Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

10:30 am

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to the Chamber.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to the Chamber. I thank him for coming in to take this Commencement matter and thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting it. This relates to the need for the Minister to make a statement on the alleged illegal dumping of toxic waste at a site in Bunnamayne, County Donegal.

Without listing them, a number of public representatives in this area have made contact with my office. They are extremely frustrated at the lack of any progress made in Donegal County Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the regulatory authorities which should be dealing with this matter.

This is a long dispute which has been ongoing for over 20 years. The Minister of State, as someone who is very much in contact with and close to his constituents, can imagine the importance of an illegal dump in terms of pollution into the water stream and general environmental nuisance. There appears to be a major issue.

I thank the media, particularly the provincial newspapers in Donegal and Donegal Now, which is an online publication that has done a great deal of work in highlighting this issue.

There is general frustration that nothing is happening. To date, Donegal County Council confirmed there is an issue. There is an ongoing investigation into it. The local authority accepts it has responsibility for safety and for prosecuting those who are in breach of the law. The EPA has confirmed that it carried out tests in 2014 and that there is contamination of the soil and the water, and in conjunction with Donegal County Council, it was trying to pursue the matter.

I thank public broadcasting, particularly "RTÉ Investigates". Fair play to them. "RTÉ Investigates" decided to investigate the matter and we saw a programme televised on 18 June last.

The real issue is there is a festering dispute and a sore that has gone on for 20 years regarding the leeching of toxic waste into the environment. It is putting people and animals in the community at risk.

I hope to hear from the Minister of State today how this matter will be resolved. It is not a matter of the blame game at this stage. It has gone on for 20 years. There is an acknowledgement by the Environmental Protection Agency, the local authority and the Department, that something - pardon the pun - stinks and it needs to be resolved. I want to hear today how we can resolve this issue, remediate the site and, ultimately, support the campaign of local residents and councillors. Having spoken to somebody today, I might add that they plan to field their own candidates in the next local elections because they feel this is so important and no one is listening to them. It is important now, after 20 years, that we find a resolution to this ongoing dispute.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this matter as it is important, at both local and national levels, how such matters are being dealt with.

The role of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is to provide a comprehensive legislative and waste policy framework through which the enforcement authorities operate. Under section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is precluded from exercising any power or control regarding the performance by the Environmental Protection Agency or a local authority in particular circumstances of a statutory function vested in it. Notwithstanding this fact, the Department is aware of waste management issues regarding the site at Bunnamayne, Bridgend, and the response to these issues by Donegal County Council.The local authority has had extensive involvement with various statutory stakeholders, landowners and other parties in respect of these matters. Following investigations which involved the excavation of trial pits at the site, Donegal County Council issued a section 55 notice in 2011 which covered a portion of the site in which waste material was found to have been deposited illegally. On foot of the section 55 notice, this waste was removed from the site.

The council carried out further extensive investigations on other areas of the site and on adjoining lands in 2015 with the co-operation of the EPA, with a view to obtaining evidence as to the extent of any further areas of waste deposition. The council continues to work with the EPA and the Department in order to determine any further risk to the environment and to identify remedial measures that may need to be put in place at this location. To support this, the Department has granted €104,000 of landfill remediation funding in 2017 in respect of two sites, including Bunnamayne, Bridgend. A total of €8,000 was used to complete the first stage risk assessment, or tier 1 assessment, in 2017. In 2018 the Department granted €80,000 of funding to Donegal County Council under the landfill remediation programme for the completion of the second stage risk assessment, or tier 2 assessment. The site in question is the subject of ongoing enforcement action for illegal waste activity and, as such, it would be inappropriate to comment on matters which may ultimately be brought before the courts.

With respect to support being provided by the Department to Donegal County Council in respect of this site, as the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, stated, funding has been allocated to complete the environmental risk assessment process. The risk assessment process is completed in accordance with the EPA code of practice which was developed in 2007 to manage landfill remediation sites. The environmental risk assessment works are comprised of a three-tier risk assessment process to inform the remediation that may be required. The first-tier risk assessment involves a review of all available data, helps to create a conceptual site model and informs the prioritisation of environmental risks posed. The second-tier risk assessment involves site investigation works and testing of the site itself. On completion of this stage, a third-tier risk assessment allows for a refined conceptual site model to be created and a final quantitative risk assessment to be completed. This determines the level of environmental risk posed by the site and identifies what necessary remedial works or management systems need to be specified and put in place to militate against any environmental risk posed.

At the Bunnamayne, Bridgend, site, significant work has already been undertaken to conclude a tier 1 risk assessment. This has included extensive trial pitting and trenching on the site. The testing has helped to inform the risk assessment process. The tier 1 report is currently being considered by Donegal County Council and will be forwarded to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the EPA for consideration in due course. The works to inform the next stage of managing the site, the tier 2 risk assessment, is under way and due for completion this year.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for that comprehensive report but it in itself tells us how serious this matter is. He acknowledges it has gone on for 20 years. What I ask today is that we get closure to it eventually. It is very substantial. I acknowledge money is being given for it, but more substantial moneys are required to remediate these sites. I mentioned one particular site with which I am very familiar. We have a problem here that really needs to be resolved.

I acknowledge the comprehensive report the Minister of State has given. Community activists are now leading the charge. Some councillors are effectively outside the loop and do not even know what is happening. They are constantly told the same words that are in the Minister of State's report: "As this matter is subject to ongoing investigations, it would not be appropriate for Donegal County Council executives to comment at this point in time." That is the standard old catchphrase that councillors up there receive all the time. It is not good enough. I ask the Minister of State to bring the matter back to the relevant person in the Department who is responsible and tell him or her that the Department has a responsibility. The councils have a right to be informed of what is going on in their communities so they in turn can inform the communities they represent. I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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If the corporate body that is Donegal County Council has the information, it is a matter for it to pass it to its board of directors, that is, the members of Donegal County Council. As I said in my statement, if the matter is before the courts, it is inappropriate to comment. While trialling and trenching is happening and analysis is being carried out, there may or may not be a requirement to remove the landfill product - I do not know. If something illegal has occurred, there may or may not be a prosecution. What none of us wants to do is put at risk a prosecution if illegal activities are occurring or have occurred to date. This would be an error of this Chamber or any other chamber and is something we just cannot do. As I said, the matter was dealt with in 2011. The second report will be concluded by the end of this year, at which stage we should be able to see what necessary works are required. There may be a requirement for this product to be removed; there may not be. If the product is not damaging to the environment, that is a decision to be made by people who are better qualified in this area than I am. I trust the people doing the analysis to try to bring the matter to a conclusion.