ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley was handed a humiliating defeat last night in a long-running battle to stop construction of an incinerator in his constituency.
In a dramatic move, Dublin City Council said it was tired of his delaying tactics and issued a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to buy 2.5 acres of land to build the Poolbeg plant, completely removing him from the picture.
Mr Gormley was required to approve a foreshore licence to allow construction of a water cooling system needed for the €200m treatment facility.
But by seeking to buy the land, the council will not need the licence. It means there is no legal impediment to construction and works could begin before the end of the year.
The move came after the council's joint venture partner, US company Covanta Energy, asked the local authority to "get the ball rolling".
"It's an indication of the frustration," a source said. "There's a strong view about how the matter (of the licence) has been handled."
The company suggested it could sue for breach of contract if the plant did not go ahead. Around 600 construction jobs are promised and 60 full-time posts when it is completed.
It also follows the intervention of US ambassador Dan Rooney, who became involved in moves to stop Mr Gormley blocking the scheme.
It will come as a blow to the minister, who has repeatedly opposed construction, saying it is too big for the city's needs.
Sources close to Mr Gormley said the move was not unexpected, as the council had indicated it might circumvent the foreshore licence process.
But the council was slammed by opponents of the plant last night, with Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton accusing it of trying to "force the minister's hand".
And the group representing private waste operators, the Irish Waste Management Association, accused the local authority of arrogance.
"Dublin City Council is behaving in an exceptionally arrogant manner," spokesman Brendan Keane said. "It continues to plough ahead with the construction of a grossly oversized incinerator which will be bad for taxpayers and bad for employment."
The council, headed up by city manager John Tierney, has been determined to pursue its incinerator plan. In February, Mr Tierney wondered "why the project is being subjected to so many obstacles and why attempts are being made to penalise the Dublin local authorities for implementing government policy".
The council first lodged an application for a foreshore licence two years ago and until it was issued the project could not proceed.
The paperwork has been sitting on the minister's desk for months, but no decision has emerged. But in a clear snub to the minister, Dublin City Council said it took the move because of "considerable delays" that were "hindering progress".
"Due to delays in obtaining a foreshore licence, Dublin City Council has published its intention to acquire the required lands on the foreshore at Poolbeg Peninsula by CPO," assistant city manager Seamus Lyons said.
"We have taken the decision on foot of a request by our project partners, Covanta, due to considerable delays. This delay is hindering progress on construction of the plant. By acquiring the relevant section of foreshore through a CPO, Covanta will be able to progress construction of the Dublin Waste to Energy plant."
The development means there is no legal barrier to construction of the 600,000-tonne capacity plant going ahead.
It has planning permission from An Bord Pleanala, a waste licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, permission from the Commission for Energy Regulation to generate energy and was approved by the Department of the Environment.
A spokesman for the department said Mr Gormley could not comment on the move as he was precluded from doing so under the planning acts. But he said the taxpayer could be "massively exposed" to penalty payments if it goes ahead.
"This begets the lie that the minister was delaying this. They could have gone down this route previously. It's not unexpected because the council signalled it would go down this road."