Sunday Business Post - 22/01/06
When it comes to red-hot local issues, few spark more public anxiety and downright hostility than the prospect of a toxic incinerator on the doorstep.
But government politicians will have to grasp this nettle shortly with plans for up to nine regional incinerator plants across the country.
The public’s hostility to incinerators is often attributed to the ‘Nimby’ (not in my backyard) effect among local residents. Yet politicians have hardly shown a lead in embracing such plants in their own constituencies.
Dail deputies are all too aware that incinerators are a major turnoff for the electorate and liable to stoke the fires of anti-government feeling.
The more pragmatic Fianna Fail deputies will be seeking as much distance as possible between themselves and the government’s policy on incinerators during the upcoming election campaign.
But the government parties are not going to be let off the hook that easily by the Green Party, which is gearing up to target Fianna Fail and PD deputies who try to play both hands on the issue.
‘‘Our job as an opposition party is to try to highlight the insincerity of their position,” said John Gormley, Dublin South East TD.
A ‘fear factor’ was identified by Minister for Environment Dick Roche on the subject of incinerators.
The Wicklow minister was the first to respond to his own call for honesty in the debate when he admitted that he ‘‘wouldn’t go out and ask for one’’ in his own constituency.
So if government politicians are loath to take on the liability of a toxic incinerator in their own constituencies, what hope have they of convincing a sceptical electorate?
The Greens will make great play of the high-profile stance taken by Minister for Justice Michael McDowell against the incinerator in Ringsend in his Dublin constituency during the last general election campaign in 2002, despite the government’s subsequent support for the facility.
If the electorate needed further evidence to expose the PDs’ pledge to act as Fianna Fail’s watchdog as a sham, it need look no further than McDowell’s promise to stop the project back in 2002, Gormley said.
‘‘At the very least what Michael McDowell should have done while sitting at the cabinet table was to insist on a simple amendment stating that waste facilities must have proper access. That would have ensured that Ringsend could not go ahead because there are no adequate road facilities,” said Gormley.
‘‘But instead we will have 800 trucks a day going through Sandymount and Ringsend. McDowell was elected on a campaign platform that promised to put a stop to the incinerator, in which he has failed,” he said.
The government gave the go-ahead before Christmas for Dublin City Council to enter into a public/private partnership arrangement on the development of the incinerator at Poolbeg by Elsam Ireland.
The sheer scale of the Poolbeg project belies the PDs’ reassurances that the waste-to-energy plant is not amass burn incinerator, Gormley said.
‘‘This is a mass burn incinerator.
“The PDs will say it’s not, that it’s a waste-to-energy plant, but if you check the definition - as I have with the University of Cardiff - it’s a mass burn incinerator that depends on huge amounts of municipal waste going into it,” he said.
McDowell declined to comment on the issue.
Indaver’s campaign to increase the amount of waste that it will burn at its Meath plant by 33 per cent and take more waste from other counties has also served to fuel public suspicion that the company’s real strategy is for super-incinerators in Meath and Cork.
The Greens said the government’s apparent willingness to accommodate Indaver shows it is driving through a policy of commercial incineration before assessing other waste strategies suitable for a country the size of Ireland.
In Cork South Central, Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin and John Dennehy are hardly looking forward to the response on the doorsteps to Indaver ’s planned incinerator at Ringaskiddy.
With the constituency being redrawn from a five to a four-seater, the party is already under pressure and a dog fight is expected over the third seat, left vulnerable by Batt O’Keeffe’s move to his Ballincollig stronghold in Cork North West.
In the 2002 general election, Fianna Fail’s John Dennehy barely scraped in, with just six votes more than independent Kathy Sinnott, so the party is hardly in a strong position here.
The incinerator controversy affects up to 30 per cent of the constituency in areas such as Carrigaline, Passage West and Monkstown, which leaves Fianna Fail’s young hopeful, councillor Michael McGrath in the Carrigaline area with an uphill battle to retain a third seat. The Green Party’s South Central TD Dan Boyle may come under pressure from a resurgent Fine Gael, with Simon Coveney and Deirdre Clune expected to run on the ticket.
Nonetheless, Boyle could also benefit from a backlash against the government’s incineration policy.
Meanwhile, the PDs’ John Minihan will also have to face the electorate on the question. ‘‘The PDs won’t get any votes out of this issue that’s for sure and it will be hard for them to tap into anti-Fianna Fail feeling on this, since they’re part of the government too,” said Boyle.
Back in Meath, Labour’s young turk Dominic Hannigan is in with a fair chance picking up a new seat.
Hannigan, who has consistently opposed Indaver’s incinerator plant, was courted by the Green Party before opting for Labour.
He laid the groundwork in last year’s local election, gaining 18 per cent of the vote in what will be the new Meath East constituency primarily on the back of his vocal opposition to the incinerator.
Fianna Fail’s Mary Wallace and Fine Gael’s Shane McEntee are likely to take seats here, but the third seat in Meath East will be between Hannigan and the second Fianna Fail candidate. The Greens are putting forward councillor Tom Kelly, who previously ran for Fine Gael before becoming an Independent and later joining the Greens.
But the odds-on bets are on Hannigan.
‘‘Within another five years we expect 100,000 people to live within five miles of the incinerator.
“The message from Meath East is that we will fight this in the High Court and the European courts,” said Hannigan.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment