€61m clean-up of Haulbowline Island behind target and spending

Environmental group critical of State’s failure to clean areas including former steelworks site

Industrial waste (centre left) from the abandoned steel plant lies exposed at Haulbowline. Photograph:  Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Industrial waste (centre left) from the abandoned steel plant lies exposed at Haulbowline. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision


A pledge made by Minister Simon Coveney during his time as minister for agriculture and the marine that decades of toxic waste dumped on Haulbowline Island would be cleaned up by this summer will not be met.

Work is nearing completion on just one of the three heavily-polluted sites on the island, while planning permission for work on another two sites, a second dump and the former Irish Steel plant itself has yet to be sought.

In January 2016, Mr Coveney promised an “all island approach” to the clean-up of contaminated waste left by Irish Steel in a clean-up plan that would take 2½ years to complete and cost €61 million.

The announcement by Mr Coveney, who is now Minister for Foreign Affairs, came after the EU threatened legal action against Ireland under the waste directive.

The disused plant in Haulbowline. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
The disused plant in Haulbowline. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Haulbowline was home to Ireland’s only steelworks, which operated between 1939 and 2001. It left behind hazardous waste, particularly on a shallow sand spit extending eastwards from the naval dockyard known as the East Tip.

Speaking in 2016, Coveney said the remedial work would take place on the island’s east and south tips and the “ ground level remediation of the former ISPAT/Irish Steel factory site”.

The commitment led the European Commission to close its enforcement case against Ireland in September 2016 and Cork County Council was appointed to carry out the clean-up.

Nearing completion

Now, however, as the project should be nearing completion the department has confirmed that just €13 million has been spent and remediation of the south tip and the former steelworks has yet to be the subject of waste licence applications.

In response to questions from The Irish Times the department said: “In the period up to 2017, expenditure was focused on preparing for and securing the necessary planning and waste licence consents and upgrading the island infrastructure in anticipation of works.”

It said “the total expenditure incurred by the department (including expenditure commissioned by Cork County Council acting as agents for the project and reimbursed through the department) to the end of 2017 is just over €13 million.

The department said the priority was remediation of the East Tip but that work on assessing a suitable solution for the former steelworks factory site and preparation of an application for planning consent had also been advanced.

Parliamentary reply

The project website notes current Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed visited the island in September 2017 to welcome the remediation of the East Tip. In a subsequent parliamentary reply Mr Creed referred to “the remediation of the area of Haulbowline Island known as the East Tip” without mentioning the remaining works.

Now, Friends of the Irish Environment has written to the European Union commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, Karmenu Vella, pointing out that “the failure of the Irish authorities to adhere to its commitments constitutes a breach of promise and failure in the duty of loyal co-operation”.

Tony Lowes, director of the Friends, reminded the commission it had already successfully taken a case against Ireland and notwithstanding the promise of full remediation, “11 contaminated hectares will not be remediated”.

The Friend’s letter concludes that “this can only serve to undermine the reputation of the commission services in Ireland and the very significant influence for environmental good which the waste case brought to Ireland”.