Thursday, 31 May 2018
Topical Issue Debate
Disposal of Hazardous Waste
There is shock, disgust and rage in the communities of the lower harbour in Cork at the decision announced this morning by An Bord Pleanála to give the green light to a 240,000 tonne per year hazardous waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy. I got a text before coming to the Chamber from a resident of Cobh, one of the harbour communities, who told me that the phrase on people's lips was "Only money matters, not lives".
As the Minister knows, this was not the first or second application, but the third, by Indaver for planning permission for this monstrosity. Over the past 17 years, the two previous applications were rejected. An oral hearing on the third application was held in 2016. The inspector, Mr. Derek Daly, recommended against granting planning permission and said that the environmental impact statement lacked robustness. He raised questions re health implications, the dioxin intake and the implications for air quality. He indicated his belief that planning permission would not have been compatible with tourism initiatives in the Cork lower harbour or with the National Maritime College of Ireland, which is situated there. He also raised questions as to the safety of air navigation at Haulbowline naval base should this project proceed.
A decision was expected in 2016, but it never came. A decision was expected last year, but it never came. A decision was deferred not once, twice or three times, but nine times. In fact, one report I heard today put that number at ten. The decision was delayed time and again for two years. The question that people are rightly asking is what the hell was going on behind the scenes while those deferrals were taking place. Will the Minister comment on that point? Is he aware of any major planning permission decision that has been deferred as often and for as long as this one? Can he offer an explanation as to why that might be the case?
Indaver is involved in for-profit waste disposal, with profitability predicated on a steady flow of waste to a facility. Indaver will have its facility for 30 years, so it must maximise the feed of waste to it. How does one square 240,000 tonnes of municipal waste and 24,000 tonnes of hazardous waste per year with a policy of reduce, reuse and recycle? The two point in opposite directions. If recycling facilities are successful, it undermines the incinerator. If recycling initiatives fail, it adds to the success of the incinerator. Does the Minister agree that this undermines recycling initiatives?
I wish to make a number of points about the campaign to stop this monstrosity, but I will save them for my supplementary contribution and await the Minister's reply to my questions.
It is important to point out that, as the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I have no role or remit in the decision made by An Bord Pleanála today, nor do I have any role in planning policy or planning legislation. I am advised by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that An Bord Pleanála is independent in discharging its functions under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Furthermore, section 30 of the Act provides that the Minster for Housing, Planning and Local Government shall not exercise any power or control in respect of any case with which the board is or may be concerned other than in specified circumstances that do not apply in this case.
My role as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in waste management is to provide a comprehensive legislative and policy framework through which the relevant regulatory bodies, such as local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, operate. Our national waste policy is predicated on and consistent with European Union waste policy, which has the waste hierarchy as its cornerstone. Under the waste hierarchy, the prevention, preparation for reuse, recycling and recovery of waste is preferred to the disposal or landfill of waste.
In Ireland, Deputies will be aware that waste management planning, including with regard to infrastructure provision, is the responsibility of local authorities under the Waste Management Act 1996, as amended. Furthermore, under section 60(3) of that Act, I am precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of the performance, in specific cases, by a local authority of its statutory functions under the Act.
The local authority sector has met its waste planning obligations through the development and delivery of regional waste management plans by the three regional waste management offices. The most recent iteration of regional waste management plans sets out how waste generated will be managed over the period from 2015 to 2021, which is in line with national and EU waste management policy, and supports the development of up to 300,000 tonnes of additional thermal recovery capacity nationally, which includes waste to energy, out to 2030. This figure was determined to ensure in the first instance adequate and competitive treatment capacity in the market and, second, that the State's self-sufficiency requirements for the recovery of municipal waste are met. The plans also reflect the move away from landfilling because it is the least desirable method of managing waste. Furthermore, that level of thermal recovery capacity takes account of the requirement to achieve a recycling rate of municipal waste in excess of 60% by 2030, which is in line with one of the new EU recycling targets.
The three regional waste management plans have a headline target for the prevention and recycling of waste. Good waste management planning aims to maximise prevention and recycling and minimise the quantity of residual waste arising. It also recognises the need for sustainable infrastructure to deal with residual waste as we move away from the less sustainable practice of landfilling.
As the Deputy knows, the House had a protracted debate in or around this time last year on the issue of flat-rate bin charges. I made the point then that the objective was, first, to discourage the generation of waste and, second, the segregation of waste into brown and recycling bins. I am still determined to do that.
A question on levies was asked during Question Time. I am currently reviewing all levies. My priority is to encourage the prevention of waste or, where that is not possible, its recycling as opposed to other methods. We must ensure that it is only as a last resort that waste goes into one of our four landfills, a number that will have decreased to three by the end of this year.
The Minister mentioned the question of levies, so I will ask a question about levies. Were I him, toxic incineration of this kind would be knocked on the head. A previous Minister, former Deputy John Gormley, introduced something that was not a ban on, but disincentive of, incineration, namely, the incineration levy. Another former Minister who is a member of the party that the current Minister, Deputy Naughten, is in coalition government with, the now European Commissioner Phil Hogan, had that levy removed. What is the Minister's opinion on the idea of reintroducing the levy? That is a direct question.
In my opening remarks, I asked the Minister a different direct question to which he did not reply. I would like him to reply when he concludes. I asked whether he was aware of any case in the history of planning at An Bord Pleanála where there had been nine or ten deferrals and delays over a period of two years on such a serious issue. Can he offer any explanation as to why that might be the case?
The immediate issue for the campaign in the harbour communities is to fund a judicial review.
That seems to be what they are looking at. They are trying to raise €150,000 and the GoFundMe campaign, from what I have seen, is well under way. Another discussion is under way. It comes in the aftermath of the success of the anti-water charges campaign, and the idea that people power and civil disobedience is a powerful weapon in the hands of ordinary people, the idea of physically blocking the construction of this monstrosity. Nearly 20 years ago in Cobh, people power stopped the pylons and a discussion is beginning in communities tonight about whether people power might be necessary to block construction of this thing in Ringaskiddy. It would be a big step to take. It would need serious planning, organisation and discussion but it is a discussion that I believe is under way from now.
That is the answer. I have a role relating to levies. I am currently looking at reviewing the levies both with regard to putting material on the market in the first place and also landfill, export of waste and incineration. All of those levies are up for consideration, as are individual levies for consumers. We have been working on that for some time and we hope to make progress on that over the coming months.