Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 29 February, 1996

Adjournment Matters. - Landfill Site at Slieve Felim.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I represent the views and concerns of a community in the Slieve Felim area, the hill country of North Tipperary and Limerick, about a proposal to locate a dump, euphemistically known as a landfill site, in the Slieve Felim mountain region. These people have struggled hard for many years to overcome the natural disadvantage of living in a remote mountain region. I have seen many positive protests by these communities.

In my 30 years in political life I have not seen as much determination and concern as was expressed at public meetings in Rear Cross and Cappaghmore and in the other community halls in that region. Rear Cross is a small mountain village well known in Tipperary folklore and in stories about our fight for freedom. The hall and adjoining schoolhouse were packed with people attending these meetings. The proceedings were relayed from the hall to those in the schoolhouse and outside who could not get into either building. This community has more rich qualities — not wealth which others have — than any community I have been privileged [1152] to work with over the years. These people are concerned about a decision which will affect them and their children for generations, to locate a proposed landfill site in the heart of beautiful mountain country.

Where decisions of this kind are proposed, much less adopted, by local or national Government, will the Minister guarantee that the community directly affected, such as the mountain people of Slieve Felim, will have free and full access to all information on the proposed landfill site? They should not have to seek or demand this information — it should be made available to them from the beginning. These people collected money from those who could ill afford it in an attempt to match the money available to local and national governments so that they could be well informed. I want a commitment from the Minister that they will have access to all the information available to the local authority — Limerick County Council in this instance — and the Department of the Environment.

They should also have access to all the conclusions and findings of any examinations which were conducted and the reasons and justifications for such conclusions. A firm of consultants advised Limerick County Council and these people should be entitled to the consultants' terms of reference. If one looked at the best location for a dump or landfill site in purely engineering terms, one would probably choose the most remote area, in terms of a wide open and free place. A dump might not intrude visibly in such a place but it would be an environmental disaster. I wish to know the terms of reference of the consultants who seem to have recommended the location of a landfill site in the Slieve Felim region.

Ironically, the Seanad is discussing the Waste Management Bill at the moment. Consumerism is a characteristic of society in our towns and cities. The waste from our consumer society must be dumped or located somewhere. However, we decide to dump it in areas which are not contributing to the huge [1153] growth in waste, which is a regrettable feature of our society in recent times. Someone decided that a place of pristine beauty and remoteness, such as Slieve Felim, was an ideal place to locate the waste from our towns and cities — Limerick city, in this instance. Rural communities are paying the price for the waste in our cities and the lack of management on the part of the local authorities.

Our local authorities are meant to have a primary responsibility to protect the environment. In that capacity, they should clearly demonstrate that they will always give first priority to protecting and enhancing the environment to ensure that what we inherited from previous generations — the people of Slieve Felim did not inherit much in terms of national wealth although they did in terms of character and culture — is not intruded upon in an offensive way by the location of a dump site in the heart of beautiful hills.

As I said, we are currently discussing the provisions of the Waste Management Bill, which contains some welcome initiatives which we agreed on an all-party basis. The Bill contains initiatives and provisions which are much more stringent in respect of the power of local authorities to locate landfill sites or dumps of this nature than those which operate at present. Why, in those circumstances, are the local authorities proposing to locate a landfill facility at a site in the Slieve Felim area before these provisions come in?

This area is classified as severely disadvantaged for agricultural and every other purpose. It is a remote area with a falling population and low income levels. However, through a remarkable effort, the community has built up its own tourism programme and attracted people from other countries to visit beautiful Slieve Felim and walk through the hills. It is a unique and beautiful area which tourists from congested cities want to visit. It is unacceptable for their efforts to build up some degree of security and protect what they have to [1154] be set at naught and for us to impose further man-made obstructions on their development.

If information is available from the Department of the Environment or the county council, the local people should have maximum access to it. The community in Slieve Felim is very concerned about what happens today but they are much more concerned about what will happen for the generations to come. They are greatly worried about the future quality of the water if this proposal is adopted.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Allen): I thank Senator O'Kennedy for raising this important matter. He will be aware that waste management planning is a matter for each county council and county borough corporation in respect of its functional areas. These authorities are directly responsible for the planning, organisation, authorisation and supervision of waste operations. It is also a matter for each authority to determine the waste management facilities and services which will be provided by the authority.

In this case, Limerick County Council has indicated its intention to develop a landfill site for waste in the western part of the county. The council has also indicated that, following examination of some 60 potential locations, a site in the Slieve Felim mountains has been selected for further investigation. Consultants engaged by the council are currently assessing the suitability of the site for use as a landfill.

If Limerick County Council decides to proceed with the development of a landfill facility at the site, it will be obliged, under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Regulations, 1994, to submit the proposal to the Minister for the Environment for certification. The application for certification will have to be accompanied by a detailed environmental impact statement which will describe the likely effects which the proposed development would have on the surrounding environment, [1155] and the measures which would be taken to avoid, reduce or remedy these effects. The local authority would be obliged to make the statement available to all interested parties for inspection or purchase and any person could make written observations and submissions to the Minister who would be obliged to take them into account during consideration of the matter. It would be a matter for the Minister in due course to decide whether to issue certification, with or without modifications, following consideration of all the material made available to him in accordance with the regulations. It would be inappropriate for the Minister, Deputy Howlin, or me to comment further on the matter at this stage in view of the Minister's role as the certifying authority for such a development, if the council decides to go ahead.

Senators will be aware that the Waste Management Bill, 1995, which has been passed by Dáil Éireann and is currently being considered by this House, provides for an extensive system of planning, supervision and control in relation to waste management facilities. Under the Bill the Environmental Protection Agency will be given responsibility for the licensing, on an ongoing basis, of waste recovery and disposal facilities, including local authority landfills. This will ensure that high standards apply to [1156] the design, management and operation, closure and aftercare of such facilities. Section 62 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, already requires the agency to draw up criteria and procedures for the selection, management, operation and termination of landfill sites. The task is being addressed by the agency on an ongoing basis and will be the subject of eight or more technical manuals. Senators may wish to note that that first two of these manuals were published by the agency today and are available in the Oireachtas Library.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Arising from what the Minister has just disclosed, can he confirm that in looking at environmental impact, special consideration will be given to places of natural environmental richness and that intrusion in areas which have little to offer other than their beauty and natural environmental inheritance would be looked at particularly severely before such a decision would be taken?

Mr. Allen: I can assure the Senator the factors mentioned will be taken into consideration when the Minister looks at the submission and accompanying documentation from the local authority.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 6 March 1996.