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Director General's Statement

Welcome to the 2007 annual report for the EPA. 2007 was a busy year for the EPA and this report sets out the main activities undertaken by each Office of the EPA during the year. Looking back in years to come, the year 2007 will be seen as a watershed year for climate change and this is reflected in the increased activity of the EPA in the climate change area during 2007. There is now a heightened global awareness of the fact that we are living in a world that is experiencing climate change and that the time for action is short if we are to avoid the potentially calamitous impacts that climate change might bring about. The award of the Nobel Prize to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Senator Al Gore for their work on climate change, the publication of the IPCC 4th Assessment Report and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Bali have all served to raise awareness amongst the public and politicians of the urgency of the situation.

A major milestone for the EPA during 2007 was the publication of our new corporate strategy called 2020Vision. 2020Vision is different to previous strategies published by the EPA in that it sets out long-term goals for Ireland's environment and identifies the steps that the EPA will take in the medium term to put us on the right track for achieving these goals. Goals have been set in 2020Vision under the headings of limiting and adapting to climate change, clean air, protected water resources, protected soil and biodiversity, sustainable use of resources and integration and enforcement.

We in the EPA are very conscious that we are not the sole organisation with environmental protection responsibilities in Ireland and achieving the long term goals set out in 2020Vision will require the active cooperation and participation of many organisations right down to the individual citizen. The EPA, quite rightly, should be expected to provide the necessary leadership to set out what the issues and challenges are in relation to protecting and improving Ireland's environment and this is what we have attempted to do in putting together 2020Vision. The EPA is now seeking to involve other organisations and individuals in working with it to meet the challenges that lie ahead in protecting and improving Ireland's environment.

In developing 2020Vision, we concluded that some structural re-organisation within the EPA was required. Climate change has become the greatest environmental challenge facing humanity and this is reflected in the prominence given to the issue in 2020Vision. To meet the challenges posed by climate change and to streamline and focus our response, we created a Climate Change Unit in 2007 by merging activities carried out across the Agency in emissions trading, inventories, projections, climate research and air and climate science areas. This has given the EPA a much stronger focus on this important area and equips us for the challenges that lie ahead. Through our research programmes we are building up an impressive body of knowledge on the implications of climate change in Ireland and the EPA is now in a strong position to provide leadership and good quality information in this area.

We also wanted to place a stronger focus on the whole area of waste prevention and resource use so we established a Resource Use Unit which leads the National Waste Prevention Programme and incorporates our producer responsibility, national waste reporting and national hazardous waste planning functions. Both the Climate Change Unit and the Resource Use Unit are now part of the Office of Climate, Licensing and Resource Use.

Biodiversity and soils protection also emerged as important areas when developing 2020Vision. While the EPA is not the lead agency in Ireland for dealing with biodiversity and soil protection issues, we considered it important that these two issues were identified as goal areas in 2020Vision due to their overall importance in relation to sustainable development. We have, therefore, established a new Soils and Biodiversity Unit to coordinate EPA activity in this area and to work closely with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and other agencies and groups involved in protecting soils and biodiversity. This Unit is now part of the Office of Environmental Assessment.

During 2007, the EPA was designated a number of important new functions. In March of 2007, the EPA was made responsible for overseeing the supply of drinking water by public authorities. This is a major new responsibility for the EPA and structures to implement this new function were put in place during 2007. The designation to the EPA of this function coincided with the outbreak of Cryptosporidium in Galway City and County. The EPA used its new powers to bring about a resolution to the problem in the shortest possible time frame and we are now focusing our efforts on the many public water supplies that are at risk of failing to supply good quality drinking water either through inadequate source protection or inadequate treatment.

In late 2007, the EPA was also made responsible for licensing urban waste water treatment plants, with the first tranche of applications received in December 2007. Significant work was done in advance of the Regulations being finalised with information seminars held at a number of locations for local authorities and all other interested bodies. It is estimated that some 480 agglomerations will be subject to the licensing process.

The producer responsibility area also continues to grow. Packaging, waste from electrical and electronic equipment, control of decorative paints, control of solvents and restrictions on the use of hazardous substances in products are all now regulated by producer responsibility initiatives and regulations overseen by the EPA. In 2007, the EPA was asked to add the control of batteries to its producer responsibility programme. We have also been asked to take on additional functions in the area of water protection and management as Ireland takes steps to continue its successful implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

During 2007, we undertook an analysis of the resources required to implement these new functions and I wish to thank our Advisory Committee for assisting with this process. This resulted in a submission to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government outlining the requirements for additional staff to enable the EPA to implement the new functions in an effective manner.

As the EPA grows into a larger and more complex organisation, I want to ensure that we have the governance structures in place to provide assurance that the EPA is providing the public with a quality service and good value for money. As part of the ongoing implementation of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, the EPA continued to conduct internal audits under the stewardship of the Internal Audit Committee. A new Internal Audit Committee was established in January 2007 and will serve for a period of three years. The Committee held 4 meetings in 2007 and conducted audits in a number of areas including the emissions trading unit and EPA compliance with corporate legislation. An Internal Audit Plan covering the period 2008 - 2009 was developed in 2007 and agreed by the Internal Audit Committee and by the EPA Board. Areas to be audited during 2008 include information systems, incident management, licensing and fixed assets. During 2007, the EPA also conducted a review of corporate legislation that it is legally obliged to comply with and commenced the establishment of a system for monitoring compliance with corporate legislation.

The EPA has a very significant commitment to staff development and training and this commitment is reflected in our regularly meeting or exceeding the Public Sector 4% of payroll target spend on Training & Development. During 2007, the EPA continued to rollout the Staff Development Programme, which is coordinated by a sub-group of Meitheal, the EPA Partnership Committee. The objective of this programme is to enable participants to recognise and develop the core behavioural competencies necessary to achieve their potential within current and future roles and to equip EPA staff with the skills and competencies needed to work in a modern customer-focused environment. A new coaching programme was initiated at the latter end of the year and the EPA also continued its commitment to further education by supporting staff pursuing relevant courses of study in their own time.

Overall, 2007 was a year when the EPA re-focused itself on long-term environmental outcomes for Ireland's environment by setting goals for the environment for 2020. The challenge now is to chart the course for how we will achieve these goals and to relentlessly pursue them with the many other organisations that need to be involved in the journey.

Finally, I would like to thank the staff of the EPA, my fellow Directors, the EPA Advisory Committee, the members of our Internal Audit Committee, members of Meitheal, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the GMO Advisory Committee, the National Allocation Advisory Group, the National Waste Prevention Committee and the Enforcement Network Steering Committee for their support and commitment during the year and for their dedication to protecting the environment. I look forward to continuing to work constructively working with them and with others to meet the challenges ahead.