Wicklow Council accused of covering up dumping

Court told officials also made false statements and gave false information to gardaí

Donal Ó Laoire leaves the Four Courts after giving evidence on the opening day of a High Court action. Photograph: Collins Courts

Donal Ó Laoire leaves the Four Courts after giving evidence on the opening day of a High Court action. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

Officials with Wicklow County Council have been accused in the High Court of making false statements under oath and of giving false information to gardaí. The council has also been accused of covering up its involvement in illegal dumping. The accusations were made in the High Court on Tuesday by Peter Bland SC for Brownfield Restoration Limited, which is involved in a legal dispute with the council.

Mr Bland was questioning a former authorised officer of the council, Donal Ó Laoire, in connection with his investigation of an illegal dump at Whitestown in west Wicklow, the largest such dump found in the State to date.

Mr Ó Laoire, an independent environmental consultant, was hired in 2002 to help the council deal with the dump, in which there was between 288,600 tons and 1.14 million tons of waste, much of it hazardous, and contaminated soil.

His remediation plan, devised in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency, was not implemented and instead, the council claims it cleaned up the site itself.

Illegal waste

However, the court heard that 99.8 per cent of the illegal waste – which includes asbestos – remains in situ and much of it is sitting in ground water. Since the council’s alleged remediation, the site has failed anti-pollution tests.

“When the Wac [waste acceptance criteria] test failed,” said Mr Bland, “[the council] tried another test and when that failed, they changed the parameters.”

Giving evidence, Mr Ó Laoire said that, at the suggestion of Michael Nicholson, the council’s director of services and effectively deputy to the now-retired county manager Eddie Sheehy, he set up a company in 2002 to implement a comprehensive remediation of the site to Irish and international legal standards.

The remediation was based on a plan he wrote and which Mr Sheehy and Mr Nicholson were shown and accepted, he said.

The company was called Carrigower Technologies but was later renamed Environmental Remediation Limited. It was set up in consultation with Mr Sheehy and the council’s law agent David Sweetman, as well as the EPA’s director of enforcement Gerry Carty, the High Court heard.

However, there had been a falling out between Mr Ó Laoire and the council. This coincided with Mr Ó Laoire giving evidence at an earlier hearing related to Whitestown and him taking legal action against the council for unpaid fees of €198,383.

The council responded by launching a counterclaim, charging that Mr Ó Laoire had concealed a conflict of interest over the company and was guilty of negligence and professional incompetence. Mr Sheehy and Mr Nicholson have both claimed they knew nothing about the company.

Evidence in court

Asked about the timing of this and why he thought his former employer had turned against him, Mr Ó Laoire responded: “My evidence in court.”

He had not concealed anything from the council and to suggest otherwise “would be false”, he said.

Mr Bland asked the witness whether he would agree the council’s conduct amounted to a “deliberate and cynical falsehood”. The witness agreed.

“The truth of it is they encouraged you,” said Mr Bland.

“The whole idea was initialled by Michael Nicholson,” said Mr Ó Laoire.

Mr Bland said that in November 2006, Mr Nicholson was asked by gardaí whether he knew of the plan to set up a company to manage cleaning up the dump and he replied, “Absolutely not and no one had discussions with me”.

“That’s absolutely false, isn’t it?” asked Mr Bland.

“Yes,” said Mr Ó Laoire.

He agreed also with Mr Bland that the council, and Mr Sheehy in particular, had concealed from him the extent of its own illegal dumping at the site and that, had he known about this, he would have investigated the council.

He agreed that the council compromised his investigation by concealing from him evidence of the extent of their use of the illegal dump and then used that to suggest their dumping had been minimal.

The case continues.