Republican News · Thursday 18 January 2001

[An Phoblacht]

Morgan launches High Court challenge


Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan has launched a High Court challenge to prevent Louth County Council from rescinding a decision rejecting the 26-County government's Regional Waste Plan. He will tell the court that a vote taken at this week's meeting was wrongly interpreted by the council chair.

At last Monday's Louth County Council meeting, a motion was put to rescind a previous decision to reject Environment and Local Government Minister Noel Dempsey's Regional Waste Plan for the Northeast region, which provides for an incinerator. Councillors duly voted. Twenty five of the 26 councillors were present. Sixteen voted to rescind the council decision. Nine voted against. The council chair ruled that the decision was duly rescinded.

Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan immediately objected. ``You mean, not rescinded,'' he said, pointing out that standing orders state clearly that for a rescinding motion to succeed ``not less than two thirds of members present and voting must support the resolution''. Sixteen to nine is not two thirds of twenty-five. (16.6 recursive is not 17). ``I know we're only county councillors, but we can count,'' he said. The chair replied that his ruling was absolute.

Arthur Morgan sees this as a naked attempt to flaunt proper procedures and undermine respect for councillors' votes. He went straight to the High Court to challenge the decision.

``I am looking to the court,'' he says, ``to defend the democratic integrity of Louth County Council. The chair can't just add up the votes whatever way he wants. It makes a farce of council decisions.

``What use is a councillor unless he is prepared to stand up for his right to represent the people, and not to let the council be used as a rubber stamp for the minister's decisions, or to lend those decisions a pretence of democratic agreement. This challenge goes to the very heart of local government, and the right of the people to democratic representation.''

Galway battle

But the pressure is growing in support of the government's incinerator plan. All week the media were hyping it up. `Ballinasloe dump is to close in two weeks.' `Galway has nowhere to put its rubbish'; ` Dublin's landfill space is about to run out'. Even Proinsias De Rossa chipped in: `the EU is about to fine Ireland thousands of pounds a day, because we haven't yet got a waste management plan, which we were told to have six years ago'. Then there was the question of where are we going to put the carcasses of the 700,000 cattle sentenced to die to facilitate the reform of the CAP.

Incineration is, of course, quite irrelevant to these `crises', because, with or without planning permission, they take a long time to build. It's a battle for hearts and minds - to steel the councillors to do what they are told.

At the end of last week, rumour had it that out of the blue, Galway councillors, who had unanimously snubbed Minister Dempsey's blandishments and rejected their regional waste plan for an incinerator, were about to rescind their decision on Monday.

Galway for a Safe Environment (GSE) campaigners came to the council meeting. About 250 people stood outside in the bitter cold, outraged that the councillors would even consider changing their minds.

The meeting came and it went. The council discussed lengthily a planning decision, they footered around on little matters, and then, on a proposal from the PDs, they adjourned the meeting. The four PD members on the council are said to be wavering, however.

The legal advice to Galway council management, from Matheson, Ormsby and Prentice, is that in fact councillors didn't in fact take any decision when they voted on 25 July last to throw out the plan. This argument asserts that one council cannot reject a plan which is for the entire region. This legal advice implies that none of the local authorities in the 26 Counties needed to vote through the regional plan at all, because they couldn't have rejected it anyway.

It amounts to ``you, the councillors can vote for the plan, but not against it''.

Peter Butler, spokesperson for GSE, has accused the minister of bullying people to force a decision which runs against the huge support in Galway for a waste strategy that does not rely on incineration or superdumps. Some 22,000 people signed a petition last summer for Galway to draw up a new plan based on recycling, but Galway council executive ignored them.

``The fact is,'' says Peter Butler, ``that the vast majority of people don't want incineration and environmentalists the world over are against it on environmental, health and cost grounds. Why doesn't that seem to matter to the minister?''

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