THE GOVERNMENT'S long-standing pro-incineration policy went up in smoke yesterday.
Green Environment Minister John Gormley effectively binned the policy when he announced plans to introduce a levy on incinerators, similar to the one that applies for landfills.
The Government's national waste strategy and the hazardous waste policy drawn up by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both include the use of waste-to-energy incinerators.
Previous Fianna Fail environment ministers including Noel Dempsey, in whose Meath constituency an incinerator is planned, have backed the need for the facilities, pointing to the European experience for dealing with unwanted waste.
They have pointed to Germany and other countries where the Green Party accept incineration as an environmentally-friendly solution and an alternative to the 'generational toxic timebomb' of landfills.
However, the new minister has accepted his new proposals on waste may financially undermine plans for incineration in Ireland.
Speaking at a major EPA conference in Dublin yesterday, the Green Party leader announced a review on waste policy and said he wants to introduce a levy on incineration, like at landfills, so they are used as a last resort.
He accepted that such proposals could financially undermine incinerators, but claimed current policy gives incentives to waste collectors to use them and this was wrong.
Mr Gormley said he believed that the construction of large-scale incineration facilities could undermine efforts at reducing waste levels and improving recycling in Ireland.
The only major incinerator to get the green light is being located in Mr Gormley's backyard of Ringsend, in the heart of his constituency. He has been a vocal critic of the plan.
His opposition to contracts in which local authorities guarantee a set amount of waste to incinerator operators, and agree to pay-up if the specified target is not reached, could pose difficulties for Dublin City Council over the proposed Ringsend facility.
Mr Gormley stressed yesterday that the changes to incinerator deals were part of a major review of waste policy due to be completed next year.
However, John Ahern of Indaver Ireland, which has secured planning for incinerators in Meath and Cork, said science did not back up the Minister's contention that incineration and landfill are the same.
Mr Ahern said incinerators were much better at limiting the production of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming, and this was backed up by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change involving the world's leading scientists.
He said they would engage in the public consultation review of waste management.
The Indaver boss said a waste to energy plant could be up and running by 2010.And he also supported efforts to bring about higher rates of recycling and waste reduction.