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Saturday 10 December 2016

Poolbeg decision was wrong, but so is attack on the City Manager

Dermot Lacey. Picture: Martin Nolan
Dermot Lacey. Picture: Martin Nolan

It is rare that I come to the rescue of Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan and, as a 15-year campaigner against the Poolbeg incinerator it might be surprising that I do.

However, the populist attacks on him by some politicians for simply doing the job other politicians gave him is a little hard to take.

Owen Keegan had the authority to decide on the incinerator project and to push it through because ministers from Fianna Fail transferred the power to the City Manager and Ministers from Fine Gael and the Green Party refused to reverse that.

Attacking Owen Keegan for doing the job their parties gave him is cynical populism of the worst kind.

To be clear, I abhor the decision to build an incinerator at Poolbeg. It represents a victory for the bureaucrats in the Custom House.

EVIDENCE

The decision flies in the face of all evidence. It shows contempt for the local community and it confirmed that we do not have local government in Ireland.

It demonstrates that we do not have an integrated national waste strategy, but instead simply local actions tied together by expediency. However, none of that is Owen Keegan’s fault.

For good reasons the community opposed this development. They recognised the need to reclaim Dublin Bay. They foresaw the impact of the increase in traffic.

Above all, they saw the folly of developing a huge industrial complex in an area that in other respects the Council is trying to develop in a sustainable way. When one considers the Waste Treatment Plant that has successfully cleaned up Dublin Bay, along with the investment through the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, the folly of installing the incinerator is clear. However, the “experts” knew best.

If we are to avail of incineration – and I have an open mind on that – we must have honesty in our decision making. We must trust people to come to a balanced decision and we must inform them of the issues. None of this happened in relation to Poolbeg.

Any such Incinerator should have been built on the proposed outer Ring route beyond the M50. It should have been planned and built so that all of the new infrastructure could be developed in the context of an existing incinerator.

This would protect the wider Dublin Region while still providing the incinerator we are told is required.

The proposal for an incinerator at Poolbeg has been opposed at every step of the way by the elected members of the City Council.

The Waste Management Plan adopted by the City Council in 1998 provided for “an examination of incineration”.

Contrary to misrepresentations since then there was not an agreement on incineration or on a location for it.

The plan was also adopted at a time when decisions on waste management were in the hands of city councillors.

Opposition to the incinerator at Poolbeg is not a case of nimbyism. Poolbeg is the site of the old city dump. Ringsend and Sandymount have taken the city’s dirt for too many years already.

As one former Fianna Fail minister stated: “It is not a case that we do not want a dump in the area, but rather that the dump is full.”

WASTE

As Lord Mayor of Dublin I demonstrated my willingness to take unpopular decisions on waste strategy when they were right. Locating this plant at Poolbeg is the wrong approach.

Management, no doubt influenced by the mandarins in the Custom House, simply took the easy option of availing of lands at Poolbeg. 

While the battle against the incinerator may now be a lost cause, the long-term fight for real local government and a directly-elected Dublin Mayor must go on.

We can no longer allow the tyranny of the bureaucracy to go unchallenged.

The abandonment of this unwanted incinerator would be the right decision for Dublin and the right decision for a green waste management strategy – unfortunately, those who are now shouting loudest against the chief executive were the very ones who empowered him to impose the incinerator on us.

Dermot Lacey is a member of Dublin City Council and a former Lord Mayor of Dublin

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