Friday 7 September 2007

Gormley sidelined over city waste disposal plans

Green Environment Minister John Gormley was left powerless last night after Dublin City Council yesterday forged ahead with plans to build an incinerator in his backyard.

The city council confirmed it had signed a contract with a US/Danish consortium - Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd -- to design, build, finance and operate the Poolbeg plant in the minister's Dublin South East constituency.

The move was made even though An Bord Pleanala has yet to give the go ahead and comes less than 24 hours after Mr Gormley rubbished incineration.

It also highlights the rift between the coalition parties as Fianna Fail's policy is pro-incineration while the Greens are opposed to it.

Mr Gormley is likely to see red over the timing of signing the contract to build an incinerator in his constituency.

But there is nothing he can do about it as his role in individual planning applications relates to policy.

He couldn't even speak about it yesterday as his spokesperson said he was legally precluded from commenting on the incinerator. And to add further fuel to Mr Gormley's ire, the deal includes so-called "put and pay" clauses where local authorities undertake to provide a minimum quantity of waste to incinerators or landfills which he said he was banning last month.

He also cast doubt on the future of incinerators in Ireland, saying he favoured a levy on all waste sent for incineration.

Leading high-profile Green TDs last night reacted with fury at the Dublin incinerator move, putting intense pressure on their minister to act -- but there is little he can now do.

The incinerator is due to burn 600,000 tonnes of rubbish annually and in the process provide power for more than 100,000 homes.

The EU has ordered Ireland to stop sending most of its rubbish to landfills.

All other EU countries have incinerators, including the most environmentally advanced countries such as Denmark and Sweden.

But Mr Gormley, who is also a TD in the Dublin south east constituency, was one of the strongest opponents of the project during his time in Opposition.

He was one of more than 2,000 individuals or environmental groups who lodged objections to the incinerator's application with Bord Pleanala last October.

Before taking office, he repeatedly expressed his opposition to the plant which will be built in his constituency.

Another member of the Cabinet, Fianna Fail Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, has previously come out in favour of incinerators while in the job as Environment Minister.

Mr Dempsey even faced down anti-incinerator groups in his own constituency of Meath where one has been given planning permission.

Dempsey accused some anti-incinerator activists as believing in the "Paul Daniels solution to waste."

And An Bord Pleanala, which is still considering the planning application for the Ringsend incinerator, will have to take account of national waste policy which supports incinerators.

If approved by An Bord Pleanala, and assuming it is licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the plant will handle up to 600,000 tonnes of household waste a year, converting it into electricity to power 50,000 homes and district heating for a further 60,000.

While the Minister was not speaking out last night, Ciaran Cuffe, Green Party TD for Dun Laoghaire said he was furious at the announcement.

He said he was concerned that the council was pre-empting An Bord Pleanala's decision on the Poolbeg incinerator by making numerous financial commitments and guarantees before approval for the plant has even been granted.

"Dublin City Councillors don't want incineration. The people of Dublin don't want it -- they would prefer to recycle their waste than have it burnt.

"I am angry and mystified that unelected Council officials are pushing this project so strongly," he said.

"Minister John Gormley has given the strongest possible indication that he does not consider incineration to be a viable alternative to landfill and that he will be reviewing national waste policy with this in mind."

Irish Independent

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