County coun­cil meets to dis­cuss Whitestown High Court rul­ing


Wicklow People - - NEWS - MYLES BUCHANAN

COUN­CIL­LORS met at a spe­cial meet­ing of Wick­low County Coun­cil on Mon­day to dis­cuss a re­cent High Court Case which could leave the lo­cal au­thor­ity with a mas­sive bill over the clean-up of an il­le­gal dump at Whitestown, near Balt­in­glass.

Cathaoir­leach Ed­ward Tim­mins called the meet­ing but Coun­cil­lors were in­formed that an in­de­pen­dent le­gal opin­ion from Se­nior Coun­sel Martin Hay­den ad­vised that the judge­ment could only be dis­cussed in a gen­eral way and the elected mem­bers ‘should not em­bark upon and di­rect en­quiries into specifics.’

Brown­field Restora­tion Ire­land Ltd, the cur­rent own­ers of the site, have in­ti­mated an in­ten­tion to appeal some of Mr Jus­tice Richard Humphreys de­ci­sions.

The case in­volves the largest il­le­gal dump in the his­tory of the state. Es­ti­mates of the amount of waste dumped il­le­gally at the site vary from 288,600 tonnes to 1.4 mil­lion tonnes. The coun­cil has es­ti­mated that a fur­ther mil­lion tonnes of soil at the site have been con­tam­i­nated as a re­sult.

Mr Jus­tice Richard Humphreys in his rul­ing said that a par­tial re­me­di­a­tion of the site car­ried out by the coun­cil had been ‘botched.’

The coun­cil has been or­dered to clear the site of all il­le­gal waste and any con­tam­i­nated soil. The Coun­cil has been given 78 months to re­move the waste.

Six months af­ter the site has been cleared, it must be re­turned to Brown­field Restora­tion Ire­land Ltd, who didn’t cre­ate or op­er­ate the dump.

Cllr Christo­pher Fox ques­tioned the in­volve­ment of the EPA and the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment in the process.

‘There was ob­vi­ously a tech­ni­cal work­ing group in­volved with the re­me­di­a­tion. Who were the mem­bers? I would have thought all as­pects of the re­me­di­a­tion works were passed by the EPA and the De­part­ment. If other au­thor­i­ties were in­volved, other than Wick­low County Coun­cil, then they have to be held re­spon­si­ble as well if the re­me­di­a­tion wasn’t up to stan­dard.’

Cllr Tom For­tune stated that Wick­low County Coun­cil had been no­ti­fied of il­le­gal dump­ing at Whitestown by Cllr Tommy Cullen back in 1997. Yet no fol­low up took place un­til Novem­ber, 2001.

‘This mas­sive bill could have been avoided if Cllr Cullen had been al­lowed his demo­cratic right to raise the mat­ter,’ said Cllr For­tune.

He felt the High Court rul­ing could have ma­jor reper­cus­sions for Wick­low County Coun­cil’s fi­nances and the ser­vices the lo­cal au­thor­ity pro­vides.

‘This coun­cil has been found guilty of il­le­gal dump­ing, a se­ri­ous of­fence for which peo­ple can be im­pris­oned. The only way for­ward is a full garda in­quiry. The Coun­cil Ex­ec­u­tive should be placed on gardening leave to al­low this ex­am­i­na­tion take place. This is the great­est dis­grace to ever hap­pen in this county. The peo­ple as­so­ci­ated should be asked to go on gardening leave,’ said Cllr For­tune.

How­ever, when Cllr For­tune be­gan to ref­er­ence court af­fi­davits, the Coun­cil Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Bryan Doyle in­ter­rupted to say that such mat­ters could not be dis­cussed be­cause of the pos­si­bil­ity of an appeal from Brown­field Restora­tion Ire­land Ltd.

Jennifer Whit­more de­scribed the case as ‘very com­pli­cated’ and had ques­tions over how the coun­cil went about the re­me­di­a­tion process.

‘Ini­tially all the waste was to be re­moved. Then when a de­ci­sion was made that Wick­low County Coun­cil would be re­spon­si­ble for the re­me­di­a­tion, it went from a com­plete re­me­di­a­tion to a spot re­me­di­a­tion. I don’t think Wick­low County Coun­cil on their own were re­spon­si­ble for the failed re­me­di­a­tion. The EPA were on the work­ing group. Why was the de­ci­sion made to down­grade from a full re­me­di­a­tion to a spot re­me­di­a­tion?’ she asked.

Cllr Ni­cola Law­less said re­cent events have left the public with a very un­favourable opin­ion of Wick­low County Coun­cil.

‘The coun­cil seems to be in the pa­pers ev­ery other week over very high pro­file court cases. Re­cently we have had Whitestown, Barry Nevin and Cllr Tommy Cullen, Deirdre de Burca and Deputy John Brady, all at great cost to the tax­payer.

‘This dump­ing went on from 1979 to 2001 and it amazes me that the coun­cil was un­aware of what was go­ing on. It’s hard to be­lieve that the county coun­cil were dump­ing on a site along­side other agen­cies and no­ticed ab­so­lutely noth­ing.’

Cllr Bren­dan Thorn­hill said: ‘this case is an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter with im­pli­ca­tions for the ser­vices and fi­nances of Wick­low County Coun­cil at a time when we are des­per­ate for badly needed fund­ing for ser­vices such as hous­ing. It’s a dis­grace.’

Cllr Steven Matthews felt the main pri­or­ity was to clean up the site as quickly as pos­si­ble be­fore any other en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age is caused.

He said: ‘it ap­pears there was a free-for-all at Whitestown with trucks go­ing in and out of there for over 20 years. I don’t think we will ever find out to­tally who was re­spon­si­ble but the peo­ple of Wick­low didn’t dump there and they shouldn’t suf­fer due to fund­ing or ser­vice cuts.’

Cllr Irene Win­ters said: ‘the cost will ul­ti­mately be met by the Ir­ish tax payer and the le­gal costs will have to be met too. I’m sure there will be some ret­ri­bu­tion against the peo­ple of Wick­low. I’m sure we will suf­fer.’

Cllr Joe Be­han wel­comed the fact that coun­cil staff, in­clud­ing for­mer County Man­ager Ed­die Sheehy, had been ex­on­er­ated by Mr Jus­tice Humphreys.

‘There were cer­tain as­per­sions cast on pre­sent and past coun­cil mem­bers, par­tic­u­larly Ed­die Sheehy. I never doubted his hon­our or in­tegrity or that of any other mem­ber of staff, past or pre­sent. The judge made it clear he had ev­ery faith in his in­tegrity. The judge also specif­i­cally said that any­thing that was done was done in good faith in an ef­fort to ad­dress a very dif­fi­cult prob­lem that went back many, many years.’

He also ques­tioned the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment’s in­volve­ment and the ad­vice they gave to the lo­cal au­thor­ity.

‘It is quite ob­vi­ous we weren’t solely re­spon­si­ble. I hear fig­ures of up­wards of €100 mil­lion for the clean-up. We can’t pos­si­bly sus­tain a bill like that and more im­por­tantly, it shouldn’t fall on the peo­ple of Wick­low. It should come from Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment.’

Cllr Pat Vance felt Dublin should hold some sort of ac­count­abil­ity given that the ma­jor­ity of the waste dumped at Whitestown orig­i­nated from the cap­i­tal.

‘What about the pol­luter pays rule? These peo­ple came to our county, dumped huge amounts of waste in our county and now it ap­pears they are prac­ti­cally al­lowed to get away scot-free.’

Cllr Gerry O’Neill said the im­pact of the il­le­gal dump was still be­ing felt in the Whitestown area.

‘I would have se­ri­ous con­cerns. There have ac­tu­ally been deaths in the area where peo­ple took their own life and peo­ple would say it was due to this sit­u­a­tion.’

Cllr Derek Mitchell agreed that the ‘Pol­luter Pays’ prin­ci­ple should ap­ply.

‘I echo Cllr Vance’s sen­ti­ments. The peo­ple who did the ma­jor­ity of the dump­ing ap­pear to have got­ten away with it. Most of the waste came from Dublin but Wick­low is get­ting the blame.’

Cllr Tommy Cullen felt the coun­cil had been ‘let down’ by the tech­ni­cal ad­vice they re­ceived from con­sul­tants over the re­me­di­a­tion.

‘The re­me­di­a­tion started in 2011 and was de­signed by these ex­pert con­sul­tants. I think Bryan Doyle and the coun­cil did their best on what ad­vice was re­ceived. They did li­aise with the lo­cal com­mu­nity.’

Cllr Cullen pro­posed the for­ma­tion of a work­ing group to set out a strat­egy over the clean-up of the site. His pro­posal was sup­ported by other coun­cil col­leagues.

Cllr Sylvester Bourke was ‘flab­ber­gasted’ to hear Wick­low County Coun­cil could be left with a huge bill as it was his un­der­stand­ing that the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment had agreed to pay for the re­me­di­a­tion.

Cllr Jim Rut­tle said: ‘any coun­cil man­age­ment I ever came across al­ways acted in good faith but there are se­ri­ous ques­tions over the ex­pert ad­vice they re­ceived. The role of the De­part­ment and their ad­vice, whether writ­ten or ver­bal, also needs to be put out in the open.’

Cllr Vin­cent Blake said: ‘The coun­cil, in their wis­dom, took the best ad­vice they felt was on of­fer to them.

‘It wasn’t our waste. In Dublin you hear all about how they don’t want an in­cin­er­a­tor up there. Dublin has been pre­pared to land waste here and they should take some of the re­spon­si­bil­ity in this re­gard.’

A li­ai­son com­mit­tee, as pro­posed by Cllr Whit­more, will be formed. Reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing up­dates will be made, while coun­cil­lors and the public will be reg­u­larly up­dated on any re­me­di­a­tion works.

Cllr Jennifer Whit­more.

Cllr Joe Be­han.

Cllr Ni­cola Law­less.

Cllr Vin­cent Blake.

Cllr Tommy Cullen.

Cllr Tom For­tune.

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