The Minister for the Environment has greeted the decision to grant an incinerator plant licence at Poolbeg by stating he was personally opposed to incineration but was legally forbidden to intervene.
The Dublin 4 incinerator will be the first of its kind in the capital and one of the biggest such facilities in Europe, burning up to 600,000 tonnes of waste every year.
More than 216 conditions are included in the terms of the licence, relating to the environmental management, operation, control and monitoring of the proposed facility.
Noting planning permission was already granted for this facility, John Gormley said he was, as Minister precluded from any involvement in the process. He said the EPA decision was not unexpected as in November last year it had issued a draft license for the scheme.
“My personal position as a local resident and public representative in regard to incineration generally, and this facility in particular, is well known and has not changed,” said Mr Gormley, who lives in nearby Ringsend.
“As Minister, I work within a legal framework put in place by the Oireachtas which forbids my intervention in the physical planning and environmental licensing regimes. Prior to my appointment as Minister for the Environment, as local TD I made an oral submission to An Bord Pleanála opposing the proposed incinerator.
“There are no effective provisions within current waste management law or policy which would enable me, as Minister, to intervene directly in a PPP project which began more than a decade ago, and where tenders were approved two years before I took office,” he said.
Mr Gormley added he was instead focusing on a “fundamental review” of waste management policy to ensure a shift away from incineration. That review should finish in 2009, he added.
The Minister said he was also assessing a policy to restrict local authorities from directing waste to incinerators or landfill, and whether caps should be placed on levels of waste being incinerated. Mr Gormley said he also hoped to present proposals on a waste levy “in the near future”.
But Fine Gael Dublin South East TD Lucinda Creighton urged Mr Gormley to intervene over the licence award.
“This is a bizarre decision from an organisation that is supposed to protect our environment. The Poolbeg incinerator will be built on a site that is designated as an environmental protection area by the EU,” she said.
“The only option now, besides an astronomically expensive trip to the High Court, is for Minister Gormley to stop this project going ahead. According to Ms Creighton, the Minister “purported to be vehemently opposed to the incinerator in 2007 right up to general election but has now “sat on his hands”.
In a statement, former Labour leader Ruairí Quinn and local party politicians called on the Minister to fund a judicial review of the decision.
“John Gormley needs to show his Green credentials and fund a judicial review on behalf of the local community in the High Court. He could have used his powers as a Minister to put a stop to the incinerator. This really is his last chance to act. If he doesn’t, he will be to blame if this incinerator is built,” the Labour statement said.
Labour also raised doubts over Dublin’s ability to provide the 600,000 tonnes of waste a year for the plant as agreed under the licence. “There are serious concerns that the city will be unable to provide this much waste. If it can’t, all taxpayers will have to pay the owners of the incinerator. This is madness.”
Green Party Cllr Bronwen Maher said. “There are real concerns over the impact this incinerator will have on the health of the local population. Air quality levels in the area will deteriorate with the amount of traffic going to and from the incinerator plant.
“Furthermore, in the Green Party submission to the oral hearing on the waste licence it was shown that there will not be enough residual waste for this incinerator.”
Sinn Féin Cllr Daithí Doolan labelled the granting of a licence a “travesty” that would not be accepted by the local community. He called on Mr Gormley to consider his cabinet position as a result of the decision.
Dublin City Council, noting the decision, said the 216 individual licence conditions would be examined with the service provider, and that work on the plant would not start for “some time”.
The council said it would study community issues raised by the project and would arrange on open day in the local community on the January 17th, 2009.