Simon Coveney defends pace of Haulbowline Island clean-up

Effort to clear waste linked to old Irish Steel plant in Cork Harbour criticised by environmentalists

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.

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted the Government is “well on our way” to cleaning-up Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour despite criticism of the effort from environmentalists.

Mr Coveney, who was given responsibility for the clean-up of the former Irish Steel plant when he was minister for the marine in the last government, said it was always the plan to carry out the clean-up on a phased basis.

“The Government has committed €65 million to the clean-up of Haulbowline Island - we are doing it, phase by phase, and I think people should focus on the positives of what is happening at Haulbowline. It is physically changing shape as we speak,” he said.

The commitment to clean up the island, which was home to Ireland’s only steelworks, which operated between 1939 and 2001, came after the European Commisison threatened legal action against Ireland under its waste directive. The steelworks left behind hazardous waste, particularly on a shallow sand spit extending eastwards from the naval dockyard known as the East Tip.

Mr Coveney was responding to criticism from Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment, who raised the issue of the toxic legacy of the former steel plant with the commission in 2009.

Slag heap

Mr Lowes earlier this month said he was concerned by comments from Minister for the Marine Michael Creed, who visit the island last December and mentioned only the clean-up of the former slag heap on the East Tip.

He said Mr Creed had, in a parliamentary reply, made no mention “of remediating the former steel works or the South Tip which are equally important”.

Mr Lowes pointed out that Mr Coveney had in 2015 given a commitment to remediate the former Irish Steel operation on “an all-island” basis which would involve cleaning up all 22 hectares of the former steel plant operation.

Questioned about Mr Lowes’s comments, Mr Coveney insisted the clean up would be done on an “all -island basis”. He said priority was given to the East Tip as it was the most heavily polluted section of the island.

“The South Tip is only a small part of it. The East Tip is the area where there was the most difficulty. We are cleaning that up but I have made it very clear, repeatedly, that I wanted to see the whole island cleaned up but we have to do that in phases, let’s get the first phase done,” the Tánaiste said.

“Tony Lowes doesn’t dictate what happens here. He, like many other people, has made comments about Haulbowline. For me, I was asked in cabinet to take on the issue of Haulbowline and try and solve it and we are well on our way to doing that.”