Protesting farmers walk out of Alumina plant licence hearing


LOCAL farming representatives withdrew in protest from a public hearing which started yesterday into a pollution control licence for the Aughinish Alumina plant in West Limerick.

The hearing, in Limerick, had to be adjourned for a time as gardai forcibly ejected one protesting elderly farmer.

The oral hearing by the Environmental Protection Agency concerns the draft integrated pollution control licence for Aughinish Alumina Ltd.

Leaving in protest, members of the Batlysteen Askeaton Animal Health Committee claimed they had no confidence in the proceedings, which they described as "a charade from the beginning". The group then mounted a protest picket outside the hearing.

The protesters were supported by the Co Limerick branch of the IFA and by the Sheehy family of Toomdeely, Askeaton, who handed a submission to the hearing chairman, Dr Ken Macken. The only groups left taking part in the hearing were Aughinish Alumina and the Cork Environmental Alliance Ltd.

Mr Jerry Healy SC. for Aughinish Alumina, had started his submission when Mr John Cregan (78), of Patrickswell, interrupted, shouting that the hearing was "only a bluff".

"I am taking no more nonsense from Alcan," he said. "I have come to break up this meeting".

He left his seat and made his way towards the chairman and pounded the table. He claimed that the EPA was biased in favour of industry.

The hearing was adjourned several times as Mr Cregan continued to protest. He alleged that his trees were dying because of pollution on his 70 acre farm. He claimed that his eyes were suffering, and said he would continue to interrupt while Aughinish was giving evidence.

Gardai arrived and escorted him out by an emergency exit and drove him away.

Mr Donagh O'Grady, a spokesperson for the Askeaton/ Ballysteen Animal Health Committee, said that a large company like Aughinish was "deploying huge financial resources in this case" and would dominate the proceedings to the extent that a fair hearing was impossible. A major reform of the EPA was necessary, he said, "and we call on politicians of all parties to make this a priority."

The managing director of Aughinish Alumina Ltd, Ms Cynthia Carroll, said an EPA report published before the hearing confirmed its internal information that there was no connection between the problems on the farm and Aughinish.

Ms Carroll said the company was in a survival mode". We made $1.1 million last year, which for this size of an operation is nothing." She claimed that air emission conditions being sought by the EPA were unjustified, unnecessary and unreasonable.

Mr John Hillary, technical and IS manager, Aughinish Alumina, said the four conditions likely to put the plant at risk were those regarding sulphur dioxide emission, nitrogen oxides emission, particulates emission and insurance.

Referring to nitrogen oxides, he said if the proposed conditions were to be introduced, capital costs of $17 million to £18 million would be incurred, with operating costs of about $1.5 million. The EPA report had shown that any harm that occurred on farms was not due to air quality, and specifically was not due to sulphur or nitrogen oxide emissions or particulates.

Mr Derek Chamers, for the Cork Environmental Alliance, said it was imperative that the eventual licence and the owners of the plant took account of the concerns and fears of many people about the significant emissions of SO 2 and other substances into the environment. They should be seen to take action to minimise these emissions.