The work of Cork County Council in the €25 million remediation of a former slag heap in Cork Harbour has been praised and the success of the project has promoted the European Commission to seek the council's advice on environmental projects.
Making the former Irish Steel slag heap at the East Tip of Haulbowline safe is the largest remediation project undertaken in the State.
Mayor of County Cork, Cllr Gillian Coughlan on Saturday said the remediation was challenging given that 650,000 tonnes of waste from the former Irish Steel plant - later ISPAT - was deposited at the site until the plant closed in 2001.
It was decided that removing the material was not possible so instead, 47,000 tonnes of rock armour material to protect the shoreline, 180,000 tonnes of subsoil and 37,000 tonnes of topsoil effectively sealed the material onsite and transformed the site into a landscaped recreational amenity.
Ms Coughlan said the new park had four kilometres of fully accessible pathways, a 1km jogging circuit, playing pitches and seating areas that offered views of the harbour and wildlife observation, as well as hundreds of native tree mixes and plants to promote biodiversity.
Officially opening Haulbowline Island Recreational Amenity at a ceremony on Saturday Taoiseach Micheál Martin said those involved could be justifiably proud.
"This is great day not for Corkonians but also for the people of Ireland. It's a national people's park but it also reflects the genuine transformation that we can bring about at various sites." He said the project was an example for how other problematic sites in Ireland and Europe could be transformed.
“It is the culmination of a long and diligent approach to restoration by Cork County Council.
"There are lessons to be learned here by other local authorities and the quality of the approach and the delivery of the overall project has been recognised by the European Union which has requested Cork County Council to provide expert advice to Romania and Bulgaria to tackling similar projects."
Mr Martin noted the roles of Cork County chief executive Tim Lucey and project manager Dr Cormac Ó Suilleabháin, as well as Minister for Defence Simon Coveney, who championed the project at Cabinet since 2011.
Mr Coveney also paid tribute to Vice Admiral Mark Mellett and the Naval Service, which is headquartered on Haulbowline and shares the island with the park, for their patience and professionalism during the 10-year remediation work.
Mr Coveney said of all the projects that he has been involved in at local or national level, the remediation of Haulbowline was the one he was most proud of.
He said the creation of the park, allied to work on Spike Island, the restoration of Fort Camden and the investment in Ringaskiddy in the Beaufort Maritime and Energy Laboratory, the National Maritime College and new Port of Cork facilities, meant Cork Harbour was finally realising its potential.
The Taoiseach and Mr Coveney both paid tribute to the role of environmental group, Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, (CHASE) for making a complaint to the European Commission about the East Tip which forced the State to start the remediation.
CHASE chairperson Mary O’Leary said the council had done a fine job and sealing the material was the only option as removal of the waste from the site would not have been feasible.