Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

12 February 1998 Edition

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Support for all-Ireland waste strategy

Earthwatch, Friends of the Earth and NI2000 speak at Sinn Féin conference

By Neil Forde

  Sinn Féin has never been a single issue party despite the attempts of the media to portray us as such. The environmental issue is like many others a problem of a denial of rights  
The foyer of the Royal Dublin may have had a jazz band and the hotel bar may have been packed with rugby supporters in varying states of sobriety, but inside the O'Connell Hall a much more interesting and vital spectacle was underway than the dull fare that was being served up on the dual widescreen televisions.

Sinn Féin members together with invited environmentalists deliberated on the party's new discussion document titled Environmental Waste Management in Ireland.

The analysis of the document was positive and welcoming. However the presentations from the invited speakers highlighted just how difficult and challenging are the problems that confront us all.

Sustainable development means we ``should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.''
Sean Crowe and Pat Doherty addressed the conference on behalf of Sinn Féin and their contributions are carried on these pages. The invited speakers were Brendan MacSherry, managing director of NI2000, Saibh O'Neill of Earthwatch in Dublin and Dr Robin Currie and Cathy Maguire from Friends of the Earth in Belfast.

Saibh O'Neill emphasised the international nature of the problem and how local and domestic solutions would have to be matched with an international approach to waste management.

The policy proposals in the document which will be voted on at the forthcoming Ard Fheis include a commitment to oppose the building of a waste-to-energy incinerator in Ireland.

Brendan MacSherry whose NI2000 group co-ordinates recycling activities in the Six Counties offering information and aid to groups setting up recycling projects also welcomed the document, but made the valid point that it was not made from recycled paper. MacSherry outlined the difficulties and costs faced by recycling groups in the Six Counties.

Robin Currie, welcoming the new Sinn Fein documents, also called for an amendment in the proposals part of the environmental waste management document. He argued that there will always be a certain amount of landfill. His own presentation dealt with the waste management hierarchy highlighting the need to concentrate on eliminating inputs into waste creation.

Cathy Maguire's contribution on the health and employment consequences of choosing incineration as a recycling option provided a remarkable insight into not only the incineration problem and the mindset of those who promote it.

She showed that for every 1,000 tonnes of waste burned in an incinerator there is up to 400 tonnes of ash that has to be disposed of, probably in landfills.

Maguire also exploded the acceptable level of emissions argument. She cited US and international data and figures which showed that there are in reality no tolerable levels of emissions for toxins and dioxins.

On the jobs and costs issue Maguire showed that incineration produced less jobs than a straight recycling programme and that it was industry who stood to gain most from the incineration plants being built as they could earn significant fees in the construction phase and then in maintenance of equipment and machinery.

All of the speakers made reference to incineration and there was a consensus that it should not be the chosen option for dealing with Dublin's growing waste management problems.

As the discussion session drew to a close Micheal Mac Donnacha who works alongside Caoimhghin O Caoláin in Leinster House suggested that as Caoimhghin is now on the Environment and Local Government Committee the speakers could make a presentation to the committee and highlight to them the concerns they raised at the Sinn Féin conference.

The end result was that Irish rugby might have collapsed predictably but Sinn Féin has taken an important step in promoting debate on environmental issues.

Sinn Fein - "driven by a broader struggle''

  The campaign for a safe environment to live and grow in has not been led by the companies that pollute, it has been led by the communities who suffer most the pollution of their environment  
Sean Crowe, Sinn Fein's representative from Dublin South West and member of the Policy Review and Development Department, opened the public part of the conference. Below is an edited version of his speech.

Many people might wonder why at such a critical juncture in the peace process Sinn Fein is having a conference on environmental waste management at all.

It makes practical sense to say that though we have concerns on a range of sensitive environmental issues we as a party have more pressing concerns to deal with now. It seems at first glance that action on environmental issues should come after the main event not before.

I know that for example I am not alone in expressing disappointment to say the least at the coverage given by many papers particularly the Irish Times to the funeral of Terry Enright who was murdered by loyalists only three weeks ago.

On the day of Terry's funeral thousands of people turned out to honour the memory of a man who had put so much into the needs of his community. That so many papers chose to relegate this story to the inside pages of their papers promoting instead a picture of two people crying over dead trees in the Glen of the Downs showed to me a complete lack of concern for the wholesale slaughter of the nationalist community in the Six Counties.

Many hold the opinion in the media that Sinn Féin are not interested in environmental issues. This may come as a surprise to Sinn Féin activists around Ireland who have often led environmental campaigns in their own communities.

Examples of these would be the campaigns in recent years against incinerators in Derry and Dublin. Indeed the prospect of a Waste to Energy incinerator being built by Foster Wheeler in West Dublin will no doubt see Sinn Féin cumanns across the city again playing a role in ensuring a safe environment for Dublin.

  We have not only damaged the environment we live in for ourselves but it has also been damaged for future generations and their right to a safe clean environment has been diminished  
In the Six Counties republicans have been part of the campaigns to stop mining in Omagh and the destruction of the Black Mountain in West Belfast.

As a party we have opposed the use of nuclear power as an energy source. We have voiced our opposition to British Nuclear Fuels THORP project at Sellafield. We were also one of the first political parties to consistently highlight British government dumping of toxic and radioactive substances in the Irish Sea' s Beaufort Dyke.

The reasons that republicans take such public stances in support of environmental causes are simple. Sinn Féin has never been a single issue party despite the attempts of the media to portray us as such. The environmental issue is like many others a problem of a denial of rights.

In the core political sense Sinn Féin is driven by a struggle for the right to national self determination for the Irish people. Sinn Féin is also driven by a broader struggle to highlight the denial of rights wherever they occur, whether it be the right to adequate housing, the right to a job, a dignified standard of living, to a healthy environment for everyone.

The threat to our rights from a damaged and polluted environment is twofold. First there is the current threat to our own families and communities from ignoring the domestic and global consequences of reckless economic activity. Our health, our rivers, lakes seas and forests, our towns and cities, even the air we breath have all been diminished and damaged.

The second and ultimately more dangerous consequence is that we have not only damaged the environment we live in for ourselves but it has also been damaged for future generations and their right to a safe clean environment has been diminished.

That is why we are here today - to take another step forward in our campaigns and activism as a party on environmental issues. Over the past years two lessons were learnt by Sinn Féin activists. The first is that collective action by local communities which wins support from the general public can achieve real positive change on solving environmental problems. This also leads to an overall heightening of public awareness on the importance of environmental issues and can achieve real change.

The second lesson that republicans have learnt from their involvement and study of environmental problems is that such issues are not only a local or national concern but also have global implications. Public concern about issues such as ozone depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, leaks from nuclear installations, the commercial harvesting of bio-genetically engineered food, destruction of the rainforests etc is widespread.

How do you find a solution to all of these problems? Where do you start looking? It is from such debate that the impetus for this document we are launching today emerges.

You cannot partition the environment

Pat Doherty - Sinn Féin Vice President's address to environment conference:

THE reason we are here today, the reason that this document is being launched is a simple one. We are here to take a small step in recognising that we as a society, as producers and consumers are producing too much waste.

We are producing waste needlessly. We are producing toxic and dangerous wastes. The accumulation of these wastes in landfill sites, in our lakes, our seas and the very air we breath has reached crisis proportions which we as a society cannot ignore anymore.

This is not a crisis just in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, in the Six or 26 Counties. You cannot partition the environment in Ireland, in Europe or globally. This is an issue that is peculiarly local and global. The solutions then must also follow this path.

The failure of the leaders of the industrialised world to face up to the realities of a damaged global environment at the recent Kyoto summit on the environment is a great shame. Ultimately it has diminished all our lives and that of future generations.

How do we create a situation where industrial output and human consumption can happen without creating secondary outcomes of a polluted environment and mountains of waste?

Sustainable Development

One glaring answer is a commitment to the principle of sustainable development. This is simply a situation where the economic activity of today does not have negative consequences for tomorrow.

The document presented here says sustainable development means we ``should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.''

Our current way of life is causing serious erosion of the earth's capital. What is the point in having a booming growing economy now if that growth will lead to more economic problems in the future. We need to break the cycle of second rate solutions.

Breaking the cycle

Breaking the cycle of failed economic policies and ideologies that characterise our national and global economies is a not insurmountable task.

It means tackling the North-South global economic divide and providing transnational funding and collaboration to tackle problems like rain forest devastation, ozone depletion and carbon dioxide emissions.

What is needed is a fundamental re-examination of how and why we do things and for that we need some guiding principles. A good starting point provided in the document are the Valdez Principles. The principles were drawn up in 1989 in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. The first four are outlined below.

(1) Protection of the biosphere. We will minimise and strive to eliminate the release of any pollutant that may cause environmental damage to air, water, or earth, or its inhabitants.

(2) Sustainable use of natural resources. We will make sustainable use of renewal natural resources, such as water, soils and forests. We will conserve non-renewable natural resources through efficient use and careful planning.

(3) Reduction and disposal of waste. We will minimise the creation of waste, especially hazardous waste and wherever possible recycle materials. We will dispose of all wastes through safe and responsible methods.

(4) Wise use of energy. We will make every effort to use environmentally safe and sustainable energy sources to meet our needs. We will invest in improved energy efficiency and conservation in our operations. We will maximise the energy efficiently of the products we produce or sell.

The role of the community

So who is the `we' in the Valdez principles? Well at one obvious level it's the industrialists, the distributors, the retailers, but perhaps more importantly it is those who consume the goods

Perhaps the most unforgivable flaw in the waste management legislation introduced in Ireland and Britain is the way it overlooks the communities and households who play a huge role in consuming the waste, but also have a role to play in ensuring its safe disposal. Yes industry has a role to play but who is to say it should be the dominant one?

The campaign for a safe environment to live and grow in has not been led by the companies that pollute, it has been led by the communities who suffer the pollution of their environment.

Of all the steps that must be taken to address the problem of waste management the first must be that communities must be involved in the discussion, the planning and running of waste management projects. They should have access to the funds and resources. Only then can we be sure we have taken the first faltering steps away from crisis and pollution.


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