Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Hazardous Waste Removal

7:00 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I am delighted the Minister, Deputy Creed, is in the House to reply to the query. Haulbowline Island, as we know, has been the subject of remediation works since 2011 and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the current owner of the site, which is the former Ispat or Irish Steel site. We know the East Tip of the island has been significantly remediated in the last year or so and there is great praise for the work that has been done in respect of the football pitch and the East Tip itself being completed, with proper seeding and shrubbery being planted, and so on. However, there is a question mark over the remainder of the site. My understanding is that three sites were to be remediated. The East Tip is arguably all but complete and there has been much progress on that. I am here to ask the Minister about the status of the remainder of the works and when they will be completed. There is massive expectation on the part of the people who reside in that area, particularly the people of Great Island and Cobh. We know Spike Island has become a global tourist attraction and there is a high expectation that Haulbowline would be completed and remediated in a timely fashion.

I hope the Minister will not respond by saying the ownership of the site is to transfer to the Department of Defence and it then will take ownership of the issue. As far as the people of Great Island are concerned, this is a whole-of-Government issue which should be responded to by everybody across Government. I am hopeful there will not be a turf war between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Defence in respect of the remainder of the works that need to be done. In fairness to the Minister, he has taken ownership of this issue thus far. He stated the remediation works would intensify between July 2017 and late 2018, which has proven to be the case, as I acknowledge. I am hopeful the Government will take a whole-of-Government approach to this issue. I would specifically like to know if there is a funding line available and earmarked for the remainder of the works to be carried out. I ask the Minister to explain the exact position in respect of the site because the expectations are high in the area that the remediation works will be completed.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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My Department assumed responsibility for remediation works at Haulbowline Island on behalf of the Government in 2012. The particular focus has been on bringing about compliance with the terms of a European Court of Justice judgment under the waste framework directive concerning the East Tip site. Funding for the remediation project is provided to my Department, in accordance with the specific conditions set out by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, on an annual basis up to the completion date of the remediation works.

The East Tip works are the most significant element of the remediation project. In the period up to 2017, expenditure was focused on preparing for and securing the necessary planning and waste licence consents for the East Tip and upgrading the island infrastructure in anticipation of works. Following the signing of contracts in July 2017, the remediation of the East Tip commenced and, in December 2018, I visited the site to see that the works had been substantially completed. Some minor finishing works on the site are to be completed early this year. The access road leading into the site is also being upgraded and this is scheduled for completion by the end of April 2019.

While the priority has been remediation of the East Tip, work on assessing a suitable solution for the former steelworks factory site has also been advanced in preparation for the next phase of the remediation project. Detailed site investigations have been undertaken and the preparation of an application for planning consent has also been advanced.

The Government has decided that the Minister for Defence will be the ultimate owner of Haulbowline Island, in keeping with the Naval Service being headquartered on the island. Any remediation solution for these areas will need to be cognisant of their likely long-term use. Information from site investigation studies and assessments to date has been made available to the Department of Defence to assist in this work.

Cork County Council has expressed a desire to open a public park at the East Tip site after works are complete. In the meantime, the council continues to act as agent for my Department in carrying out the operational tasks to deliver the remediation project. There has been close co-operation with the naval base to minimise any impacts on its operations arising from the works. The council has also worked to keep neighbours and stakeholders in the area briefed on the status of the works.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I accept the Minister's response. While I have the greatest respect for him, I believe what we are seeing is a transfer of authority from the Minister to the Department of Defence, although it has not happened yet. I reiterate the point that, as far as the people of the Great Island and Cobh and the surrounding areas are concerned, this is a whole-of-Government responsibility and they do not necessarily see into the internal workings of the various silos within Government and between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Defence.

Some €61 million was originally allocated for this during the lifetime of the last Government and my understanding is that only €23 million has been spent so far. We acknowledge the work done thus far but there is more to be done, for example, a significant amount of site remediation work. I have not had a clear answer from Government in respect of when that will happen. We know the recreational park will open some time in 2019 and that will add significantly to the public use value of the site, which is a positive public good. However, we need to hear from the Government specific answers to specific questions as to whether the remainder of the fund will be made available to do the work at the South Tip and at the former steel plant itself. To my mind, the Minister has not responded satisfactorily in that respect.

I ask the Government to revisit the issue and give us a clear picture of what the likely outcome will be, given there was a ring-fenced allocation of approximately €60 million in funding and that has not been spent. Are we now given to understand this has been shelved in favour of other priorities in the capital programme? It is an important issue.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I assure the Deputy there are no silo issues at play here. I am cognisant of the fact there are four Cork Deputies in the Chamber at present and all of us recognise the potential in the greater Cork Harbour area, with Haulbowline as a critical part of developing its potential. The Deputy mentioned Spike Island, Great Island and Cobh. I have been to Haulbowline and witnessed this work, so I know there is huge potential. However, we cannot get away from two issues.

The European Court of Justice ruling was about the East Tip and the immediate obligation was to remedy that situation and ensure compliance. Those works are almost complete now and they are exceptionally well done. Hats off to the contractor, the local authority and the staff of my Department on what has been an extraordinary result.

The other critical point is that the anchor tenant on Haulbowline is the Naval Service, which is headquartered there. It will be the ultimate owner of the island. We were charged with the original obligation to remedy the situation that arose following the European Court of Justice ruling, which we have done, but we have also been engaged with all the stakeholders, especially with the Department of Defence, on the future arrangements and the works that need to be done. We have worked with the local authority on the preparation of the necessary works, which it is expected will continue in a holistic fashion. The next step will be the steelworks site, as Deputy Sherlock mentioned, and to continue the investment that is necessary to bring the true potential of Haulbowline to fruition.

There are not any silos at work. There has been very close co-operation between all stakeholders but in particular between the Department of Defence and my Department, the local authorities, the contractors and the local residents, many of whom were the cause of the European Court of Justice ruling initially and what that triggered. We are on a journey here and there is no intention of pausing the journey. Much preparatory work must go into preparing for the next phase of the works and it is continuing as we speak.