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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Dublin Bay Oil Spill.

Tuesday, 8 October 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 469 No. 5

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 41. Mr. Sargent Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent  asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  the plans, if any, he has to assist with resources, money and a co-ordinating role or advice, the volunteers of nongovernmental organisations and the DSPCA in particular, who provided enormous help to wildlife affected by the recent oil spill in Dublin Bay. [17543/96]

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins As Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, my responsibility under the 1976 Wildlife Act is for the conservation of wildlife. The principal concern of my officials during the oil spill on the east coast in late September was the monitoring of the coastline to find dead or ailing seabirds or other wildlife to determine the impact of the spillage on wildlife generally and bird species in particular. The National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, co-operated in exchanging information with IWC BirdWatch Ireland which co-ordinates counts of dead or injured birds.

The generally poor survival rate for rescued and treated seabirds suffering [1477] oil contamination does not devalue the trojan efforts of voluntary groups recently engaged in the rescue and treatment of oiled seabirds in Dublin Bay. I certainly acknowledge and appreciate the very active role taken by the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other welfare organisations in this rescue effort.

The Government is committed to the “polluter pays” principle whereby persons responsible for pollution are liable for the costs associated with the incident. The penalties for pollution at sea range from £1,000 to £10 million and costs incurred by any organisations as a result of this pollution should be claimed so that if and when the polluter can be identified in this case, suitable recompense can be obtained.

While I appreciate that the DSPCA and other nongovernmental groups and volunteers have incurred costs in attempts to save oiled seabirds, I regret that I am not in a position to make funds available to meet the costs incurred by these organisations.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Is the Minister satisfied that the efforts in response to the coastal pollution in September were co-ordinated by a volunteer who had access to one telephone line and a call waiting service which was advertised on the national airwaves? Have the Department and the Department of the Marine plans worked out to ensure co-ordination in the event of a further disaster so that there will not be further mistreatment rather than treatment of injured wildlife? I believe a position has been made available for a member of the National Parks and Wildlife Service on the combined marine emergency service working group. Has this position been filled?

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins The information available to me suggests that my officials were in contact with the groups involved at an early stage. I will answer the second part of the Deputy's question straightforwardly. In relation to a [1478] disaster like this and it was a disaster in respect of the wild birds involved it is important that my Department is represented on a monitoring group responding to it. Having read the file it seems to me that the ability to respond quickly was somewhat deficient and that the voluntary groups were called upon to respond without knowing the precise procedures in place. That is the reason I was both appreciative and sympathetic to their efforts. In relation to their request to me for the defraying of their costs, there are not funds available to me but I would be sympathetic in contacting my colleagues, the Ministers for the Environment and the Marine, to see if reasonable and modest ex gratia sums might be made available to acknowledge that they were the people of first response. There has been a good and valuable exchange between the voluntary organisations and my professional staff. As I said, the survival rate of birds damaged in this way is poor and that raises the issue as to how they are to be best managed when such damage occurs. The clearer the procedures and the greater the partnership, the better it is for everybody and that is what I will be seeking to advance.

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