ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley yesterday vowed to stop the controversial Poolbeg incinerator from going ahead despite the granting of a licence for the massive plant in the heart of his constituency.
Mr Gormley, who has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the waste-to-energy plant in the heart of Dublin city, said he was considering introducing new regulations which would stop local authorities from burning waste and which could see a cap being placed on the amount of rubbish being disposed of.
Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency issued a waste licence for the €266m plant which will incinerate 600,000 tonnes of household waste a year, generating enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.
The licence provides for the operation of an incinerator to burn non-hazardous waste and to recover energy in the form of steam and electricity for export to the national grid. It will be the second incinerator approved.
The first is under construction in Co Meath, and is expected to be operational by 2011.
In a statement, the EPA said it was "satisfied" that the plant would not endanger human health or harm the environment -- issues that led to over 2,500 local residents objecting to the plant.
But Damien Cassidy, from the Ringsend and Irishtown Environmental Group, said people were in shock at the decision.
"I am in shock. The fear and disbelief of people is tangible," he said.
"They've applied for this massive incinerator in the middle of a housing estate. We seem to be faced with a steamroller which is hell bent on getting home. I cannot understand why the minister, from our constituency, claimed he was precluded from stopping them granting a licence. I don't buy that. Mr Gormley must look at his position."
Dublin City Council said the licence conditions would be examined but that work on the plant would not start "for some time". The council has guaranteed the operator that 300,000 tonnes of waste will be burnt each year, or it will pay a financial penalty.
Yesterday Mr Gormley said that as minister, he was precluded from any involvement in the planning process but that the decision to issue the licence was not unexpected. His personal view had not changed.
But he said he would consider introducing a cap on the amount of waste that could be incinerated after a review of waste policy is completed next summer.
He might also introduce a levy on waste going to incineration plants, and could issue a directive to local authorities restricting the amount of waste sent to the plant.
Green Party member and Dublin City councillor Bronwen Maher was first to comment on the situation by releasing a statement warning about the health impact of the incinerator.
A Green Party spokesman denied that there was any "disconnect" between Mr Gormley and Ms Maher.
Opposition parties also attacked Mr Gormley for claiming that he was still opposed to the incinerator, but was now unable to act as Environment Minister.
Fine Gael Dublin South East TD Lucinda Creighton said that Mr Gormley had purported to be vehemently opposed to the incinerator right up to last year's General Election.
Labour Dublin South East TD Ruairi Quinn said that Mr Gormley now had a last chance to act. "John Gormley needs to show his green credentials and fund a judicial review on behalf of the local community in the High Court," he said.
Paul Melia and Michael Brennan