputy Hogan becoming Minister, the country would be in a sorry state. By ensuring the environmental infringements were corrected on his watch he has addressed the significant financial implications this had for the country. They have been reduced to eight and the Minister is still working, and may be in the Department long enough, to get the number down to zero.
The Minister referred to Delivering our Green Potential and the waste policy document A Resource Opportunity. That contains a commitment to complete a review of the respective regulatory and enforcement roles of the Environmental Protection Agency and the local authorities. This review was completed in early 2014, just a couple of months ago. I am aware that 91 submissions were received in response to the consultation document.
Ireland is performing well in EU terms on the issue of recycling and is meeting the majority of the annual targets. The rates of household recycling in Ireland have increased dramatically since the late 1990s. The EPA is the agency with overall responsibility for environmental protection in the State and it monitors the rates of recycling as well as other areas, that were referred to earlier. Repak is the principal organisation for recycling. Ireland, at 79%, has the second highest rate of recycling, just behind Germany. That is an achievement that those involved in recycling can be proud of. We rarely hear about the positive stories, because that does not make news.
The concept of best available techniques, BAT, was introduced as a key principle in the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, IPPC, Directive. The Minister alluded to this in his speech so I will not elaborate except to say that this policy is being implemented. The EPA is bound to ensure that modern technologies are used in testing and other work.
The general scheme of the heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, together with the national policy position on climate action and low carbon was released on 23 April 2014. I do not know whether the Senator who said that no action was taken and that it was only the heads of a Bill was aware of all the work of the Joint Committee of the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the Bill and I wonder if he was asleep when its report was released just two months ago. As the Minister said, the work has been done and the Bill will be ready at the end of the year. The national policy position on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill has progressed the national low carbon transition agenda, national policy position and the general scheme which are parallel and complimentary pillars. The Environmental Protection Agency is fundamental to achieving a sustainable environment for the future.
The Minister has been courageous in taking action and introducing charges. Many other Ministers would not have had the courage to do what he has done and he has succeeded during his watch in doing things that had needed to be done for years. I congratulate him.
My experience during my time on South Dublin County Council with the EPA has been second to none. I had a very positive experience of its enforcement measures in South Dublin County Council. I will refer in this regard to what the EPA did about the case in Portlaoise.
This post was written by on August 18, 2014