00:00 Saturday 16 June 2007 

Innovation and incentives needed to protect enviroment says TD.

THE need to always be innovative and apply the right mix of incentives and threats to successfully enforce environmental legislation was stressed by Minister of State for the Environment Batt O'Keeffe, TD, when officially opening the 23rd Sherkin Island Marine Station Environmental Conference at Carrigaline Court Hotel recently.

"More litter wardens employed and substantial increases in the number of prosecutions taken and on-the-spot fines being issues has resulted in reducing litter pollution levels across the country," he claimed, but there were still visible problems of fly-tipping and backyard burning.

Addressing delegates at the 2007 conference entitled 'Enforcement of Environmental Regulations', Mr. O'Keeffe said better enforcement remained a major challenge, but added that the allocation of government funding to local authorities for dedicated waste enforcement staff, coupled with the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Environmental Enforcement established in 2003 and working well, was addressing this.

"What I want is a culture of compliance among those being regulated which cuts out the need for sanctions. If we can achieve this, we all stand to benefit," said the Minister who also spoke of the need for continued education and awareness raising by all stakeholders.

Ireland was still playing catch-up because of under investment over the years in waste management and waste and drinking water treatment, it was acknowledged by director-general of the EPA, Dr. Mary Kelly. In more recent times, there had been huge investment leading to measurable improvements in the environmental arena.

The EPA, had, for its part, been to the fore in tackling illegal cross-border waste activities, established a 1,000 strong Environmental Enforcement Network of trained regulators and enforcers, developed a national protocol for dealing with complaints, taken over 50 prosecutions in the past three years resulting in over e25 million investment in environmental infrastructure, and sanctioned local authorities who themselves failed to comply with their obligations.

New roles for the EPA would include overseeing the provision of drinking water by sanitary authorities and licensing of local authority waste water discharges and storm water overflows as these needed regulatory control to achieve a clean and health environment for everyone, she added.

Delegates were welcomed by Sherkin Island Marine Station founder and director Matt Murphy who stressed the need for enforcement and acknowledged the work of the EPA. Issues which needed addressing, he stated, included septic tank systems, installation of water meters in all homes to reduce wastage, hedgerow replacement, protection of flora and fauna and wetland replacement in new developments, major monitoring of lakes and rivers prone to pollution, better protection of archaeological sites and historic buildings and very important, follow-ups on environmental matters after planning permissions were granted.

"One issue that I believe has been totally ignored in Ireland concerns Environmental Impact Statements/Assessments submitted with planning applications," continued Matt Murphy. "Are all these EISs objective scientific reports? Do councils have the time and appropriate personnel to address the issues contained in these and how many are re-visited five years after development is completed to see if conditions have been fulfilled?".

The well attended two-day conference was addressed by environmental experts from Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the USA, the UK and Ireland including former Cork County Engineer Brendan Devlin who came up with many innovative proposals for Irish agencies to consider. Session chairpersons were former County Manager Maurice Moloney, Niall Greene and David Moore. There was also a seafood banquet.

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