29 January 2004 Edition

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Shameful Ringaskiddy incinerator decision

BY ROISIN DE ROSA

On Wednesday 28 January, Environment Minister Martin Cullen summoned his county and city managers together to assess and rate their performance, especially with regard to housing and roads. Incinerators, which Minister Cullen wants all over the state, won't be far off the agenda.

No doubt there were hard words, especially when councils have not followed the prescriptions written by their boss.

But the meeting leaves council managers stuck between a rock and a hard place: local councils are supposed to be democratic institutions — with managers there simply to execute the decisions of the democratically elected councillors, and sometimes managers also have to contend with other Ministers in their area who don't find it convenient to support government policy at all!

Incineration is a prime case at issue.

In crucial matters of planning, the Minister for the Environment has other strings to his bow, as this government has proved on several occasions. He can relieve councils of their power to decide matters at all, as was done last year over waste charges, where councillors, anxious to secure their own re-election, refused to impose them as the Minister had demanded.

But the minister also has the power of An Bord Pleanála, a supposedly independent body, to assess local planning decisions. With all these strings to pull, what chance has the people to have a voice?

The decision by An Bord Pleanála to give the go ahead for a 100,000-ton toxic waste incinerator in Ringaskiddy, County Cork, ten days ago, brings all these issues to the fore.

This decision overturned not only the unanimous views of the County Council, including the views of Minister Martin, who represents the area, but it made rubbish of the results of a long and expensive public inquiry after which their own planning Inspector, who presided at the inquiry, presented a 300-page report unequivocally rejecting the incinerator scheme on 14 points.

Above all, the decision to go ahead with Indaver's incinerator flew in the face of one of the strongest campaigns ever run, which brought 30,000 objections from local people to having toxic waste incinerators at all, let alone one placed in Ringaskiddy.

As David Cullinane, Sinn Féin EU candidate for Munster, points out, "the people in this area are not objecting on grounds of 'not in my back yard', but because they are opposed to the Government policy of limiting choice to incinerator or landfill. They support the only real alternative, which is reducing waste, recycling and reusing resources, in effect — zero waste policies.'

"Zero waste policies", David says, "are being successfully implemented all over the developed world. Why does Ireland have to work within choices of the last century? Where is democracy if An Bord Pleanála can simply overturn public opinion and the considered views of their own experts?"

The main reason the board gave for its decision to give the go ahead to the incinerator was that "it is in line with the objectives of the National Hazardous Waste Management Plan". On this basis, the board rejected the decisions of the County Council, its own Senior Inspector and his conclusions from the public inquiry, and the views of 30,000 local people.

The inquiry established that with the 100,000-ton incinerator there would be more toxic waste going abroad than present volumes - that for every 100,000 tonnes of waste burnt there would be approximately 33,000 tons of hazardous ash to dispose of. Indaver, a Belgian company, said they would export this to Europe. They also said that they would monitor the incinerator and its emissions from Belgium.

Furthermore, the Health and Safety Authority (HAS), a state body responsible for ensuring public safety, as required by the EU Soveso directive on Major Accident Hazards, did not consider the 14,000 population of Cobh, only a mile away from the proposed site, to be of relevance to their assessments, nor the fact that there is only one humpback bridge over which these people might try to escape in the event of an accident.

In fact, the HAS did not know, as they admitted under cross examination, what type of incinerator Indaver intended to use, and assumed in their report, which they admitted at the oral hearing, that Indaver would be burning only municipal waste, not hazardous toxic waste.

Minister McDowell has often repeated that he opposes Minister Cullen's plans for a waste incinerator in Ringsend, which is in his constituency. Will the views of people in Ringsend, or the views of independent experts and assessors, be treated with similar contempt?

As Daithí Doolan, who has been much involved in the campaign against an incinerator in Ringsend, asks: "Where is government responsibility, and more to the point where is accountability of government to the people? What is the point of experts, if they are not independent of government?"


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