02 July 2008

Angry scenes in Dáil over toxic waste

By Paul O'Brien, Political Correspondent
Irish Examiner 2/7/08

THE Dáil is likely to witness further heated exchanges today when it debates the issue of the toxic waste at the former Irish Steel plant in Haulbowline, Co Cork.

There were angry scenes in the chamber yesterday when the opposition raised the issue. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Junior Minister Maire Hoctor had informed the House last week that the site posed "no health risk" to the public. Yet the site contained a number of dangerous substances, he pointed out. "The dumped materials at Haulbowline include mercury, lead, chromium 6, zinc and PCBs."

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore called on Environment Minister John Gormley to publish all the reports in his department's possession on Haulbowline. "I understand an independent environmental report was prepared for Cork County Council as far back as 2005. This report was submitted to the Department of the Environment, but seems to have been buried," Mr Gilmore said, calling on Mr Gormley to "provide answers" for the people of Cork.

Labour TD Kathleen Lynch said there were three reports in total in the department's possession. "Will the minister release the three reports that are in his possession and have been at his department since 2004? I ask him to discuss the matter in this House with those elected to represent the people involved rather than continue with the stupid carry-on that has prevailed for the past two weeks," she said.

She claimed Mr Gormley was the "minister for smugness" because of his unsatisfactory responses to the issue to date. She also criticised backbench government TDs for laughing during yesterday's exchanges, saying they would not find the issue funny if they lived in Cork.

Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney similarly called on the Government to detail exactly what it knew about the contamination levels at the site. "This is potentially the most serious environmental disaster the Government has had to deal with. People are working only 200 to 300 yards from this site and must face the potential health consequences of dust blowing from it." His Fine Gael colleague David Stanton queried whether Defence Minister Willie O'Dea had a view on the issue, given the Naval Service had a base on Haulbowline. "This is an extremely serious issue. I live in the area and have had calls from residents who are very concerned about the high levels of chromium 6 and mercury that have been known for years but covered up," he said.

It was eventually agreed that a special debate on the issue would take place this morning.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Department of the Environment's remit was to "facilitate a thorough investigation of the site and to report to government thereon to allow for a government decision on the future use of the site".

"The minister will report the outcome of this exercise to government in the coming months," Mr Cowen added.


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