Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 July 2010

9:00 pm

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Heritage and Local Government the reasons for delay in processing a foreshore licence application Poolbeg waste to energy facility, Dublin; date on which his Department received application; if he is currently judging and will make statement matter. [30802/10]

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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My Department assumed responsibility for a range of foreshore functions in the middle of January 2010. The foreshore application for the Poolbeg waste to energy project is one of 700 applications which now fall to be dealt with by my Department. The relevant file for the Poolbeg project was forwarded to my Department on 25 January 2010. The foreshore licence element of the Poolbeg project relates to the cooling water intake and discharge pipe. An application for the licence was originally made by Dublin City Council in December 2008. A preliminary assessment of the application for a foreshore licence has been carried out and a valuation of the site to be occupied by the applicant has been also completed.

As this is the first ever case under which the terms of both sections 226 and 227 of the Planning Acts were being used, which disapply certain provisions of the Foreshore Acts, the then consent authority, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, sought legal advice as to the relationship between planning legislation and the consent process under the Foreshore Acts. The initial advice has since been forwarded to my Department, and further advices have been more recently provided on this complex issue.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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What is the average time for dealing with a foreshore licence application in the Department, given this application was lodged originally with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 2008?

The Minister mentioned recently in an RTE interview that he had a quasi judicial role in the foreshore licence application and stated, "The Poolbeg plant is entirely incompatible with my national waste policy". Is it compatible with Government policy? Does he think it is fair or appropriate that a Minister would exercise a quasi judicial function in a fair manner when he has stated publicly that if he approved the project, it would undermine Government policy?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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It is not compatible with Government policy. I cannot give the Deputy the average time, as only two applications have come in and been completed in my Department. This is unprecedented in that it is the first ever case we dealt with under which the terms of both sections 226 and 227 of the Planning Acts were used to disapply certain provisions of the Foreshore Acts and that is why the then consent authority, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, sought legal advice.

The Deputy referred to an interview I gave to RTE. This slick public relations campaign is regrettable. It has been conducted in public and references have been made to the American ambassador to Ireland, which he would find quite embarrassing. I do not believe this is about the foreshore licence, which is a red herring. This is about the change in Government policy and this is why it is not compatible with it.

The issues include my proposal to ensure we have new waste levies in place and the harshness of the McKechnie judgment, which is being appealed to the Supreme Court. That has severe implications for this project. Likewise, the fact that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council pulled out of the waste market in Dublin has profound implications for this project.

I refer to the information that has been put in the public domain that somehow we will face fines. I will ensure that we comply with the landfill directive. That is a priority for me. It is interesting that people do not appear to have the same issue with fines when we are dealing with, for example, habitat and the protection of our raised bogs. That does not appear to be a problem. In this case, however, when there are vested interests involved, there appears to be a problem. As Deputy Hogan knows, my priority is to ensure we have a shift of policy towards mechanical biological treatment, MBT, and I will shortly open another MBT plant. I am also anxious to have a market develop in this country for solid recovered fuel, SRF.

Finally, it is astounding how the Deputy is playing it both ways. Deputies from his party are going around my constituency saying they are opposing this plant tooth and nail and making all sorts of allegations that I have not done enough and so forth on this matter. Yet, it is clear from the Deputy's stance tonight that he is absolutely in favour of the construction of a 600,000 tonne incinerator.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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We are almost out of time for this question. I ask Deputy Hogan to be very brief.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I will be very brief. It will not take long to respond. First, Fine Gael is opposed to incineration and always has been. The question is about the Minister's centralised role as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and how he has accepted a quasi-judicial function with regard to his responsibilities. He sees nothing wrong in his role as Minister in adjudicating in a quasi-judicial way on an application before him. Will he reflect on that and on whether it is appropriate in his role as Minister to adjudicate on this matter in view of his blatant conflict of interest?

Will the Minister again clarify Government waste policy? The Minister has his personal view, which I respect. However, what is Government policy? He said in his response that in his view what he stated is Government policy. There is no change in Government policy, and this project is based on Government policy. It has gone through all the processes. Will the Minister step aside from his position as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to have this matter adjudicated by another Minister, in view of his clear and unambiguous statement in an RTE interview that he has a quasi-judicial function with regard to this foreshore licence application?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I assure the Deputy that this will be dealt with in a fair and transparent manner. I simply do not believe the Deputy's statement that Fine Gael is opposed to-----

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Nobody believes the Minister.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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-----incineration. Its councillors in Dublin City Council are making the opposite statements, as are its councillors in Dublin North.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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When? Show them to me.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Yes.

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is in the dock.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Allow the Minister to complete his reply. I protected the Deputy so I call on the Minister to continue.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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It is on the public record. The Deputy has tried this repeatedly, where he says it is my policy. I have had to explain it is the programme for Government.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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That is not policy.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I went to Cabinet with the programme for Government and a Cabinet decision was announced. It stated clearly that what is in the renewed programme for Government is Government policy. It is crystal clear. What is at stake here is that change in Government policy and moving towards MBT. This is the problem for the applicants because they are concerned by those changes and the problems they have caused themselves. The contract they have signed-----

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Can the Minister not turn it down?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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There were two further issues which I did not mention. One is the complaint to the Competition Authority. I have put forward an authorised officer to look at the contract.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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That has nothing to do with the foreshore licences.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Yes, they are very pertinent to the questions that have been raised. These are the most important issues and I ask Fine Gael-----

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is not stepping aside.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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-----to outline what its policy is on this. I am tired of listening to its hypocrisy on this issue.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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He will breach the ministerial handbook on the code of conduct.