Saturday 22 October 2016

Burke rubbishes city chief's 'deplorable' incinerator letter

The site of the incinerator being built by US company Covanta in Poolbeg
The site of the incinerator being built by US company Covanta in Poolbeg
Former Dublin Mayor Christy Burke (pictured) said remarks by Dublin City Council boss Owen Keegan were 'undemocratic'

The Former Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke wants Owen Keegan to apologise for his "disgraceful comments" surrounding the Poolbeg incinerator fiasco.

The council boss has come under heavy criticism after he told the US company behind the €500m project to disregard the rejection of the scheme by two local authorities.

The Herald revealed yesterday that Mr Keegan told waste giants Covanta that "anti-government" parties and independent politicians "had not helped" the Dublin Waste to Energy (DWtE) project after Dublin city and Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown (DLR) councils voted against it last September.

Mr Burke - who also wants a special meeting of Dublin City Council - described Mr Keegan's comments as "absolutely deplorable". He added that they "cemented public opinion surrounding the project which was already seen as being undemocratic".


Speaking to the Herald, the former Lord Mayor said he found the comments "offensive and to be lacking foundation".

Correspondence, obtained by this newspaper, between the DCC chief executive and Covanta's CEO Anthony Orlando stressed that a lack of political support for the incinerator should pose no threat to it going ahead.

In a letter dated September 10 last - two days after a special city council meeting called by Mr Keegan where 50 of 52 members voted against the incinerator proceeding - he told the New Jersey-based company that the final decision to go ahead with the facility lay with Dublin local authority chief executives (CEs) - and not the elected members.

In response to concerns raised by Mr Orlando following the vote, Mr Keegan said he took "initiative" and asked then Lord Mayor Christy Burke to call the special meeting.

He claimed that doing so "undoubtedly" gave him "greater control over the process and especially over the release of information".

He wrote: "The decision to proceed with the project is legally a matter for the four Dublin local authorities chief executives," he said.

"Paradoxically, the fact that it is a decision for the CEs creates a situation where elected members can respond favourably to the relatively small number of local objectors.

"I appreciate how someone unfamiliar with the Irish local government process might view the developments with some concern," read the letter.

Mr Burke said that while he granted the request for the special meeting he felt that he was being used as a scapegoat by the city manager.

"I spoke with Mr Keegan about this this morning (Monday) and I told him that I am very upset.

"I told him that the office of Lord Mayor was being brought into disrepute and the integrity of local politicians was also being called into question," Mr Burke added.

"He told me that the letter was merely to inform the US company of how local government works in Ireland as they were worried after the no vote, but that doesn't wash with me.

"There is no way a multi- billion dollar company would enter the Irish market without knowledge of the political landscape. In my mind he needs to apologise and retract these comments.

"These are anti-democratic and simply untrue. To suggest that anti-government agendas and independents contributed to this is disgraceful," he added.

The Green Party has also hit out at Mr Keegan and have called for an apology in relation to his remarks directly linking the Green Party to a lack of political support from DLRCC, who also dismissed the scheme.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan criticised Mr Keegan and urged further reform of local government.

"The comments made by Owen Keegan are a disgrace. Decisions of this magnitude should not be made in an autocratic manner, ignoring the overwhelming opposition of local councillors.

"Both DCC and DLR County Council voted to scrap the planned incinerator, but the county's chief executives have pushed on with it regardless."

The letter was part of a wide-scoping release of correspondence between Mr Keegan and Covanta in 2014 and 2015.


In an e-mail to a company executive in July, Mr Keegan thanked him for his hospitality and said he was relieved to see the project progressing after so many setbacks.

In a seperate email, he thanked another Covanta employee for a dinner, adding that progress on the site - which is due to begin operations in 2017 - was "very encouraging."

The DWtE has seen a number of setbacks since it was first proposed almost 20-years ago.

To date the scheme, which is a Public Private Partnership between four Dublin local authorities and Covanta, has cost the taxpayer more than €100m.

When finished the plant will generate energy from 600,000 tonnes of waste per year, powering up to 80,000 homes.

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