WHATEVER it costs, a judicial review of the decision of An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission to Indaver for an incinerator at Ringaskiddy needs to be sought in view of the depth of opposition and feeling from the people of South Cork and their public representatives, who have campaigned long and hard to try to prevent such a development in the harbour area. It was a case of third time lucky for waste disposal company Indaver Ireland, whose two previous attempts – dating back over 17 years – failed, largely due to public opposition to the incinerator project.
Residents of the Cork Harbour area were incensed two years ago, when the company – as is its right – initiated a third planning application, which was again vehemently opposed and went to a public hearing conducted by an inspector from An Bord Pleanála, Derek Daly, who recommended that the application should be refused. The application was for an incinerator capable of handling 240,000 tonnes of municipal waste and 24,000 tonnes of hazardous waste annually, the latter element a particular worry for objectors.
There was a sense of déjà vu about the whole thing until the bolt from the blue on Thursday of last week that saw An Bord Pleanála ignoring its own inspector’s recommendation and granting planning permission for the €160m incinerator, much to the chagrin and great shock of the members of CHASE (Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment), the umbrella group that has been opposing the proposed development for almost two decades.
Indaver rightly contends that Ireland is too reliant on exporting waste and claims we will export some 300,000 tonnes of municipal waste this year due to a lack of incineration capacity in the country, which it says is not sustainable. In the context of that argument, the stance of some of the politicians who are objecting to the plan is somewhat rich, having allowed such a scenario to develop when various ones of them were – and still are – in government.
More recycling would reduce the need for an incinerator and successive governments in recent times have not been driven enough in their efforts to encourage this, playing catch-up with the problem of sustainable waste disposal, having been overwhelmed again of late by the large-scale dumping of plastics on our land and in our oceans. Incinerators like the one proposed for Ringaskiddy operate safely in many European countries, but there is always the potential for a catastrophic accident and the residents of the heavily-populated Cork harbour area are unhappy about the location for which planning has been approved.
The shock of the planning decision was bigger for these residents because they may have felt that, with the unprecedented public backing of their cause by possibly some of the country’s most influential politicians – Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, a former government minister – permission was unlikely to be granted. But it is obviously not about political influence, which is the reason An Bord Pleanála was set up as an independent entity – previously its work was carried out by the Minister for Local Government and was prone to such influence.
Obviously, the independence of An Bord Pleanála has to be respected, but in the appropriate forum – be it at a judicial review or whatever – it must be made to explain clearly the reasons why permission was granted and why the board over-ruled its own inspector’s recommendation. It must also give its position vis-à-vis the wishes of the community on the matter, which it cannot but have been aware of, and if they were taken into consideration.
Vowing to continue the fight, Micheál Martin said: ‘This is the wrong project in the wrong location and is unfair on local residents.’
As Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada pointed out, ‘Indaver have had 18 years to work with the community and they have failed to do so, preferring to instead go over the heads of local people with legal appeals and new applications.’ Trying to foist oneself on a community where one is clearly not welcome will never work.
After last week’s planning decision, the shoe is on the other foot now and, if potential grounds for a judicial review are found, there will be hefty legal and other costs involved, estimated to be in the region of €200,000. That is a lot of money for a community to have to come up with, but with the public outcry about the decision, there should be enough goodwill out there to boost their fundraising.