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Irish Times - 12-03-05
Rubbishing our country
Eddie Holt

Connect: You always know a scam by its language. If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Thus, when Bertie Ahern spoke in the Dáil this week about "thermal treatment", people should have suspected he was spouting rubbish. "Thermal treatment" is the sort of guff you'd expect from an ad for a muscle liniment - Deep Heat, wintergreen, that sort of menthol-ish thing.

But Ahern's "thermal treatment" refers to burning garbage, refuse, trash, waste, junk, litter, scrap, rubbish - there are many accurate words that reveal the scam. A hearing began in a Drogheda hotel this week as to whether the immediate locality should become a regional rubbish dump. Ahern and his apologists can dress it up any way they like but that's the reality.

Proposals by Indaver, a Belgian outfit with a Dún Laoghaire office, seek to make a garbage tip of the region. (The bluntness is to counter the Taoiseach's disgraceful "thermal treatment" PR tripe.) Indaver wants to build a 150,000 tonnes-a-year incinerator at Carranstown, two miles south of Drogheda, Co Louth and two miles north of Duleek, Co Meath.

In proposing to dump on the local community, the insolence of Indaver and this Government is monumental. The Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche ("environment", no less!) has said he would oppose an incinerator in his Wicklow constituency. The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, ("justice" - you couldn't invent this stuff!) opposes one in Ringsend because it's part of his constituency.

Think about this: the Environment Minister and the Justice Minister wouldn't have an incinerator about the place but the people of Drogheda, Duleek and the surrounding region are expected to agree to their area becoming a dump. The cheek, hypocrisy and sheer hard neck of Bertie Ahern and his minions is awesome.

Munster ministers Micheál Martin (Cork) and Willie O'Dea (Limerick) have rightly opposed locating an incinerator in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork. Yet people in Louth, Meath and north Dublin are expected to dump on themselves. The health implications could be catastrophic. (I don't know, and nor do you because there's no agreement among experts about likely outcomes over years.) Mind you, common sense suggests burning five million tonnes of garbage (over 25 or 30 years) is may cause health problems for people living closest to the burning. Studies in Belgium have shown alarming links between incinerators and cancers, respiratory problems, birth defects, immune system disorders, even suicide rates. Greenpeace calls incinerators "cancer factories". That's why nobody - politicians, Indaver management, even polluters - wants to live near one.

Even if there were no health implications - which there simply must be - the value of homes, farms and businesses near the burning rubbish will suffer. The managing director of Indaver (Ireland) is John Ahern. If he is to be the major financial beneficiary from burning rubbish, surely he should have to live closest to the incinerator. Otherwise, he cannot be believed.

The Government-backed Indaver proposal really is staggering. Basically, the two Aherns (Bertie and John) and their political supporters - Louth minister Dermot Ahern (aha, the three Aherns!), Meath minister Noel Dempsey and Wicklow minister Dick Roche, among others - are treating the people of the area with contempt. They are, quite literally, dumping on them.

It's difficult to conceive of disrespect of equal proportions. The arrogance, smugness and downright contempt for others are not simply a matter of politics or another case of "not in my back yard" (NIMBY-ism). Oh no. The pro-incinerator alliance is prepared to risk the health of tens of thousands of people over generations - so long as it's not their own health.

People in and around Drogheda and Duleek really should get this one right: they want to turn your area into a dump. The Louth and Meath Fianna Fáil ministers will talk about "integrated waste management strategy", possibly even about "thermal treatment"; their opponents will see their stances as abject careerism. Dermot Ahern is based in Dundalk and Noel Dempsey is in Trim. Both are sufficiently distant to keep quiet.

But it gets even worse: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is conducting the hearing in Drogheda, is arguably compromised too. It acts as judge and jury in its own court. Its director, Mary Kelly, has said she favours incineration. And although she would not be involved in any decision to approve a draft license to Indaver, Laura Burke, a former employee of Indaver (Ireland) sits on the EPA board.

The people in the region can legitimately blame the three Aherns, locally powerful politicians and the rest of the pro-incineration (so long as it's not near me!) hypocrites. But local people need to organise and make more noise about the fact that they are being treated with disdain and contempt.

If the Taoiseach's language weren't so hideous - if it contained even the usual compromised "political honesty" - it might not make a person quite so angry. But deception on top of contempt and suspect careerism is just too much rubbish to take. This incinerator plan is vile. Its political and business backers need some thermal treatment. It's time to turn up the heat.

© The Irish Times


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