Victory for Democracy
Making them listen in Louth
Councillors pay so anti-incineration expert can be heard
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
At last July's meeting of Louth County Council, the council management tried, as they have done in every other county council meeting, to railroad through M. C. O'Sullivan's draft waste management plan for their region.
Councillors Mary Grehan (Independent) and Arthur Morgan (Sinn Féin) argued successfully that councillors did not know enough to come to so important decision without further discussion. Together, they forced council management to concede a workshop-discussion for the councillors where the issues and alternatives that M.C. O'Sullivan's draft plan had not discussed could be presented and argued.
The council management, clearly annoyed at this interruption to their plans to endorse Environment Minister Noel Dempsey's plan for regional incinerators across the 26 Counties, was reluctant to hold any such meeting. They proposed to Arthur Morgan that they would invite M.C. O'Sullivans to present both sides of the argument to councillors.
Morgan was outraged and insisted that the council meet its responsibility to implement the resolution to which councillors had agreed and present the argument from both sides. He proposed that the council invite well known expert Professor Paul Connett. The council management refused to pay his expenses to travel.
At their own expense, Councillors Morgan and Grehan invited Paul Connett to come from America to address the workshop. A public meeting was organised in Dundalk to enable the Louth people themselves to be part of that discussion.
Last Monday afternoon in the council chamber, you could feel management's seething resentment at being thwarted in their plans. Despite persistent and impolite effort to cut short Professor Connett in his answers to the councillors' questions and limit Councillor Morgan's queries, the councillors heard Professor Connett argue that incineration was expensive, unnecessary and an unsuitable strategy for managing waste in the 21st century. ``No Risk is acceptable if it is avoidable,'' he said.
Councillors took up the opportunity to question the draft plan upon which they must vote on 18 September. An extraordinarily high level of concern and interest was expressed by all councillors, who asked many questions. The meeting was an exercise in democracy.
Connett presented case after case of cities, counties, even countries, where rates of recycling domestic refuse had been achieved far in excess of what M.C. O'Sullivans had claimed could be achieved in the region. He talked of the unknown dangers, the expense and difficulty of monitoring emissions. He pointed out that the incineration plant in Karlsruhe, Germany, where councillors had been taken to visit, had cost twice as much as M C O'Sullivans projected proposed cost of £58 million.
He talked of the recent discovery that dioxins as carcinogens are 10 times more dangerous to human health than was previously believed and offered incontrovertible evidence that they interfere with growth factors, and the endocrine system.
Weighting the Debate
To put the alternative case, the council management had invited several speakers, including Professor Dieter Schrenk from Germany, another toxicologist. Jean Clarke and P.J. Rudden, both from M.C. O'Sullivans, Damien O'Neill, the council's Senior Executive Engineer, and Urban District Councillor Pearse O'Hanrahan (FF), who is an agent for Thermo Select, a company looking to win the £58 million contract to build an incinerator in the region.
The only other speaker to make a submission opposed to M.C. O'Sullivans was Mick Leary, representing the Louth People against Incineration. He asked the councillors to consider some 20 questions about incineration, the first of which was to ask whether, when a nuclear power station at Carnsore had been proposed as `absolutely necessary' to meet our energy needs, back in the `70s, were they not glad now that this had been fought and successfully resisted?
Mary Grehan pointed out that the council had had dealings with M C O'Sullivans before, and asked P.J. Rudden to confirm that their firm had already been rejected on grounds including health and safety last year, in tendering for the consultancy contract for the Dundalk Newry link road. As P. J. Rudden on behalf of M.C. O'Sullivans spluttered his denials, Grehan produced a letter from the council which she invited him to read aloud to the workshop.
At the end of the meeting, Arthur Morgan thanked the three councillors who had generously offered, at the workshop, some financial assistance to him and Councillor Grehan to defray the costs of Prof. Connett's visit, which the county council had refused to meet.
Over a hundred people attended the public meeting in Dundalk County Hall, organised by Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan to enable the public to hear and discuss the alternative to the proposed waste Management Draft Plan which councillors have to decide upon at the next meeting of Louth County Council.
To the amazement of Professor Connett after his address, which received a standing ovation, people from all over the county, from Roscommon, from Monaghan from Meath, articulated their anger at the draft plan's proposal for an incinerator. They voiced their discontent that their own councillors had not considered the issue thoroughly but had rubber stamped M.C. O'Sullivan's recommendations.
Professor Connett talked of the recyling levels achieved in other parts of the World, the commitments by some to the aspiration of a zero waste policy, in for example, New Zealand, an agricultural economy much like our own in size and resources. He talked of how in America there has not been one incinerator built over the last five years. He told of the debt accrued by five incinerators in New Jersey, amounting to $1.6 billion, a bill which, at the end of the day, the people have to meet.
``The safer you try to make incinerators the more it costs to run them,'' he aid. ``Permission to build an incinerator is a blank cheque to the company which gets the contract. Who costs the damage to Ireland and your agriculture? Recently one gram of dioxin, released inadvertently, caused $3 billion of immediate damage in Belgium. Who knows the damage to health in the next generation?
``It's a monster which has to be fed, and tipping fees escalate inevitably. Why does anyone ever think to propose one now in the 21st century? Because its like a big pig,'' he says. ``It's a very large contract, where everyone who is looking for brown envelopes and their cut can get in to suck,'' and he backs up his words with greedy sucking noises.
The meeting ended in the highest of spirits, with Connett leading a song against incineration. ``Three prescriptions I'd propose to you: don't lose your common sense in face of the `experts'; put your faith back in the people, and have fun. Take your wheelie bins down to the council and beat them like a drum. They will hear you.''