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Cabinet faces showdown on incinerators

By Pat Leahy - Sunday Business Post - Nov 23 2003

Plans which would enable waste incineration plants to be fast-tracked are to be put to the cabinet before the end of the year in a bid to control Ireland's spiralling waste crisis.

The proposals are likely to spark a confrontation between Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen and the

Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell. Cullen proposes to include waste incineration plants in new legislation to

speed up major national infrastructural projects, a move that would pose a local dilemma for the justice minister.

McDowell is likely to be faced with a choice between supporting Government policy, which would almost certainly mean an incinerator in his constituency, or supporting the vocal anti-incinerator groups with which he has identified and whose cause he has championed in the past.

The infrastructure bill, promised by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the Recent Fianna Fail Ard Fheis,will give priority to vital national projects, allowing them to sidestep the local objections that have delayed previous schemes.

The Sunday Business Post understands that powers to include a small number of incineration plants, which are considered vital by local authorities and the Department of the Environment, are likely to come within the terms of the bill.

Incineration is already a key part of the government's waste strategy. Landfill sites are expected to be exhausted by 2006 and while a major campaign to promote recycling is underway, substantial amounts of waste will have to be disposed of somehow.

Dublin City Council proposes to build an incinerator on the Poolbeg peninsula, in McDowell's Dublin South East  constituency.

McDowell has previously expressed his opposition to a "mass burn" incinerator in Ringsend. His spokesman reiterated his opposition this weekend.

Dublin City Council insists that the plan is not for a "mass burn" incinerator, but a smaller, modern plant.

When asked if McDowell was opposed to a smaller incinerator, his Spokesman said: "The minister is not in a position to comment until he sees the plans."

McDowell has a long history of opposition to the Poolbeg incinerator project. He recently told a public meeting that he would vote against the proposal to include incinerators in the critical infrastructure legislation.

According to those present, McDowell described the plans for Poolbeg as a "ready-up" between the city council and Cullen.

Earlier this year, he told another public meeting that he would use his influence "at national level" to ensure that plans for the Poolbeg incinerator would be scrapped, with two smaller incinerators instead being built on the M50, well away from his constituency.

During the general election last year, McDowell made his opposition to the plans a central plank of his campaign.

His personal website says that he succeeded in having previous plans for an incinerator scrapped.

The Progressive Democrats' election manifesto ("The Progressive Democrats will revolutionise waste management in Ireland") pro-claimed that the Party was against "mass burn incineration". However, no-one - in Dublin City Council at any rate - is proposing mass burn incineration. But it is government policy that incineration will form a part of the national waste strategy.

Existing landfill sites will be full in two years. Dublin City Council intends that 59 per cent of its waste will be recycled, with a further 25 per cent incinerated and the rest going to landfill. It says that the Ringsend plan is a key part of that strategy.

Similar previous projects were held up by planning difficulties and Local objections. The new legislation will establish a National Infrastructure Board, which will be effectively a one-stop shop, judging projects on all criteria at once.

The government hopes that this will eliminate many of the delays. Despite recent comments by McDowell on radio that the Progressive Democrats would be against such a move, the party has yet to consider the issue. However, business groups are likely to support the measure.

There are also plans for incinerators in Cork, Meath and Waterford. The latter, coincidentally, is near the home of the Minister for the Environment.

     

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