Dear Editor --
I refer to your recent articles about the Environmental Protection Agency. While we appreciate the role of the media in scrutinising public bodies, we believe that your paper has misrepresented the EPA and misled the public in the impression it has created of the agency.
The EPA is an effective, well-run agency which provides significant benefit to Ireland's environment and to our health and well-being. These are not our words: they are the words of an independent government-appointed review group that reported its findings to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in May 2011.
The review group also concluded that the EPA was in compliance with its corporate governance obligations. If you have an interest in the facts on how effective the EPA is in delivering on its mission and providing value for money, you will find a copy of the review on either the site of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, or the EPA website at www.epa.ie
Since it was established in 1993, the EPA has had a profound impact on Ireland's environment. When the agency was founded 18 years ago, Ireland's environment was highly challenged.
Through the work of the EPA there have been very significant improvements in water quality, air quality, drinking water quality and waste management; and people are now more aware of the fragility and importance of our environment to our health and well-being and for the future of our children, than at any point in the past.
Compared to similar agencies in other countries, Ireland's EPA is relatively small, with 321 staff and a wide range of functions. The EPA represents Ireland and the Department of the Environment at EU and international negotiations. Any travel undertaken by officials and scientists is necessary and important. There are rigorous policies on travel (eg: flights are economy and the agency does not pay for travel for spouses or partners). In 2010, for example, of 333 assignments undertaken abroad, 57 per cent cost less than €200 with only three long-haul trips costing over €1,000.
The EPA operates to the highest standards of corporate governance and takes its corporate governance responsibilities extremely seriously. When the revised Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies came into force in 2009, the EPA itself commissioned the Institute of Public Administration to evaluate the EPA's compliance with the new code.
The IPA found as follows: "It is our opinion that corporate governance standards are given a high priority within the agency, that there are high levels of management awareness of corporate governance obligations and that these are kept under regular scrutiny and that, as appropriate, the agency's governance policies and practices are consistent with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies."
During 2010, the Great Places to Work Institute awarded the EPA the Best Public Sector Company Award; we received accreditation from the National Disability Authority for our commitment to providing accessible services for the public and EPA headquarters achieved environmental certification to ISO 14001. We are rightly proud of these achievements and they help place the EPA in a strong position to deal with the very difficult challenges ahead.
A recent report by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) cited the EPA as being one of Ireland's best agencies. This we attribute to the hard work, dedication and flexibility of EPA staff. We will continue to embrace change in these uncertain times and play our role in protecting and improving Ireland's environment, planning for a more sustainable future for our children and providing good value for money.
Dr Matt Crowe
Office of Communications and Corporate Services