Dublin City faces waste charges battle
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
Next Monday, Dublin councillors have to face a key decision - whether to vote through the estimates for next year, or not. Incorporated in this year's estimates are waste charges, charges on the householders for refuse collection.
The councillors are looking over their shoulders to the battle over the water rates, when Dubliners refused to pay. The water rates campaign successfully fought the government of the day to a standstill, forcing them to withdraw water rates. Memories of these events are enough to put the frighteners up the councillors. Do they dare vote for refuse charges?
The current Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey, badly wants Dublin Corporation to introduce refuse charges. Ireland is well behind meeting EU standards for waste management, which lay down target dates for reducing waste going to landfill.
Dempsey's proposed `solution' has been incinerators. With the aid of consultants MC O'Sullivans and sizeable business interests (like Indaver, which has drawn up expensive plans for an incinerator on the Meath/Louth border), the minister has promoted private-public partnership incinerators, one for every region in the state. Incinerators are very expensive, and somebody has to pay.
There is no indication yet that Minister Dempsey has taken account of the strong public opposition to incineration or is reconsidering his notion for one incinerator apiece for the regions. Nor is there a glimmer of a suggestion that the minister is looking in a hurry to get planning permission for composting units, which would remove one third of householders' refuse from the waste stream that goes to landfill and which come at a fraction of the cost of incinerators.
The Sinn Féin councillors on Dublin Corporation have made it quite clear that they hold refuse charges to be double taxation, and they will not support them. South Dublin County Council has already rejected refuse charges. ``The government is awash with taxation revenue. Why would they want to impose further tax on the householders, especially when it is to pay for incinerators?'' asks Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O'Toole, but Dempsey has made it clear to councillors that he wants refuse charges introduced. There is the hidden threat in the wings, that if the councillors don't vote through the charges, then he may use his ministerial power to put the councillors out of business altogether and let the city manager take over in their place. It has happened before.
Faced with Sinn Féin's clear rejection of waste charges, other councillors from the Labour Party, the Independent group, and even a number in the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael groups, fear that if they force through the refuse charges they will suffer a major collapse of their vote at the next election. It speaks yards for the power of a minority when they have the people on their side.
This week the councillors and Mayor are trying to hammer out a deal, to find the money somewhere else. The Sinn Féin Group, led by Councillor Christy Burke, has made several suggestions to this end.
Next Monday's vote will determine the issue, and may well illustrate Minister Dempsey's real attitude to democratising local government.