My Seanad speech on the Government’s environmental protection policy, 9 July, 2014.

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.

Posted under Environment, What I've been Saying

This post was written by on August 18, 2014

My Seanad speech on the Radiological Protection (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014, 9 July 2014.

I welcome the Minister of State. The Bill will enable Ireland to ratify the 2005 amendment. The previous speaker asked the Minister of State why it took so long; nine years is a long time. Ireland is one of only two EU countries yet to ratify it. However, in 2013 more than 60 countries had ratified the amendment and a total of 96 ratifications are required before it enters into force. I have also read that two thirds of the countries need to be signed up before it becomes effective. So although only two EU countries remain to ratify it, it needs another 36 before it enters into force. I ask the Minister of State to comment on that. Even though only two EU countries remain, will we be waiting for the other 34 non-EU countries before it comes into force in Europe?

The overall purpose of the Bill is to comply with international obligations as laid down. In addition, it will enable the dissolution of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, and the transfer all of its functions to the EPA, decided as a part of the Government’s programme. The Bill also makes a number of technical amendments to the Radiological Protection Act 1991 regarding licensing and the Radiological Protection (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. It also provides for the establishment of contingency plans and quality assurance measures by the RPII, updates fines specified in the 1991 Act and amends the definition of ionising radiation.

As we know there are no nuclear power plants in Ireland but we need to ensure we comply with all international and national best practice relating to nuclear research on other islands. There are many radioactive substances, and certain substances used in medicine, while highly radioactive in some cases, are not nuclear materials. While Ireland is not a nuclear country, we have nuclear and radiological protection legislation in place, as every country has to have, principally in the form of the Radiological Protection Act 1991, as amended.

With both agencies being merged, as the Minister of State has said it will not lose any of its importance. Obviously the funding that was in both agencies will be transferred to the merged agency. The accounts will need to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas within six months and a report from both agencies is to be provided to the Minister within 12 months. We will obviously need to keep an eye out when they are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas because sometimes things get laid and while we get notification through the Order Paper, it is up to us to keep an eye out.

I acknowledge the work and expertise of the staff of the institute and commend them on what they have been doing in the many years since it was established to protect citizens from the harmful effects of ionising radiation. They have many other responsibilities too numerous to outline in detail. Radiation can occur in the environment, our homes, educational facilities, and industrial and commercial areas. Radiation can be utilised in positive ways, as we know from X-rays and other medical applications which are essential in everyday life. At the same time, it is important that we know and recognise the risks of radiation to the general population and human health. That is why it is most important for State agencies – either individual or merged – to ensure they do their duty. The State agencies are there to licence and monitor the use of radiation in the health sector, industry and commerce, and education.

Part 2 makes provision for the dissolution of the board and as the Minister of State has said a lot about that, I will not go into it again. Section 9 outlines provisions relating to liability for loss arising before the dissolution day which is a very important part from the aspect of the Comptroller and Auditor General. All accounts are to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. In the transfer of staff we always ensure that the rights, duties and obligations will transfer from the individual agency to the merged agency.

The Department published an initial regulatory impact assessment for the aspects of the Bill relating to the ratification of the CPPNMNF – it is nearly easier to say it in its long form. Following publication of the initial RIA, there was a consultation phase. A final RIA was anticipated after responses to the consultation were reviewed. I just looked at the website and there were no submissions received from the public consultation phase and the RIA as drafted was left as it was. This will also benefit Ireland by helping to reduce the risk of criminal or terrorist activity and ensure we all feel safer in travel in homes in our country and in other jurisdictions that we deal with.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has appealed to all members to ratify the amendment as soon as possible. As Ireland has been consistently supportive of any improvements to international nuclear security, by not ratifying the amendment, our position would be contradicted and our international negotiating power in future nuclear safety discussions could be diminished. Other countries will have to look into ratification of the amendment and see how long down the road it will be.

Even though it is not part of the Bill another aspect of environmental protection that is a very important responsibility of the RPII is naturally occurring radon. It is an issue close to my heart. It occurs naturally all around us, but is most prevalent in the south east. I have heard recent reports that indicate we have the highest incidence in Europe. We know there is work to be done on that. I congratulate the RPII on the work it has been doing in educating the public and the tests that were done and working with the local authorities there. I want to ensure and stress that this work will continue when the RPII is amalgamated into the EPA. It is a concern that has been raised with me on many occasions and, as I said, I am also doing some work on it.

I welcome the strategy that was published in February. It is important and it has to be done. I am looking forward to the Minister of State outlining why it took us so long.

Posted under Environment, Health, What I've been Saying

This post was written by on August 18, 2014

My Seanad speech on housing, 1 July 2014

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. She is doing Trojan work in her Ministry trying to resolve a very serious set of circumstances. There has been much misleading and grossly inaccurate information on the HAP. I am delighted the Minister of State has clarified once again in the Seanad today what the payment means. Representatives of various agencies have appeared before the Oireachtas committee, of which I am a member. Those representing the homeless are closest to my heart and that of the Minister of State. Very many people who cannot afford escalating rents are ending up homeless. Landlords do not want to take tenants receiving the HAP. The Minister of State has done some service by ensuring it will be easier for landlords to take on tenants in receipt of the payment and that they will not be fearful of non-payment of rent when the legislation is introduced.

The Bill deals with three major strands of housing policy: providing a legislative basis for the housing assistance payment; introducing a new tenant purchase scheme, as the Minister of State said; and reforming the process for the termination of local tenancies. The important housing legislation will bring about the most radical reform of public housing support, which has been badly needed for decades. Considering that we had the boom and plenty of property, one would think there should be no homelessness at all. However, there were still homeless people during the boom. That the problem could not be sorted then must be considered. Despite the fact that the Minister of State has her hands tied behind her back, she has done a good day’s work in bringing in this measure.

It has long been accepted that the current rent supplement was and is not fit for purpose. The Minister of State is taking the necessary action to change the system. Data from last May suggest 78,000 people, or perhaps more, are in the rent allowance scheme. I may have the figure wrong. The new HAP will be better for tenants, local authorities and will be representative of a more coherent and joined-up system of housing support. It will be better for landlords in that it will encourage them to take on tenants in receipt of the HAP. The arrangement will benefit those who require assistance with their housing needs and it will ensure that all long-term household support will be assessed through each local authority rather than through the current, fractured system that involves the Department of Social Protection making payments. In addition, importantly, it will ensure that people will be able to take up employment and still retain housing support, and it will improve standards of accommodation for tenants with a more coherent inspection system under the control of the local authority.

I welcome the removal of the possibility of tenant arrears for landlords as it will encourage more acceptance of housing tenants. If one is on the housing list, one can take up the HAP. As the Minister of State said, and contrary to what I have heard in the media, one will be able to seek a transfer to a council house, RAS unit or accommodation from a housing association, provided that suitable accommodation is available. The Minister of State has outlined that very clearly today. One will be able to move to the system if one’s needs and circumstances change. This is worth reiterating.

The Bill also contains reforming provisions on tenant purchase and tackling anti-social behaviour. Those of us who have been local authority members know that anti-social behaviour takes place. I am pleased that a new tenant purchase scheme is being introduced in the Bill. It is only fair that tenants have the opportunity to purchase their own homes in a transparent and equitable way. It makes for a coherent community working together when people are allowed to purchase their own homes, with the highest discounts to be available to the families in the lowest income bands who can sustain the mortgage payment. The scheme aims to enable tenants to become homeowners in their communities. It is a fundamental policy pillar to assist people to own their own homes by providing them with the necessary flexibility to do so. The Bill contains provisions to discourage the sale of a home immediately after purchase, which I welcome. One would obviously have trading on and trading up with the dilution of local authority housing.

Posted under Community, Environment, Housing, What I've been Saying

This post was written by on August 18, 2014

My draft submission on the Registration of Architects in Ireland February 19th 2013

Draft Proposals –prior to submission to the Draft Report from the Joint Oireachtas sub-committee Report.

Senator Cáit Keane representing the FG group on the Working Sub-committee established by the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht to evaluate & make recommendations on the Registration & Training of Architects in Ireland.

Overview:
I am making this draft recommendation on behalf of the Fine Gael Group prior to submission to Sub-committees.
It analyses how we might go about assisting the process of a reasonable and fair assessment procedure at a realistic cost to enable the two classes of professionally trained architects to be considered for registration and training. This is a finite group of professionally trained architects. The solution that has been applied to this throughout Europe is that of a time-limited or self –extinguishing registration process which assesses acquired rights. In all cases the assessors should be independent, accountable and suitably qualified in the tasks. I note we do not have an Independent body in Ireland, it is under the control of Architects the RIAI.

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Posted under Environment, Uncategorized

This post was written by on January 21, 2014