Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he is deeply disappointed and frustrated at the decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission to a proposed €160 million incinerator for Cork Harbour.
Mr Coveney, a long-standing opponent of the scheme, said he told the oral hearings into the project two years ago that it was inconceivable to develop an incinerator in a harbour area where the Government had invested millions in the National Maritime College of Ireland and the clean-up of the former Irish Steel plant on Haulbowline.
These arguments were all recognised by An Bord Pleanála inspector Derek Daly and provided some of the grounds for his decision to recommend refusal of planning.
However, the board of An Bord Pleanála decided to ignore these recommendations and grant planning permission, Mr Coveney said.
"I have spent a lot of time around the Cabinet table making the case for significant investment in Cork Harbour. We have a master plan for Spike Island and a master plan for Haulbowline Island, including investment of €70 million," said Mr Coveney.
“We are working hard to create something very special at the heart of Cork Harbour area which is of national significance. I can understand that people will be very angry and frustrated at this announcement today and I share this sense with them.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin echoed Mr Coveney, saying great work had been done to transform Cork Harbour with into a tourist amenity with the opening up of Spike Island as a visitor centre and the clean-up of the former Irish Steel plant and creation of a park on Haulbowline.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Martin also pointed to the establishment of the NMRCI in Rinaskiddy and various marine and renewable energy research projects nearby and locating an incinerator so close to all these projects was counter-productive, he said.
“I’m very unhappy – this is the third planning application and my understanding is that the inspector recommended against giving planning permission .... people are genuinely angry and very upset because this is one step too far for that community and the wider harbour community as well.”
Opponents of the scheme said they were studying the decision to see if there were grounds for a legal challenge.
The company behind the proposed project has welcomed the decision by An Bord Pleanála to give the project the go-ahead while opponents have reacted with dismay.
Indaver Ireland applied on January 13th, 2016 for planning permission under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 for an incinerator at Ringaskiddy which would handle 240,000 tonnes of municipal waste and 24,000 tonnes of hazardous waste annually.
Indaver Ireland managing director John Ahern said the company was "pleased that An Bord Pleanála (ABP) has decided to grant planning permission for its proposed Ringaskiddy Resource Recovery Centre" following the holding of an oral hearing into the project in April and May 2016.
Mr Ahern said he was conscious “this decision simply marks another step in a long process”.
He said Ireland currently exports significant amounts of residual municipal waste and that incineration was part of the solution to this.
Mr Ahern said a recent TransFrontier Shipments Office figures showed a 7 per cent reduction in Ireland’s waste exports since the Poolbeg incinerator in Dublin began operating last December.
He said Indaver shared the view of the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants that Ireland needed more incinerator capacity.
Mr Ahern said a lack of incineration capacity in Ireland will see Ireland export an estimated 300,000 tonnes of municipal waste this year. “This reliance on exporting our waste is not sustainable and exposes us to market shocks”.
"We believe our plans are fully in line with national, regional and local planning regulations which was acknowledged by Cork County Council and has been reinforced by An Bord Pleanála's decision to grant permission," he said.
Opponents of the incinerator, including Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, (CHASE) expressed dismay and disappointment that An Bord Pleanála had ignored its own inspectors' recommendations and granted planning for the project.
CHASE chairwoman Mary O’Leary said: “We are shocked, angry and deeply disappointed that the board has granted permission. The endless delays in coming to this decision were always a cause for concern but we hoped against hope that An Bord Pleanála would make the right decision.”
Ms O’Leary said all three An Bord Pleanála inspectors, who held hearings into the project in 2003, 2009 and 2016, recommended refusing permission and said An Bord Pleanála has now given the project the green light, despite the fact “no one is in favour of this”.
“What is the point of going through an oral hearing and giving all that evidence, if it’s all ignored,” Ms O’Leary asked.
She claimed Indaver had submitted incorrect dioxin emission figures which opponents of the project had to bring to the attention of the An Bord Pleanála inspector.
“For a third inspector to recommend a refusal of permission underlines the unsuitability of this site and really questions why An Bord Pleanála saw fit to grant it, even in spite of the erroneous dioxin figures exposed on the final day of the 2016 hearing,” said Ms O’Leary.
CHASE spokeswoman Linda Fitzpatrick said campaigners would now study the order closely with their legal advisor, solicitor Joe Noonan, to see if there were grounds for a legal challenge but that would also depend on whether they had the funds to mount a judicial review.