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Post on Politics.ie - 12th June 2011
Indaver refused permission for €150m Cork incinerator

SUMMARY
There are a bunch of lessons here both for communities and for corporations - the saga illustrates nooks and crannies of modern governance that deserve a more nuanced analysis.

1. The heart of the case was a very familiar, very modern dual dilemma: how to find a balance between corporate interests and local interests, and between economic development and the environment.

2. Another element was an emerging conflict between national regulatory framework and a more stringent EU framework.

3. Into the mix then came the familiar issue of the integrity of a legal process in the face of political pressure to deliver a certain result.

The unusual thing about this case is that local interests trumped corporate interests; the environment trumped economic development; and the facts trumped the politics of the matter. This sets it apart from the bulk of other cases involving local objections to corporate plans.

What happened?

1. Major problems with the proposal were identified very early on. It involved the wrong kind of waste, compared to the local authority's own strategy. It was the wrong size - far too large for the job at hand. And there were serious problems with the site location.

2. The residents and their legal team communicated the problems effectively at every opportunity in the planning process.

3. The company was strikingly casual in responding to these criticisms, even when urged to do so by those judging the case. This is hard to understand. Sloppy handwork? Complacency based on the belief that they had influential forces "pulling for them" (to coin a phrase)?

4. The politics of the matter were cast in misleading, black and white terms: getting the plan through meant jobs; bouncing it meant no jobs. The reality, of course, is that inappropriate, outsize industrial developments divert resources from more productive purposes, and can undermine jobs based on environmentally sustainable enterprise.

5. A few extraneous factors probably helped the residents' case - from the notorious Cork floods to the realisation that light touch regulation has a downside. The legal judgement that Ireland needed to take Environmental Impact Assessments seriously may also have helped.

6. It is also possible that the demise of the Fianna Fail system, predicated strongly on clientelism and control, allowed a breathing space in which a case like this could be decided on its merits rather than on a calculation of interests and political exigencies.

     

Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment
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