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GOVERNMENT TIME WASTING ON MICROPLASTICS BAN

19 April 2017

Statement by Sean Sherlock TD
Spokesperson on Justice, Children and Youth Affairs

Labour Spokesperson on Climate Change Sean Sherlock has dismissed the Government's intention to introduce its own bill to ban plastic microbeads as "time wasting."

"There is no reason for the Government to introduce their own bill," said Deputy Sherlock.

"We have been promised new politics, but nearly every time a private member's bill comes up for the debate, the Government finds an excuse to block it while promising it's own legislation on the same issue that never sees the light of day.

"Rather than tack something onto an existing bill, Minister Simon Coveney could amend if it so wishes, the Labour Party bill when it will be debated the week the Dail return.

"Labour has carefully considered the question whether EU law would prevent Member States taking action on this issue.

"Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union set out the principle that, as the Single Market is an area without internal borders, restrictions 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 microbeads would have the effect of restricting certain imports but Article 36 of the Treaty goes on to say that Articles 34 and 35 do not preclude prohibitions or restrictions on imports that are justified on grounds of the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants.

"In other words, the EU Treaty directly acknowledges that national measures can be taken to protect the environment.

"The Government have dragged their feet on this issue for over 5 months since the Green party bill was blocked by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the Seanad. Now is the time to legislate."

Notes to Editors

Microbeads and other micro-plastics are used in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products such as scrubs, soaps, lotions and toothpastes. These plastic particles enter the environment and are not caught in water treatment systems. Instead they are released into rivers and the sea, with waste water outflows.

Micro-plastics are an entirely unnecessary source of pollution and are likely to have environmental impacts. Studies have shown they are ingested by marine animals, leading to physical harm and toxic effects. There is evidence to suggest that they are entering the human food chain.

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.

However, a January 2016 research report commissioned by the European Commission (Study to support the development of measures to combat a range of marine litter sources, Eunomia, 29 January 2016) looked at what EU mechanisms were available to reduce micro-bead pollution from cosmetics.

That report concluded that introducing a ban on microbeads at EU level would be more complicated than the laws used in the US and Canada. It 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, domestic action is both necessary and appropriate.

The EU Transparency Directive sets up a procedure obliging the Member States to notify the Commission of all draft regulations on products before they are adopted in national law.

The notification triggers a standstill period of 3 months. The Commission and the other Member States can use this time to examine the notified draft regulation to determine whether 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 3-month standstill period has expired.

This is exactly the procedure that the then Minister for Health 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 into 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. But this is clearly not the case on microplastics.

The option of unilateral action by Ireland on this issue is a valid one under the EU Treaty.