Calls for Gormley to step aside from incinerator licence decision

 

MINISTER FOR the Environment John Gormley yesterday faced Opposition demands to step aside from adjudicating on a foreshore licence for the Poolbeg incinerator because of an alleged conflict of interest in the matter.

The Minister yesterday defended his opposition to the planned Poolbeg incinerator in Dublin’s docklands, located in his constituency, but denied that he has been deliberately delaying a decision on the foreshore licence as a device to prevent the project from going ahead.

Dublin City Council applied for a foreshore licence in August 2008 to allow it construct a water-cooling channel. Fine Gael’s environment spokesman Phil Hogan yesterday claimed the two-year delay in granting the licence was unjustifiable and claimed Mr Gormley was sitting on the licence to prevent the incinerator from going ahead.

“I am calling on the Taoiseach Brian Cowen to seek the Minister’s approval to step aside from making a decision on this in view of his obvious conflict of interest in the matter,” said Mr Hogan.

The licence has not yet been issued and the department could give no indication yesterday as to when it will be issued.

Under foreshore licence legislation, there are no statutory time limits as to when the decision should be made. Therefore, in theory, there is nothing that requires a decision to be made within a period of months, or even years. However, the Minister’s spokesman said the delay was attributable to responsibility for foreshore licences being transferred to the Department of the Environment only last January, with a backlog of 700 applications.

“It is quasi-judicial. He has to go by the book. He will get the advice and make a valid decision. He is not going to use this as a device to stop it,” said the spokesman.

“He has laid all his cards on the table face-up in relation to this. He is going forward on a totally honest basis.”

The plant, if it goes ahead, has the capacity to burn some 600,000 tonnes of waste each year, drawn from the four Dublin local authority areas.

Mr Gormley contended yesterday that if the project proceeds, it will completely undermine his own national waste strategy which has aimed for a recycling rate of 70 per cent. He has asserted that it will be achieved by the increased use of a recycling system for waste called mechanical and biological treatment (MBT), rather than through incineration.

Speaking on RTÉ yesterday, Mr Gormley said he believed the Poolbeg plant was entirely incompatible with his national waste policy. He denied his stance related to the fact that Poolbeg is located in his constituency, Dublin South East.

“I am not long-fingering. It’s pursuing policy that I wanted from day one. It is a zero-sum game. If this goes ahead my national waste policy will not go ahead.

“A 600,000 tonne facility will suck up all the waste. You cannot have an increase in recycling of 70 per cent.”

Mr Hogan said that he did not accept the Minister’s explanation on the licensing issue, saying there was a clear conflict of interest and Mr Cowen needed to remove Mr Gormley from decision-making on the project.

US ambassador Dan Rooney has requested a meeting with Mr Gormley on behalf of Covanta Energy, which was awarded the public-private-partnership tender to develop the facility. Mr Rooney had informal discussions with Mr Cowen about the matter earlier this year.

Covanta said this week as many as 600 jobs (the majority of which will be created in the construction phase) could be at stake as a result of delays. Dublin City Council said that, contrary to media reports, it has conveyed no new information to the department about the foreshore licence, but was still awaiting the decision.