Wednesday, 4 July 2007
Private Members' Business
Waste Management: Motion (Resumed).
I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his election to the post and also congratulate the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, on his appointment. I have great personal regard for Deputy Gormley and wish him well in his office.
Last night the Minister told this House that he is prohibited by his new office from commenting on the proposal to build an incinerator on the Poolbeg Peninsula. The Minister is wrong. Not only is he not prevented from commenting on the proposal, but he is obliged to clarify for the planning authorities the Government's position on incineration.
The Minister cites section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 as grounds for non-intervention on Poolbeg. That section reads "notwithstanding section 28 or 29, the Minister shall not exercise any power or control in relation to any particular case with which a planning authority or the board is or may be concerned". As the wording makes clear, the section is referring back to the two preceding sections, which deal with ministerial guidelines and policy directives under the planning Act itself. In other words, the section prohibits the Minister from using his powers under the Act to influence the outcome of any particular planning case such as, for example, an appeal to An Bord PleanÃ¡la on an individual planning application for a one-off house.
The section has nothing at all to do with the subject of the motion before the House, which urges the Minister to use his powers under the Waste Management Act 1996. His legal argument is a fig leaf and a distraction, a continuation of his perverse attempt to portray himself as one who has been rendered powerless by law as a result of his accession to power. A major infrastructure project such as the Poolbeg incinerator is qualitatively different from the routine planning appeals envisaged by section 30 of the Planning and Development Act.
In determining planning permission for major infrastructural projects An Bord PleanÃ¡la is required to take account of Government policy. Recently, in deciding to grant planning permission for the toxic waste incinerator in Ringaskiddy, it relied almost entirely on the fact that is was Government policy to provide an incinerator. In the Ringaskiddy case, the board's inspector who conducted the oral hearing issued a strong recommendation against granting planning permission but this was overturned by the board. Therefore, when An Bord PleanÃ¡la makes a decision as to whether to grant planning permission for the incinerator at Poolbeg, a major â if not the overriding â consideration will be ascertaining what is the Government's policy on incineration.
Under the Minister's three Fianna FÃ¡il predecessors, the current Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Cullen, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Roche, Government policy was clearly to proceed with a number of municipal waste incinerators, one of which was to be located at Poolbeg. The central question now is whether that policy has changed arising from the co-option of the Green Party into the Fianna FÃ¡il Government. The only person who can answer that question is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley.
The Minister has not yet announced any change in Government policy on incineration. In the absence of a new and changed policy, An Bord PleanÃ¡la will have no option but to conclude that the Government's pro-incineration policy is continuing on the Minister's watch. His protest that he is prevented from interfering is the clearest possible signal to An Bord PleanÃ¡la that policy has not changed. All the signals from the Minister indicate that Government policy on incineration has not changed. His speech last night relied on the waste management hierarchy which puts incineration or "waste to energy" as it is sometimes described as an option preferable to landfill, a position which normally provides the environmental justification for incineration.
The Minister's adherence to the waste hierarchy is particularly interesting given the political decision made at last week's Environment Council meeting which he attended to reclassify incineration as "waste recovery" rather than "waste disposal". Made on a recommendation of the Commission, the decision to elevate incineration from disposal to recovery in the waste hierarchy is at variance with the position taken by the European Parliament on the issue and has been strongly condemned by Friends of the Earth Europe which described it as promoting incineration. Nevertheless, the Minister agreed to the measure on behalf of Ireland.
In the absence of a clear ministerial statement indicating a change of policy on incineration, the only other source An Bord PleanÃ¡la could consult for a clue as to Government policy is the draft programme for Government agreed by the Green Party. Nowhere in the programme does it state Government policy on incineration is to be changed. At best, incineration is to be conditioned somewhat by references to the "put and pay" clause, landfill levy and management and monitoring of waste facilities. Arguably, the programme for Government gives the green light, in every sense, to incineration by making a commitment that "the landfills currently provided for under the regional waste management plans should be the last to be constructed for a generation". As Deputies are aware, incineration can only be avoided in the short to medium term if more landfills are opened. If the programme for Government states no further landfills will be constructed, it is inevitable that plans will proceed for incinerators in Poolbeg, Carranstown and the south east, for which a location has not yet been identified.
We must be clear about this issue. Unless the Minister announces a change in Government policy on incineration, An Bord PleanÃ¡la is likely to assume policy has not changed and planning permission for the incinerator at Poolbeg is in line with Government policy. In the context of the programme for Government, the waste management hierarchy which confers preference on incineration over landfill and the EU waste framework directive to which he has given his political approval, the Minister's silence and reluctance to announce a change in policy on incineration will speak volumes to An Bord PleanÃ¡la. Last night he had an opportunity to announce a change in Government policy.
I am disappointed he did not take the opportunity to enunciate such a change. As the Minister with direct Executive responsibility for incineration, a number of options remain open to him. He can make a public statement outlining a change of policy, issue a directive to that effect or inform the planning authorities, including An Bord PleanÃ¡la, that he is changing policy. If he wishes to protect his propriety, he can take any of these steps without mentioning Poolbeg. By changing Government policy on incineration, he can stop the incinerator being planned for Poolbeg. If he fails to change policy, however, he will be as responsible for the Poolbeg incinerator as if he had personally signed the order.
I wish to share time with Deputies Cyprian Brady, Tom Kitt, Chris Andrews, CiarÃ¡n Cuffe and Tony Killeen.
My brief contribution to the debate will focus on waste management in general rather than the specific case of the Poolbeg incinerator. As Deputies have not yet formally done so, I welcome the Green Party to government. I have no grief about Fine Gael tabling the motion because it has to have a scelp at the Government, particularly the Green Party. However, while it may regard Green Party Deputies as sitting ducks, this is by no means the case. I have been impressed by the manner in which the Green Party Deputies have kept their mouths shut since the party entered government.
I have been impressed by the sophistication and mettle shown by Green Party Deputies in entering government. It would have been easy for them to give interviews hither and thither and make all sorts of statements. They did not do so and chose instead to keep quiet. The House should pay tribute to the previous Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, who was highly regarded and did an immense amount of work in the Department.
The Minister is correct to state we cannot continue to either burn or bury waste. To do so would mean opening more and more landfills, huge burial grounds for disease, contaminated water and all the other ills associated with such sites. In that regard, a huge landfill is planned to be located directly over the aquifer, which is one of the methods of bringing water to the east coast. However, I give notice that we will not give that water. The Shannon and Lough Ree will not be drained to supply the east coast. It has Luas, trains and buses galore; it will not get our water.
To continue burying or burning our waste, as was the old way, would be wrong. I encourage the acceleration of recycling. We think we are great if we take our wine bottles to the local bottle bank or if we put out our green bin, we think we have done our bit for Ireland, Europe and the world, but we have not, because it involves such a minute amount. There should be a much greater scheme of grants and incentives towards recycling as these would be taken up by many.
We have only to look at young people in their green schools. I am sure all Members have been invited to the launch of a green flag in a local school and have seen how wonderfully young people are taken with the idea of the power of one, and how much they like the idea that they can plug out a kettle or take other measures. I would encourage more schemes of that nature.
I am conscious the Leas-Cheann Comhairle may stop me shortly.
Not during my maiden speech, though a maiden I am not, obviously. However, I wish to mention that I made money on the Green Party. When I was canvassing in rural Athlone one night, I met a man who asked me whether I had â¬20 on me. I said I had and he told me to give it to him and he would put a bet on Fianna FÃ¡il, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats. As I made â¬180, I am very glad I put my money where my mouth was and won my bet on having the Green Party in government. For my part, I am very happy to have them with us in government.
I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his elevation and wish him all the best for the future.
As a new Deputy serving the people of this great capital, I want to ensure that any developments improve their quality of life and do not impinge on their health and welfare. We in Ireland have a serious problem in terms of managing our waste. It is not acceptable for us to stick our rubbish in a landfill or hole outside the city, nor is it practical to put the waste on a boat and pay someone in another country to look after it. As public representatives, we cannot brush this burning problem under the carpet of objections and political point-scoring.
In the past ten to 12 years, Dublin City Council has researched a number of solutions to managing our waste. I have seen at first hand the successes the council has had in this area and, as part of its deliberations, it proposed the construction of an incinerator at Poolbeg. Following an exhaustive process, which allowed everybody to have their say â the supporters and the objectors, the experts and the operators â planning permission was approved and the plans are now being considered by An Bord PleanÃ¡la. We should accept, however, and indeed take pride in, the independence of our planning system, and particularly of the Environmental Protection Agency. As the Minister explained to the House yesterday, he must also respect that independence. I do not believe Members on any side of the House can question the green credentials of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, in this matter.
If such a project was planned 30 years ago, I would have had a problem with it. The image of an incinerator billowing black smoke into the sky comes from that time. Thankfully, that day is gone and that cannot and will not be allowed in this country again. Technology has improved much since then and incineration is far more sophisticated.
As a member of the last Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government, I visited a number of sites throughout Europe. One which particularly stuck in my mind was a site in Switzerland, a very environmentally conscious country. The incinerator was in a highly residential area but it resulted in no more than hot water and heating for the local community. The technology has advanced much and is available to us.
Irish citizens are also more sophisticated in terms of managing waste. Householders are taking on the responsibility of reducing and recycling. The figures speak for themselves. We now have approximately 35% recycling nationally compared to 9% less than ten years ago. The legislation in Ireland is also more sophisticated. This House has been responsible for bringing about change in waste management and there has been a major increase in the volume of environmental legislation in recent years.
The introduction of modern incineration can make a positive contribution to addressing this challenge. However, if and when an incinerator is built, I demand that the latest and safest technology is used to ensure there are no emissions and that any issues which arise are dealt with. I also insist that the latest technology is used to monitor the plant's operations and, similar to other incinerator plants around the country, the residents and local community have access to this monitoring.
I also want to see continued investment in encouraging industry and households to switch to reducing and recycling more of their waste. If it is more convenient to reduce and recycle waste, people will do it, as we have proven. The Government will continue to roll out the programme of recycling centres and facilities and has already invested over â¬100 million in the past five years in doing so. In our constituencies, we have all seen people queuing to use bottle banks and bring centres. One centre on the North Strand in my constituency is hugely successful, with the only problem being that a traffic jam is caused by people trying to access it. We have made huge strides in this regard.
In an ideal world we should not need an incinerator but we do not live in an ideal world. It is incumbent on all in this House to work towards finding a solution to the problem, a solution that ensures the safety of our citizens and, ultimately, one that balances the need to manage our immediate waste problems with the continued investment in changing the attitudes and habits of the citizens who live and work here so that we reduce the need for incineration in the long term.
I speak in support of the Government amendment, as one would guess, and I wish to follow on from Deputy Mary O'Rourke, who spoke of standing in solidarity with the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Green Party on this issue. It is good to see the return of Deputy O'Rourke to the House, which we all welcome.
We have made major strides as a society in regard to the recycling of waste. The Irish public has enthusiastically embraced the process of recycling. They want more and more ways to recycle and the Government has responded and will continue to show leadership in this area by providing funding to expand our recycling infrastructure.
Like some of my colleagues, I am excited about the prospect of new technologies coming on stream in the waste management area. The national development plan will ensure that we exploit these new technologies to deal with our waste so we do not have to rely heavily on incineration as an alternative to landfill for final disposal. The programme rules out adjusting the landfill levy in such a way as to give competitive advantage to incineration and commits to ensuring that for further projects, neither the State nor local authorities will be exposed to financial risk through clauses in contracts for waste facilities.
The programme does not include a legislative prohibition on incineration, as such, nor would this appear to be consistent with EU legislation. As Members are aware, the Poolbeg project is the subject of an application by Dublin City Council to An Bord PleanÃ¡la for planning permission and an oral hearing has just recently concluded. This project has had a long, fractious and difficult history as I know from my many conversations with my colleague, Deputy Chris Andrews. The signing off on the public private partnership which will deliver the project constitutes the extent of the Government's involvement, and this took place before the new Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, took office.
In tabling this motion the Fine Gael Deputies knew well that the siting of an individual installation is not a matter in which the Government plays a role. It has been taken out of the political sphere because site selection is a planning issue and a matter for the planning authority, not for Government. It is this Government's policy to support local authorities in implementing the internationally accepted approach to waste management.
The Minister's position on incineration is well known to all of us, as is that of Deputy Chris Andrews. The Minister lodged a comprehensive objection to a proposal to build an incinerator to burn hospital waste on the Poolbeg Peninsula. The appeal which he jointly took was successful at An Bord PleanÃ¡la. He made a comprehensive submission to An Bord PleanÃ¡la, backed up by an oral submission on the last day of the hearing. He also made a comprehensive submission to the Environmental Protection Agency on the application for a waste licence.
Fine Gael, on the other hand, seems to be conveniently ignoring the fact that it has stated clearly in the past that it favours incineration as one of the primary means of dealing with waste. Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies voted for the Dublin regional waste plan in 1998, which included incineration as an option. Only four months ago, when the issue of the Poolbeg incinerator arose before Fingal County Council, Fine Gael voted for the proposal to go ahead. The Labour Party was split down the middle, with one member voting for and the other against. I say this to expose the hypocrisy of what some speakers said here last night. Fianna FÃ¡il and the Green Party negotiated a programme for Government which contains very significant commitments on waste management. It signals a new approach. The programme states that there will be no guaranteed waste stream for incinerators and that there will be a new emphasis on mechanical biological treatment.
Goading the Minister into reacting now is sour grapes politics from Deputies who have decided to exploit the issue. This motion is a cynical exercise when they know well that the Minister cannot exercise any power or control over any case with which a planning authority is concerned.
It is not even clever politics. Those who are monitoring this debate, if anyone is, know exactly what is going on. Fine Gael's motion is not motivated by concern for the environment or for the people of Dublin South-East, sadly, but by blatant opportunism.
We have seen Fine Gael pursue negative tactics in the past. I am disappointed that this new Fine Gael parliamentary party, with its injection of fresh blood, and increased membership, would choose not to come forward with fresh thinking and ideas on waste management but rather stoop to personalising this motion and attacking an honourable man who has a long track record in environmental protection, both locally and nationally.
I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his appointment and I look forward to working with him for the next five years and hopefully beyond.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak because this issue goes beyond incinerators and incineration. Fine Gael's motion has less to do with waste management than with political points-scoring. It will not make any difference to the siting of incinerators anywhere in Dublin or throughout the country.
Ringsend has undergone significant change in the past 25 years. The Poolbeg Peninsula has evolved to a point where it hosts many heavy industries, such as the ESB which is likely to be relocated, port container storage and the sewage treatment plant. This last was a great project that cleaned the water but unfortunately polluted the air. As Deputy Quinn and everyone else living around Dublin Bay is aware, the Shelly Banks, traditionally a bathing place, is now known as the "Smelly Banks". This project was a public relations disaster for Dublin City Council, so it is hard to blame people for distrusting or being disappointed with the way the council has dealt with another major infrastructural project.
The Poolbeg Peninsula is about to change with residential, office and retail development and the relocation of the port and heavy industry. It is likely to become a template for good planning, like the Dublin docklands which is a thriving community. It makes no sense to put infrastructure in an area that is about to become residential. People accuse residents of not wanting this in their back yards. I suspect that most of the Fine Gael Members who signed this motion do not know where the yard is. Anybody who does knows it is full. Incineration here will be a part of our waste management strategy throughout the country. Many of the countries with the best environmental records include incineration in their waste management strategies. We cannot continue to export our waste.
Incineration is better than landfill which is a form of land contamination and is unacceptable. Many houses in Ringsend were built on an old landfill site and residents there believe that the high incidence of cancer in the area is related to the building of homes on a landfill site. It is no longer acceptable to use landfill.
The communities in Ringsend and Sandymount do not need this sort of opportunist motion that attempts to spare the blushes of Fine Gael which has done nothing to oppose the incinerator. If it was on this side of the House, it would do even less.
People in the Visitors Gallery last night and tonight would be forgiven for thinking that Fine Gael and those who signed this motion care about this incinerator. If they care so much, why did they not support the meeting of the Combined Residents against Incineration last week when the petitions committee came to Dublin? There was no sign of the Labour Party or Fine Gael there.
The Fine Gael Members have decided to try to interrupt people now. Maybe the next time the petitions committee comes to Dublin they will show their support for the residents in Ringsend and Sandymount. We should not have a situation whereby four sites are examined but a private company picks a site and completes only one environmental impact study. Dublin City Council made this decision and is trying to force the incinerator into Ringsend. We must have a clear process of site selection that involves communities and their representatives. This did not happen and that is why I petitioned the European Parliament. That process is ongoing and in the autumn I believe they will find and report in our favour. I and the residents of Ringsend and Sandymount took action.
It is good to be back in the DÃ¡il and to see things are as lively as ever on the floor of the House. It is also good to see the Green Party is setting the agenda for Fine Gael, as we have done in so many respects for the past ten years. I suspect the U-turn on waste issues in Fine Gael a decade ago had more to do with that party's fears that Dan Boyle would win a seat ahead of Deputy Deirdre Clune in Cork than a real change in conviction at the heart of Fine Gael.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss waste policy but the duty of Government, while being to propose, is also to play a role in informing and debating the issues. Similarly, the Opposition should do more than simply oppose Government policy for the sake of opposition. It should add to the debate about what we do with waste in Ireland. Much of the Opposition's lamentably repetitive and uninspired rhetoric is based on a false premise, namely that each and every member of this Government is of a similar view on every issue.
It would be a sad day if all members of this Government or those who supported it had exactly the same views on the important issues of the day. I take pride in the fact that my views on some of the important issues of the day, such as planning, are often the polar opposite to those of some of the Independent Members, such as Deputy Healy-Rae. I suspect hell will freeze over before I am of a like mind with him on this issue. I suspect members of Fine Gael agree with Deputy Healy-Rae on certain issues. Likewise, I am not sure everyone within Fine Gael believes in drunk tanks and boot camps for offenders. I suspect a divergence of opinion preventing its members from speaking with the same voice.
I was surprised by Deputy Gilmore's statement earlier that there had been no policy change within this Government. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, made it abundantly clear there was a substantial policy issue within this Government and it is at the economic level. I suspect Deputy Gilmore did not spend enough time looking at the economic aspects of the programme for Government. The one clear thing about this Government's policy is that there will be no put or pay clause in any waste management contract.
A very clear message has to go out to every local authority official and manager that it would be unwise for any local authority official to put in place a put or pay clause. We do not want to have to pick up the tab for 20 years for an incinerator and that undermines every case for incineration on this island. Incineration is a historic and dated technology that is not the way forward for Ireland.
The future of the Poolbeg Peninsula should not be as a base for incineration, based on land values alone. The Progressive Democrats' proposal for a vibrant, mixed use community on the Poolbeg Peninsula has more going for it than the prospect of the peninsula becoming a repository for the waste of the greater Dublin area. Whether from the point of view of land values or a satisfactory use of Dublin Bay, it does not make sense to propose the biggest incinerator in Europe in the heart of a capital.
For the Green Party it has never been a question of a single incinerator. Instead, the issue has been about changing waste policy in the country so that mass burn incineration is not part of the waste hierarchy. The programme for Government makes it abundantly clear the waste hierarchy must be complied with. Only last week in Luxembourg the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, made it very clear that incineration was not a disposal method. There is a debate in Europe on that matter but the Green Party is very clear.
Yesterday evening Deputy Quinn spoke about poor value for money in public private partnerships and I share many of his concerns. However, the Deputy needs to understand the implications for public private partnerships if the financial incentive no longer applies. Once the guaranteed waste stream is no longer guaranteed, an incinerator of 4,000 or 6,000 tonnes is no longer viable.
The issue is whether it gets built. That is the key issue. Deputy Quinn knows the planning laws of this country as well as I. The position of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, on the incinerator at Ringsend is the same now as it was a few weeks ago when he made his oral submission to An Bord PleanÃ¡la in the Gresham Hotel, something that neither Fine Gael nor the Labour Party bothered to do. It is a measure of the lack of real commitment on the part of Deputies Quinn and Creighton that neither bothered to make an oral submission at that hearing, yet they can find the time to attack the Minister with a spurious media stunt in the House. There has been no U-turn by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, or by the Green Party. We are opposed, as we always have been, to mass burn incineration, including this proposed incinerator on the Poolbeg Peninsula, and the Minister has been consistent inside and outside this House in that regard.
In conclusion, I repeat that this is a new Government with a new policy on waste management. Incinerating is no longer the cornerstone of waste policy and the Minister has made the point very clearly. To discourage incinerators, the new programme for Government states there will be no put or pay clauses for new incinerators. The emphasis now will be on waste minimisation, deposit and return schemes, re-use, recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, will, in the coming months, spell out to the local authorities and to the Environmental Protection Agency the fundamentals of this approach. It is a new approach and one by which the Green Party stands.
I wish to share time with Deputies Coveney, Burke and Morgan. I wish to make a very brief contribution to this debate. I speak because I want to have a go at Fianna FÃ¡il. Then I want to have a go at the Green Party.
I will start with Fianna FÃ¡il. As a rural Deputy I suffered for 15 months. I welcome Deputy Chris Andrews to the DÃ¡il. I am delighted he was elected and I have nothing personal against him. He is a nice young man and I wish him well. However, in Mayo, Galway and Sligo we had to read material written, like the Deputy's speech tonight, by the managers in Dublin, which stated that the Green Party would be bad for rural Ireland.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for protecting me. I listened to such words from every Fianna FÃ¡il backbencher but defended them on the basis that, when they got into government, the Greens would not get all their policies adopted but would have to toe the line like other parties. However, I never thought the Green Party Members would twist the way they are twisting now.
I will be honest and open and say that I would have loved if they were in government with Fine Gael. I defended that and I was hoping it would happen. Had I known they would be so easy to deal with, I would have defended them even more.
The Minister will have to deal with that in north Mayo and we will see how he gets on. The hypocrisy of politics kills me. Whether in the town council, the county council or in the DÃ¡il, when I believe in something strongly enough, I will vote against it. I voted here with the Labour Party against the critical infrastructure Bill because I believed it was wrong. I believed that it will not do any good for this country and it will be abused by Fianna FÃ¡il and now the Green Party, because they will use that Bill to make sure that developers in this country get richer. I voted against that Bill even though my party abstained. I got into a lot of trouble, but I did not mind because it is what I believe in. When I took a stand against something as a member of Mayo County Council, I did not care what anybody said. If I felt it was right and it was what the people wanted, and if I had given an undertaking at a public or private meeting, then I stuck by my word. I did not care if I never got a chairmanship of a committee or anything else. Politics is about keeping your word.
What kills me in politics is when politicians like John Gormley, whom I wish well, go to meetingsââ
When Deputy Gormley, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, went to a public meeting, he said he was opposed to an incinerator in his own constituency. He never thought he would be a Minister with responsibility for the environment six or seven months later. He now has the opportunity as Minister to change the decision, but he has turned around and used all the resources of the Department to give every excuse on why he cannot change it. Of course he can change it. He is the Minister and the buck stops with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. If he said six months ago in his own constituency that he would oppose it, then he should vote with Fine Gael and the Labour Party tonight. He should do the honourable thing, as should the other Green Party Deputies, because that is what politics is about. It is about giving one's word and representing the people. If Deputy Gormley told the people of Ringsend before the election that he would vote for the incinerator, I would accept that the people had made their choice. However, on this occasion the people did not know the truth. If he was sitting here tonight, he would be telling us why this incinerator should not be built and why it is not needed for Dublin or Ireland. That is why people are cynical about politics. They are not told the truth at election time. If he was against this six months ago, he can write it off tonight because the buck stops with him.
A man whom I will not name bought a building in north Mayo. Of course he had the inside contacts and he set up some kind of waste management facility. He was bringing human waste from Cork. Now Cork is a long way from Geesala in County Mayo. We were not foolish enough to believe that was the kind of factory to be put there. We knew that an incinerator would be put there. We fought it in the council from the beginning to the end. We finished up in the courts with it. The county council granted it even though the waste management officer in the council was opposed to it. He told me two days before it was granted that it would not happen. All of a sudden it happened and we all know why. We went to An Bord PleanÃ¡la, which to its credit refused it. It finished up in the courts and we won. An incinerator was planned.
I had great time for the Green Party before the election. We all know about waste management, waste and the problems in this country that must be dealt with. They are very serious problems. The only answer the local authorities provided was to privatise it. I hope that the people creating the most waste will have to pay for it. There is no waiver scheme for waste disposal and elderly people are now paying more than some of the big businesses to have their waste disposed. I hope the Green Party creates a bit of fairness in the system.
The Green Party Deputies said one thing in opposition, but they have done something else in government. I thought they would have learned. The Taoiseach is one of the greatest, because he has taken the six Green Party Deputies and put them under his arm. In the next five years, he will have squeezed them so much that after the next election people will be wondering if we had a Green Party at all. The Green Party Deputies will be gone to sea and will be the first people to use the incinerator in Dublin.
I was not going to speak on this debate, but now that it is such a lively discussion I am glad that I have decided to do so. I was surprised to hear Deputy Cuffe proudly saying that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, was in favour of recategorising the definition of incineration at a European level from waste disposal to waste-to-energy. He seemed anxious that incineration would not be categorised as disposal. We had a very active debate on this in the European Parliament and there was a great amount of lobbying from Green parties in every country in the European Union, including Ireland, who were trying to maintain the definition of incineration as waste disposal. If it is recategorised as waste-to-energy, it is much easier to obtain planning permission for incineration. Deputy Cuffe has been enthusiastically endorsing that decision, but it is a very negative and dangerous decision to promote incineration at a European level.
Comments have been made that this is an opportunistic attempt by Fine Gael to embarrass a Minister, but that is not the case. We are trying to establish whether Government policy has changed in favour of incineration. The debate is timely because An Bord PleanÃ¡la is deciding whether to grant planning permission for the Poolbeg site.
Yes, exactly. That is why it is so important that we have this debate tonight and not in the autumn, when it might be too late. Deputy Cuffe is correct when he says that those in Government cannot directly influence or change a planning decision of An Bord PleanÃ¡la. However, Ministers can outline clearly the Government's policy on waste disposal and management at national level. I remind the House that Government policy was clearly the key factor in An Bord PleanÃ¡la's decision to grant planning permission for a hazardous waste facility in my constituency of Cork South-Central. Deputy Chris Andrews asked what Fine Gael has ever done to prevent incineration. I was a member of Cork County Council whenââ
Can I tell the Deputies what we have done in the Cork region? Cork County Council is one of the few local authorities that is controlled by Fine Gael. At every step of the way, Fine Gael has tried to prevent the construction of a national hazardous waste and municipal waste incinerator on Cork Harbour at Ringaskiddy. We refused to zone the site for a waste facility of this nature. We made it impossible for Cork County Council to grant planning permission for the project. We ensured that the matter was heard by An Bord PleanÃ¡la. We gave evidence at the oral hearing. We helped to sponsor the residents' associations which gave evidence at the oral hearing. We were part of a team, which included former Deputy Dan Boyle, that got the right result at the oral hearing. Despite all that, An Bord PleanÃ¡la decided to grant planning permission for a national hazardous waste facility, to be run by Indaver Ireland in Cork South-Central, in light of the Government's policy of promoting the use of a limited number of incinerators which are to be strategically placed in various parts of the country.
An Bord PleanÃ¡la appointed the chairman of the oral hearing, who outlined 14 clear reasons the proposal should be rejected. When Deputies on the Government side argue that the Government has no role in this regard â when they claim that An Bord PleanÃ¡la is an independent authority that was established to make non-political decisions â they are talking rubbish. An Bord PleanÃ¡la has specifically stated that it overturned the recommendation that resulted from the tedious and long oral hearing process. Those who took part in the process, at great expense, did so because it is Government policy to facilitate such exchanges.
We should give guidelines to An Bord PleanÃ¡la to consider when it is looking at incinerators in the future. It should consider the Government policy of the day in this area, but that policy should not be in favour of incineration.
Fine Gael's policy on incineration is absolutely clear. When Deputy Noonan, as party leader, visited the Cork Harbour area of my constituency five and a half years ago, he launched a policy document that had been written by Deputy Clune, who was quoted earlier and who is an engineer with knowledge of this sector. The document clearly stated thatââ
The document in question, which remains an expression of Fine Gael's policy in this respect, states that incineration should not be part of the mix of waste disposal strategies. Many of us had great hopes for the new Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on this issue. If he states tomorrow morning, as he has the power to do, that the Government has changed its policy on incineration, which currently involves the promotion of a limited number of incinerators, strategically placed throughout the country as part of the waste management mix, he will make a fundamental difference to how An Bord PleanÃ¡la looks on this application.
That is the point. We know, as a result of our experience in Cork, that the meetings which are held in the Poolbeg area, at which certain public representatives shed crocodile tears with the residents, do not really matter a damn at the end of the day. We won the argument when the oral hearing took place at An Bord PleanÃ¡la level. I was not at the hearing but I know many people who were, including many Green Party members and one or two Fianna FÃ¡il people. We won the argument but we lost the battle. The decision ultimately taken by An Bord PleanÃ¡la in the Ringaskiddy case was dictated by ministerial policy-making at national level, and the same thing will happen in the Poolbeg case.
It does not matter how much activism there is within the constituency. If the Ministers who comprise the Government take a policy decision that incinerators must go ahead nationally, An Bord PleanÃ¡la is a convenient vehicle for seeing that through. That is why An Bord PleanÃ¡la should not and cannot be given that excuse on this occasion. If the Green Party is to make a real difference in government, this is its first opportunity to do so.
When the Government was formed, I wished the Green Party well. I meant that and I still mean it. The Green Party has an opportunity to clarify and change Government policy on a specific issue. In 2002, it had a Deputy elected in my constituency on the basis of his stance on this issue. The Green Party can make a fundamental difference to the planning decision that will be taken within a few weeks or months.
I thank Deputies Ring and Coveney for sharing their time with me this evening. Deputy Cuffe was so confused that he contradicted what the Minister, Deputy Gormley, said on radio last Sunday. There is some confusion between the terms "disposal" and "recovery", which were interchanged by Deputy Cuffe this evening.
That proves that there is some confusion within the Green Party about its policy in this respect. What can we expect from the Green Party, now that it has ministerial responsibility for this area?
An Bord PleanÃ¡la is considering a proposal for preliminary discussions about the possible provision of a waste-to-energy facility at the old and abandoned mine at Tynagh, Loughrea, County Galway. Given that the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, worked near Tynagh in the past, he is aware that the site in question represents an environmental disaster for the people of County Galway. No State agency, Department or Minister has ever taken responsibility for the site. A recent report published by the Environmental Protection Agency, which did not relate to the proposal to which I refer, clearly highlighted the state of the mine at present. The EPA argued that as the site presents a perpetual risk to human health and the environment, it requires structured, comprehensive, active and continued management. If the proposed facility, which is being considered for discussion by An Bord PleanÃ¡la at present, is deemed to be required to meet an urgent infrastructural need in the area, the possibility that normal planning procedures will be adhered to in this instance will be eliminated. An Bord PleanÃ¡la might decide to fast-track the proposal by allowing an incinerator to be developed in what is an environmental disaster area. There is serious opposition to the plan. People have serious concerns about the possible health risk the facility poses to humans. It could seriously damage the farming community by diminishing the acceptance of the food that is produced in the area as part of the food chain I ask the Minister of State to address these concerns as a matter of urgency.
The outgoing leader of the Green Party, Deputy Sargent, said in recent weeks that the Green Party will not be prepared to participate in government if pain and concern are inflicted on communities throughout the country. I refer to proposals to establish incinerators in various parts of the country, some of which have already been mentioned. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated clearly on a radio programme last Sunday that he was precluded from speaking about individual projects specifically but that he can speak about them in general. I ask the Minister to take up this particular issue and speak about it in general.
I asked a question in the DÃ¡il last week of the Minister of State with responsibility for food, Deputy Sargent, and he replied he had no part to play in the matter because a private company was involved. In fact, as of now nobody knows the identity of the proposer for the project at Tynagh Mines. The Minister of State further stated it would be examined in due course.
How can An Bord PleanÃ¡la initiate talks with a potential proposer to provide an incinerator at Tynagh Mines when it has already been described by another State agency as an environmental disaster requiring care in the way in which it is dealt with? Why is An Bord PleanÃ¡la being allowed to continue to discuss this project as a strategic infrastructure requirement for the country? I ask the Minister to put a stop to that. The criteria for fast-tracking major infrastructure projects required throughout the country is one thing but fast-tracking the provision of an incinerator in the west in this way is a decoy because it provides an opportunity to avoid the democratic decision of the people and the local councillors to make a decision on that unwanted facility in the west.
One thinks of what happened in the past where a consortium made up of Gama, the builders, and investors were involved in the provision of the gas power station in Tynagh. They, with other developers, provided that power station and at the same time provided, in a forward thinking way, the capacity for a further extension to that generating station.
The proposal is to utilise a waste-to-energy incinerator at Tynagh. There is collusion somewhere. I hope it will become known but it is the responsibility of the Minister to put an end once and for all to this project. If he abdicates his responsibility, it will be the first test of the Minister and his sincerity with regard to the continuation of incineration as a waste management ploy.
I commend the motion and I commend Fine Gael for providing me with a chance to expose its glaring hypocrisy when it comes to incineration. Fine Gael supported EU attempts to recategorise incineration as waste recovery from waste disposal which, if it had been successful, would have presented incinerator companies with an environmental stamp of approval to roll out incinerators throughout this island and across Europe. Fine Gael speaks out of both sides of its mouth on this issue, opposing incineration in Dublin and Louth while supporting the incineration industry in Brussels and Strasbourg. Its duplicity was epitomised by its MEPs who voted in support of the incineration proposal, with the honourable exception of Deputy Simon Coveney, who voted against the proposal.
The proposed Poolbeg incinerator would require a constant flow of large volumes of waste to be commercially viable. Incinerator companies want people to create as much waste as possible. Incineration is no more than a by-product of hyperconsumerism which the planet can no longer accommodate.
The Government must be proactive in tackling the root cause of our waste problem instead of pushing potentially lethal fixes as solutions. If back garden burning is deadly, and it is, why does this Government wish to promote mass incineration on a wider scale as an alternative? Incineration is a poisonous and costly process and an unnecessary and deadly form of waste disposal. The priority should be about reducing waste instead of facilitating business interests to amass profits at society's expense or, more accurately, at the expense of the health of society.
There is clear public anger at the proposed construction of the Poolbeg incinerator. Fianna FÃ¡il is attempting to push this unpopular project through just as it has run roughshod over communities in Mayo where it is facilitating Shell with the plunder and rape of Ireland's natural resources. If this incinerator goes ahead, it will have wider implications for other campaigns against incinerators such as Carranstown, on the edge of my constituency. Sinn FÃ©in councillors in Dublin supported the rezoning of Poolbeg Peninsula to exclude an incinerator. However, the contentious Protection of the Environment Act 2002 allows incineration to be imposed by the city or county manager. That is no more than a destruction of local democracy by vesting this power in unelected individuals. That Act should be repealed immediately to give local authority members the final say in all such plans.
Those involved in the long campaign against incinerators had hoped that a change in Government, and in particular a Green Party Minister, would bring about a change in policy. The Green Party must clearly and unequivocally state publicly that it will stop this incinerator going ahead. If the new Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, cannot make such a statement, he must seriously consider the reason he is in government. He also must explain his years of campaigning which are now worthless.
I call on the Green Party in particular to come back into the House this evening and acknowledge the real crisis these incinerators will create and the destruction they will visit upon the communities in which it is proposed to develop them. I hope, even at this late stage, those people remember their campaigning expertise and prowess in the past and come in here to support this motion.
Tony Killeen (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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That is correct.
I thank Deputies who have contributed to this debate, particularly those who have demonstrated an understanding of the legal obligations which flow from legislation that has passed through the Oireachtas. Deputies on the Opposition benches always have the luxury of being able to make free-wheeling comments about issues, including this project now before our statutory physical planning and environmental licensing regimes. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, and I do not enjoy that luxury.
The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has made his personal position on incineration abundantly clear on many occasions. He did so last night and I am sure he will do so again in appropriate circumstances. He has, however, also kept faith with the responsibilities imposed on him by the office he now holds. Those responsibilities include acting within the law in regard to regulatory processes which are rightly independent of Government.
The Government cannot arbitrarily roll back processes which have commenced and which have a finite life leading to eventual decisions by the competent statutory authorities, in this case An Bord PleanÃ¡la and the Environmental Protection Agency. What the Government can do is seek to set the legal and policy context in which we can build on our national achievements in waste management while promoting new and more innovative approaches which are more logical and environmentally sustainable. As the Minister, Deputy Gormley, said earlier in this debate, we must think outside the box.
There are many examples of good ideas which were initially rejected but which eventually became Government policy. We must both examine the way we, as a society, approach the management of our waste and how we can do so in a more sustainable fashion. This includes looking beyond incineration to a society in which such technologies are no longer necessary. Even in the interim we can make much better use of non-incineration technologies to better mechanically and biologically manage our waste.
The current paradigm for waste management is set out in the regional waste management plans which are the statutory property of the local authorities. It would be entirely inappropriate for the Minister to interfere in this planning function. The Government's policy programme has identified the need to carry out a comprehensive review of the regional waste management plans. Such a review will better inform the Government as to any legislative or policy changes which may be necessary to better equip us to manage our waste in a more sustainable fashion, to motivate necessary societal and individual behavioural changes and to fully exploit all of the technologies available to us.
Before closing, I want to refute again any suggestion that Ministers now or in the past had any role in determining the size or location of any incinerator. Under present legal arrangements these are matters for local authorities or private sector initiatives. Neither had my Department any role in negotiating specific contractual arrangements between any public body and the private sector. The sole role of my Department in the Poolbeg project has been to ensure that matters were advanced in accordance with public procurement policy. Nor did my Department issue any direction to An Bord PleanÃ¡la specifically in relation to incineration, as mentioned yesterday by some Deputies.
The challenge is to encourage people to take responsibility. There are successes, some of which have been mentioned already, such as a national recycling rate of 35% which was only 9% less than ten years ago. Ireland is the world leader on the smoking ban. It also has the enormously successful plastic bag tax. We are eight years ahead of targets on several fronts.
There are considerable challenges ahead. One of them is to remediate landfill and we have the target of having a maximum of 10% in landfill in a short time. There have been enormous successes, as Deputies have stated, with bottle banks and civic amenity sites and the capital grants for the recycling centres. The principle of segregation is now widely accepted and the pay by use principle will have its own impact.
A Cheann Comhairle, ba mhaith liom comhgairdeas a dhÃ©anamh leat. I wish you well in your job.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, for sharing time. I am quite amused listening to the Fine Gael Deputies speak here. I remind them that Deputy Morgan mentioned Europe, where Fine Gael showed hypocrisy where its MEPs voted for an incineration programme. In the four local authorities in the Dublin region the Fine Gael members are part of the powersharing arrangement dating back a decade, if not more, and they voted in the waste management plan for the greater Dublin region. That plan incorporated two facets: that there would be landfill in my area of Dublin North and that there would be a waste to energy incinerator somewhere in the Dublin city area.
If Deputy O'Dowd, in particular, is so intent on not having a waste to energy incinerator in Poolbeg, I want to state clearly to him here that I will not take any more Dublin city waste into my area of Dublin North. We are doing our share currently. We have done so for decades.
I thank him if he will take an increased landfill in the Louth region, but I want to put down a marker that it will not go into Dublin North. My constituency is the dumping ground for landfills, for sewage if other proposals go through, for prisons, etc. We have had enough. If Deputy O'Dowd is willing to take it in Louth, I thank him very much indeed.
I wish to share time with Deputy O'Dowd. This is an important matter. It is a serious issue and we need to know clearly what is current Government policy.
There is a new Government, a new amalgam of parties. I have been searching through some of the documents produced, in particular the agreed programme. Importantly, this final draft programme does not state that incineration is off the agenda. It uses terms like "modern waste treatment will be used" and "use all available technologies to achieve this", and it speaks of using waste for generating sustainable electricity. It does not state it is off the agenda, which is interesting, and at some stage I would like the Minister to be clear about this.
Earlier, Deputy Coveney was specific on it. The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, stated that there were no specific directions given to An Bord PleanÃ¡la re incineration, but An Bord PleanÃ¡la makes decisions based on Government policy and in its report on the issue in Cork, about which Deputy Coveney spoke earlier, specifically stated it has regard to the national waste management policy framework and strategy, as set out in Government policy statements "Changing Our Ways" and "Delivering Change", published by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 1998 and 2002, respectively, particularly the preference for thermal treatment with energy recovery over landfill disposal of residual waste. Therefore, An Bord PleanÃ¡la takes into account Government policy. We need to know what is Government policy. It is unclear at present.
A report by Dominic Hogg et al for Greenstar which has been issued recently points out that the policy on incineration in Ireland is unclear. It maintains that in "Changing Our Ways", different technological options are presented, that, however, as regards residual waste, the only technologies presented are waste to energy incineration and thermolysis, that the presentation on WTE is more extensive than for other technologies â waste energy â and that no biological treatment facilities for residual waste are mentioned. We need urgently clear Government policy statements and papers on this.
I also draw the Minister's attention to the treatment of toxic waste. In the United States they have moved to a toxic use reduction programme in many areas, and yet we in Cork are still faced with this toxic waste incinerator. Whatever about a municipal waste incinerator, a toxic waste incinerator is frightening people. As Deputy Coveney stated, there were 14 reasons given by the inspector for why it should not happen but the board overturned its own inspector's report because of Government policy.
It is up to the Government to come up with clear policy on this.
Government backbench Deputies from Fianna FÃ¡il have come in here tonight telling us that incineration is the greatest development since the sliced pan. Green Party Deputies came in here stating it is awful and uses old technology. That is not clear. We need a Government speaking with one voice.
If the Deputies do not like to listen to what I am saying, it must be really hurting. I agree with what the Green Party put forward in its policy statements where it states that incineration is a dirty, outdated, dangerous, unhealthy methodology. The thinking seems to be that just because other countries have one, we must have one too. I do not agree. I would again call on the Minister for a clear statement on this urgently.
This has been an important debate and I welcome the contributions from all sides. To use the words of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, the proposed incinerator in Poolbeg is a massive development which will be the length of Croke Park, the height of Liberty Hall and the stacks of which will beas high as the Spire in the centre of Dublincity.
As one can see from his website, the Minister has numerous impressive and telling photographs of this. One photograph, which I have before me, shows the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, and Senator to be Dan Boyle outside the steps of Leinster House.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, it is gone. The photograph no longer appears here anyway, but the fact is we all know where the Minister, in his heart and in his mind, stands on this matter and I supported him and his party, nationally and locally, in his opposition to incineration. In fact, the Minister stated on 19 October last in a press statement on Poolbeg that if he was sitting at the Cabinet table he would stop incineration.
Where do we stand on this issue? The fundamental principle is that before entering Government the Green Party had the opportunity to identify this as a core issue and honour the pledge on its website. The Green Party policy is to put a ten year moratorium on the development of incinerators and other thermal treatment facilities nationally. We found this on the Green Party website today. Before going into Government the Green Party had the opportunity to do a deal with Fianna FÃ¡il. Deputy Healy-Rae did a deal and got millions. Other Deputies placed their deals on the record of the House. The Green Party has no deal on this core issue. The party has let the side down. In Resurgence magazine Deputy Gormley refers to a quote from Mr. Kennedy: "It is not what you are, but what people think you are, that matters". I accept that the quote does not refer to incineration but I thought it was quite funny.
ââand its links. I spent a lot of time following them here, there and everywhere.
The people who marched behind the Minister up the hill to Leinster House are at the core of this issue. He did not do a deal before going into Government and should now listen to the Opposition and insist on changes.
One of the key concerns about incineration is its impact on health. That is the fundamental objection I and most people have to incineration.
The report on the health impact of incineration, some of which was written by a fine person and prominent consultant, Dr. Anthony Staines, whose expertise Fine Gael and the Green Party have used, is not clear on the issue. It is certain that living in proximity to landfill or incinerators leads to a higher incidence of neural tube defects and heart defects in children. Even in the weak position he occupies will the Minister not agree to a new health investigation and analysis of these proposals? It should be undertaken.
Let us examine the facts of regional waste management plans as they relate to either Cork or Louth. The reality is that these plans are formed in the absence of councillors. Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan had a regional waste management plan. Never did the councils meet to discuss it but at council meetings officials or politicians agreed that certain areas would be given landfill instead of incineration. Out of the counties of Louth, Meath, Cavan and Monaghan the incinerator was located two miles from my town. I do not accept the plan and the process by which this decision was taken. Other Deputies do not accept this either because it was not done openly and fairly.
I went to Germany with consultants to visit a company called Thermoselect, which was proposed as the most modern company with the best process at that time. We arrived at the company, looked at the plant, then sat down to see who would meet us and explain the process to us. The door opened and a Fianna FÃ¡il town councillor from Dundalk walked in. He tried to tell me that the process was fair and objective. He was in charge of the process of selection and I reject it totally. I did not win the council debate but on the day of the debate I rang the mayor of the city in Germany where Thermoselect operated. I told him I did not trust the process and asked him about the company. He replied that the plant had closed for breaching regulations. That is the process that is under way as the Minister sits in his office. It is happening around the country and I have no trust in it and do not accept it as objective.
Indaver is a company with complete access to Ministers. It had access to former environment Ministers Cullen and Dempsey while those of us who opposed incineration had no such access. I do not impugn Deputy Dempsey but when he was Minister he travelled to Belgium to examine waste management facilities. Can Members guess who supplied the courtesy transport? It was Indaver. Innocent as it may have been, this made it unacceptable to me.
For many Green Party supporters and environmentalists throughout the country the process needs to be changed. The Minister has failed to do so and has not done his job. He has not defended his people and stood his ground against Fianna FÃ¡il. He did not stand up for the fine Green Party supporters in County Louth, who gave more than 4,000 votes to the party because of their opposition to the incinerator and other issues. The Minister has failed the test. Tonight we will vote twice on this issue and then we will walk through the lobby. As the Minister walks up the steps of the Chamber he will be letting down the people he brought to the top of the hill. They opposed this on genuine health and environmental reasons but the Minister has wasted this all. I am deeply saddened by that. Personally I have great respect for the Minister. We marched and protested together in this country and outside Sellafield. We stood along the same line before the Green Party went into government but now we are on opposite sides. I stood by my principles and I hope the Minister will do the same. As Minister, he should assert the primacy of Green Party policy, not bend the knee to Fianna FÃ¡il. He must stand up and vote for his principles. He cannot betray his electorate. I could not sit in the Minister's position.
I could not read the script the Minister read last night. My stomach churned when I heard those weak arguments. The Minister stated: "I live with my family in Ringsend and my position as a public representative for Dublin South-East and a local resident in regard to the Poolbeg incinerator project is well known, entirely consistent and second to none." Let the Minister prove it tonight by standing by his words and principles.