3 February 2000 Edition

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We need a waste management strategy

Wicklow and Louth County Councils are facing serious crises because of their respective lack of a waste management plan. The tip of the iceberg has been ham-fisted and short-sighted efforts by county managers to privatise the whole business of waste collection. Binmen in both Drogheda and Bray came back to work after the Christmas break to find their refuse collection jobs gone - or so the county managers planned. But the binmen in Drogheda and Bray went on strike against privatisation of refuse collection. Last week, the strike in Bray spread to all of County Wicklow. In Drogheda, 3,000 people marched from different ends of the town to a meeting in the main square to protest at privatisation and refuse charges and in support of striking bin men in the town.

Wicklow bin men all out

Thirty Wicklow County binmen have been on official strike since Monday. They walked out of a meeting with the Labour Relations Commission on Monday evening, in protest at an offer made by Council management that they described as ridiculous. They will go to the Labour Court later in the week.

Bray bin men, anxious to retain collection in the hands of the UDC, accepted a deal, by 32 votes to 12, with the Labour Relations Commission last Friday evening, whereby they got one of the two lorries back with five workers on a temporary scheme for six weeks, while an independent assessor considers the financial viability of collecting refuse at £1.50 per tagged bag. Meanwhile, the binmen in Arklow, Wicklow Urban, Baltinglass, Greystones and Wicklow County are out on strike, which has closed the county dumps at Ballymurtagh and Rampere. At present Bray bin men are leaving the rubbish theybare collecting in their yard.

Bray bin men are still sceptical about the figures the manager proposed for the cost of bin collection. Bin men reckon they could collect for £1.14 a bag if they collected from all 9,000 houses. The trouble is that a private contractor, Noble, already has been given a foot in the door by the council. Now the problem is to get all 9,000 households back to the council refuse service.

In the agreement which Bray bin men accepted, the County Manager, Hubert Fitzpatrick, has to spend £6,000 advertising the local authority refuse collection service through door-to-door leafleting in Bray - a service which most people in Bray think he was determined to end, and to hand over to the main competing contractor, Noble, which already collects refuse out of some private estates and also has the council contract to collect recycled household refuse. The council paid Noble £130,000 last year for doing this job but has made no such provision in the estimates this year. Bin men shop steward Antoin Mac Roivin says: ``Clearly, the manager has no interest in waste separation or serious waste management.'' The bin men have said that waste management has to be taken seriously, and the UDC should take on its legal obligation to ensure waste minimisation, separation and recycling. At present, the UDC in Bray is doing none of these things.

Instead, Bray UDC used the requirement to separate refuse at the door as a means of introducing Noble private contractors into the town's estates to collect refuse, and then hoped that if the council discontinued their service, all refuse collection would fall to Noble.

Meanwhile, Wicklow County Council met in emergency last Saturday afternoon, with 15-20 bin men observing proceedings from the gallery. Councillor Deirdre de Burca of the Green Party wanted to know why the councillors had voted for privatisation when the majority of the people were against it. Several councillors looked to reinstate the local authority refuse service, but the council chair, Fine Gael's George Jones, refused to allow any motions to be taken, which suited the Fine Gael and majority of Fianna Fáil councillors who had backed privatisation. Local government was coming apart at the seams, especially when Labour Councillor Tommy Cullen supported de Burca when she pointed out that one of the private operations was known to be a substantial contributor to Fianna Fáil party funds.

Drogheda collection charges battle

The meeting on Saturday in Drogheda was huge. People came from both sides of the town and converged on the main street. Banners said `no privatisation' and `no refuse charges', statements which had been unanimously approved at a mass meeting ten days previously.

All last week the bin men and corporation outdoor workers have been on strike and rubbish has accumulated on the streets. Wheelie Bins, the Dundalk private waste contracting company - which had leafleted the houses over the Christmas break offering to collect rubbish at a price before the corporation bin men had even been told that their jobs were gone - gave up trying to collect refuse when it meant forcing their way through striking pickets.

On Sunday, however, after the march and meeting, the county manager did a U-turn. John Quinlivan announced to an `informal' meeting of councillors and council officials that after all, the Corporation had decided to reinstate their bin collection, at a price of £125 per household for the year, with a waiver scheme for those who couldn't pay.

The striking bin men will ballot tomorrow (Friday) on terms of an agreement reached through the Labour Commission on Monday, which they agreed to put to their members.

Quinlivan, however, has not consulted with residents groups or people in Drogheda as to whether they would like to pay £125 per annum for refuse collection, when last year they did not pay anything. Most people believe that refuse charges are a form of double taxation. People have already paid for the service of local authority refuse collection.

At a public meeting called by Independent councillor Frank Godfrey on Tuesday evening, 1 February, around 100 angry and determined people voted unanimously against payment of any refuse charges.

``Every county is supposed to have a waste management strategy. Privatisation is not a waste management strategy at all, it is simply a way of avoiding one, and shedding corporation jobs,'' says Ken hÉiligh of the Residents Committee. Where have Drogheda Councillors been if they are not telling their manager that he has to introduce proper waste management, and be accountable to the people of this town that it meets requirements to deal with our waste crisis.''

Maeve Healy a long-time community activist in the town says, ``there are three pillars to local authorities. They are water, sewage and refuse collection. They serve the essential needs of all of the people. We have all already paid for them through taxation. We all depend on these services being properly run, and we all, through election of councillors, want to have a say in how they are run. It is time the councillors woke up to what the people of this town are saying and paid heed to the serious crisis of waste management facing this county if we do not reduce and recycle our waste.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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