Wicklow council staff gave different statements on illegal dump

High Court examining council’s knowledge of largest illegal dump in the State

Former Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy. Photograph: Collins

Former Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy. Photograph: Collins

 

Two Wicklow County Council workers have described to the High Court how they were called to the council’s offices where, in the presence of the now retired manager, Eddie Sheehy, they gave statements about an illegal dump that differed to statements they had already made to An Garda Síochána.

The differences concerned the extent to which the council had itself knowingly been involved in illegal dumping in west Wicklow.

The statements for the council purported to be affidavits but both men testified that, contrary to assertions that the statements had been sworn at the offices of Augustus Cullen Solicitors at 7 Wentworth Place, Wicklow town, neither man had ever been to those offices. Nonetheless, the purported affidavits were presented as properly sworn legal documents to a case before the High Court in 2008/2009.

The two workers, Kevin Fluskey, who is now retired, and Michael Coleman, who still works for the council, told the High Court on Tuesday that in March 2002, they were called to Council buildings for a meeting in the round room.

There, they met the manager, Mr Sheehy, the council law’s agent, David Sweetman, the current acting manager, Brian Doyle, and other officials.

At the time, the council was dealing with the implications and consequences of the finding, in late 2001, of the largest illegal dump in the State, which was at Whitestown in west Wicklow. The dump, 98 per cent of which remains in situ, contains domestic, hospital and construction waste, as well as council dumped road waste which contains quantities of tar which is hazardous, and asbestos.

In the case currently before the High Court, the current owner of the land, Brownfield Restoration (Ireland) Limited is suing the council, claiming that a commitment by the council to remediate the dump to Irish and European Union legal and environmental standards, has not been met. The commitment occurred simultaneously with the effective abandonment of the 2008/2009 case before the High Court.

Shortly before that abandonment, it had emerged that a transcript of Mr Sheehy’s evidence had been given to Donal O Laoire, an authorised officer advising the council on what to do about the dump and who had been excluded from the court during Mr Sheehy’s testimony.

He was emailed the transcript, against the express orders of the court, by the office of the council’s law agent, David Sweetman, in what was later claimed to be an error. It also emerged that simultaneously, another senior official, Philip Duffy, had also discussed Mr Sheehy’s evidence with Mr O Laoire, also against the orders of the court.

In the current case, much of which is revisiting the 2008/2009 case, Mr Fluskey and Mr Coleman gave evidence on Tuesday.

Mr Fluskey told Michael O’Donnell BL that what he had told the Garda in his statement to them was the truth.

“I couldn’t improve on it, I couldn’t take anything from it,” he said.

He had told the Garda that at all times in his over 40 year career with the council, he worked under instruction from people senior to him. It had been “the norm”, he said, for 15 or 16 years before 2002 to bring material to the illegal dump on behalf of the council.

The material included “soil from the sides of roads, bit of tarmac, bits of broken concrete, footpath diggings out of drains, excavated road materials which would include, stone, clay and surfacing, which was a mixture of stone and tar”.

But in his allegedly sworn statement, made in the presence of Mr Sheehy, Mr Fluskey said material was brought to the illegal dump only “very occasionally”.

“It wasn’t very occasionally,” said Mr O’Donnell, “It was, as you say in your Garda statement, the norm over 15 or 16 years, that’s what you say in your Garda statement?

“It would have been, yes,” said Mr Fluskey.

In his statement made in the presence of Mr Sheehy, Mr Fluskey had also said he was “not instructed by my superiors to dispose of materials in the quarry.”

“Why did you say that when it was also untrue?” asked Mr O’Donnell.

“At the time I was trying to give as honest and as truthful a statement as I could,” replied Mr Fluskey.

Mr Coleman told the court that when he went to the same council offices meeting with Mr Fluskey, it had been attended by “the county manager [Mr Sheehy] and a whole lot of guys there, a solicitor”.

In his statement consequent on the meeting, Mr Coleman stated “To my knowledge there was never any formal arrangement with Mr O’Reilly [previous owner and operator of the dump] concerning the council using his lands for dumping.”

Asked if he could explain why he put this into his statement, he replied “I can’t.”

The case continues.