Kick in teeth for local democracy
The outcome of the Bord Pleanála decision on the proposed incinerator at Ringaskiddy, which gave approval to Indaver Ireland to proceed with the country’s first toxic waste plant, is a perplexing one. With hindsight, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that those who objected to the project, and they represented about 25,000 people in the area, were engaged involuntarily in a cosmetic exercise.
To any reasonable person it would seem logical that the recommendation of Bord Pleanála’s senior inspector who presided over the lengthy oral hearing would ultimately prevail. Over the course of four weeks, he had heard the arguments put forward by both sides and his final report was produced from an independent and objective perspective.
In this instance, the inspector’s recommendation was that permission be denied to the company and he supported that conclusion with 14 damning reasons. Those reasons are an indictment of An Bord Pleanála in giving approval to allow the incinerator’s construction and they justify the vocal and resolute opposition of the residents of Ringaskiddy and its hinterland.
Among them was a crucial point made by the senior inspector, Philip Jones. It was that the board was not satisfied on the basis of evidence submitted to it, and heard at the oral hearing, that the incinerator would not pose significant risks to public safety if there was a major accident, particularly because the emergency infrastructure was inadequate and the site was at the end of a peninsula.
There is not one redeemable feature in his list of reasons which the board, by any stretch of the imagination, could possibly consider the construction of the incinerator at Ringaskiddy. Indeed, the inspector categorically lays out why permission should be refused for a project he maintains is contrary to national policy in relation to hazardous waste management.
Inexplicably, a full meeting of An Bord Pleanála rejected his recommendation by nine votes to one and thereby poses the question as to why the process of an oral hearing, with its attendant expense for all concerned, was necessary in the first place. One of the reasons why the board arrived at its decision was because, under the terms of the Waste Management Act, they were precluded from taking into account matters relating to the risk of environmental pollution.
To exclude such an important element from consideration by the national planning authority is baffling. What is even more so is the fact that under the same waste management legislation any possible detrimental effects on the health of the population in the contiguous area was excluded.
Without any doubt, waste management presents a national problem which must be faced, but pleading national policy to try to resolve it under conditions which are blatantly unsuitable, is clearly not the answer.
On another front, the approval by the board is, inherently, a denial of local democracy. The residents of Ringaskiddy vociferously rejected the incinerator and a majority of their elected representatives twice voted against it at Cork County Council.
Their fears and arguments are re-echoed in the inspector’s report and it is incomprehensible that they should be considered subordinate to something described as government policy.
It is unacceptable that any so-called national policy can be superior to the possibility of a threat to so many people’s lives, no matter how remote that possibility may be.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment