11 July 2008

Lenihan to have final say on toxic site

Irish Examiner 11/7/08

FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan will ultimately decide what is to be done with the former Irish Steel site in Haulbowline, Co Cork, the Department of the Environment said last night.

In a meeting last week, Environment Minister John Gormley was unable to guarantee local residents that budgetary concerns would not prevent the clean-up of the toxic site. Yesterday, Mr Gormley met with Cork TDs and the same issue arose.

Consultants are carrying out an investigation of the site which is expected to be finished in five weeks. Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney, who was at the meeting, said Mr Gormley was asked what would happen if the consultants found the site did present a threat to the health of local residents and the harbour ecosystem. "The minister said he could only make that judgment call when he got the report and went to cabinet after the summer," said Mr Coveney.

A spokesman for Mr Gormley confirmed this, saying: "The minister can't make false commitments without knowing the full extent of what the commitment would be and, in any case, it would be a government decision as well. The options he will be bringing [to cabinet] will only be options. It will be up to the Government, in particular the minister for finance, to make a decision on the remediation of the site."

Despite Mr Gormley's inability to give a commitment on this front, TDs who attended the meeting believed he was "sincere" in his desire to remedy the problem and praised his openness. However, they stressed more would have to be done to allay local concerns.

"This is about reassuring people that whatever needs to be done will be done and will be done expediently," said Labour TD Kathleen Lynch. "No one wants to live in a constant state of fear." She said it was essential that the proposed health study of local residents include both former Irish Steel workers and those who had worked in the nearby Verolme dockyard.

Mr Gormley said he would need sanction from the Department of Health for the health study, meaning its parameters cannot yet be determined.

Mr Coveney, meanwhile, questioned whether Mr Gormley and his department were correct in waiting for the site investigation to be completed before doing something about the toxic waste which had been disturbed.

The department was using a 2005 consultants' report to say the site posed no risk, yet contractors on the site until May of this year had warned of the need for "emergency treatment" of the waste, Mr Coveney said. "My concern is that those warnings haven't been taken seriously enough and that, instead, the department is using a three-year-old report as the sole basis for telling the general public that this site poses no threat."


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