Photo by Caroline Brady

Construction on the Poolbeg waste-to-energy plant began last October, but some residents are now rallying councillors to use the little leverage they have to stymie the project.

On Monday 8 June, Combined Residents Against Incineration (CRAI) supporters – who are worried, they say, about effects on health, the environment, and the local community – demonstrated outside city hall during the monthly council meeting.

CRAI wants councillors to boycott the community gain fund liaison committee. It would, the group says, show they can still stand up for the people who elect them.

You might have read about the community gain fund a couple of weeks back. As a condition of the planning permission for the Poolbeg plant, Dublin City Council and US waste giant Covanta must create a multi-million-euro community fund for local neighbourhoods. The money is likely to be spent on area perks: sports facilities, playgrounds, and community services for elderly people. But it needs a liaison committee, with councillors on it, to make sure it’s parcelled out fairly.

Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne was due to sit on that committee for its first term, with councillors Chris Andrews of Sinn Féin and Kieran Binchy of Fine Gael.

But following CRAI’s request, Byrne resigned from her spot. She encourages community organisations to apply for the funding, she said, but could not be part of the committee as it goes against her principles. She wouldn’t be able to administer the funds with a clear conscience.

“It makes a mockery out of the proposed zero-waste policy. It goes against the basic principles of reducing, reusing and recycling. In effect, it will actually punish people for not wasting more to feed the incinerator, because if we don’t reach the thresholds we know that this council will be financially liable… it’s been a complete slight on democracy,” she said, during her resignation announcement at the Dublin South-East Committee meeting.

Andrews is yet to make a decision about boycotting; Sinn Féin has decided to consult a broader group of residents, rather than just those involved in CRAI. Sinn Féin’s Dublin City Council group leader, Séamus McGrattan, says, “There’s not a huge amount we can do [to stop construction], but we support the residents down there in what they are doing.”

Binchy couldn’t be reached for his position.

The Poolbeg incinerator was first proposed in 1996. Last year, after many delays, the chief executive decided to push ahead despite an overwhelming vote against it by Dublin city councillors.

At the vote in city hall last September, 52 councillors voted against the Poolbeg incinerator, while just two voted in favour of the project: independent councillor Ruairi McGinley and Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre Heney.

But since the Waste Management Amendment Act 2001 came into law, the power of councillors has been limited and the chief executive has the final say on waste policy. They said yes.

Now, councillors are split on whether to roll over or fight.

Most councillors don’t believe a boycott of the community gain fund liaison committee would be effective. Fianna Fáil’s Frank Kennedy says he would take part if it could somehow prevent the incinerator being built, but he’s unconvinced, and believes it would be foolish not to distribute the funding to those who need it.

Local councillor and Labour’s Dublin City Council group leader, Dermot Lacey, says a boycott would be irresponsible. “I don’t think it makes any sense whatsoever. If it’s built, the area should get the one small benefit from it.”

Lacey does agree that protests are a good way of highlighting issue, but doubts it could stop the construction of the incinerator. He has been against the project since it was first proposed and believes the best hope of stopping it now is through some sort of legal route, but he cannot think of one.

Billy Ryan, chairperson of CRAI, admits that it is hard to know if a successful boycott of the community gain fund’s liaison committee would have an effect on construction. “At least they would highlight the issue,” he comments, and send a message of support to project-protestors in Ringsend.

People Before Profit councillor Sonya Stapleton is more pugnacious. “I actually think, at this stage, it’s not over,” she says.

The thought of large bin trucks constantly going through the small town riles her up; a traffic impact assessment of the site, which dates back to 2006, estimates that around 121 bin trucks will make deliveries to the site each day.

Stapleton sees the potential for bigger protests down the line. As part of the public-private partnership, the city’s four local authorities will have to provide partial financial support if there is a certain amount of revenue shortfall during the first 15 years of the company’s operation. If this ends up costing the city a lot, Stapleton thinks it could lead to more vocal and active opposition.

The four Dublin councils have signed a 45-year contract with Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd and will get a share of the revenue made from energy during the contract. A report by Dublin City Council estimates that the incinerator will supply electricity to 80,000 homes and will allow Ireland to reach its renewable energy goals.

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