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Bales of sealed grass (file photo) Alamy Stock Photo

Council criticised by auditor for not recovering €700k bill for clearing ex-mayor's landfill

Declan Doocey, a Fine Gael councillor, served as Mayor of Waterford City and County between 2018 and 2019.

A COUNTY COUNCIL has been criticised by a State auditor for allegedly not pursuing a former mayor for a bill of over €700,000 over the removal of plastic waste from a site owned by his company.

Councillor Declan Doocey, who runs a recycling company dealing with farm plastic near his home in Lismore in Waterford, was previously brought to the High Court by Waterford City and County Council for allegedly storing over 5,300 tonnes of toxic waste on the land.

The local authority alleged Doocey had breached environmental protection laws under sections 57 and 58 of the Waste Management Act.

These concern the unauthorised holding, recovery or disposal of waste in a manner which may have caused environmental pollution.

While the case was settled last year, the council has since carried out works to clean up the site running to a total of €739,000. 

Doocey, a Fine Gael councillor, served as Mayor of Waterford City and County between 2018 and 2019.

In his annual report on the local authority’s finances, carried out for the Department of Housing and Local Government, auditor James Moran said it had “not sought to recover its costs from the owner who is a former Mayor and current Member of the Council”.

Moran said the council was provided with state grant funding to clean up the site, which “is repayable should the council recover its costs”.

At present the costs for the cleanup have been paid with funds from the Department of the Environment.

ddoocey-mayor Fine Gael councillor Declan Doocey was Mayor of Waterford in 2018/19. Waterford City and County Council Waterford City and County Council

In response, Waterford City and County Council told the auditor that “all appropriate actions in accordance with our statutory obligations will be pursued” over the waste. It added that remediation costs for the landfill site had only been finalised recently.

Doocey told The Journal that he was precluded from discussing much of the issue and said that there were no talks taking place with the council at present on the costs arising from the cleanup of the site.

“It’s still not resolved,” he said, adding that he had sought “assistance” previously with the landfill.

We’re working night and day to try to solve it. It should be appreciated that for my family, this had an awful toll on our health, our lifestyle and our financials.

In his audit, Moran said the controversy arose following complaints from the public, leading to the council to issue requests and directions to Doocey so that the company would comply with the operating requirements of the permit to collect the farm plastic waste

“However, significant waste continued to be collected and accumulated outside the boundary of the permitted site for a fee of approximately €100 per tonne,” Moran reported. 

“Eventually the Council withdrew the permit mainly due to a failure, by the owner, to operate in accordance with the requirements of the permit.”

This prompted the council to initially commence District Court proceedings in 2020 under the Waste Management Act 1996, in respect of alleged environmental pollution, breaches of the conditions on the permit and failure to comply with the council’s directions, the auditor continued. 

‘Halt all activity’

However, these proceedings were overtaken when the council sought a High Court injunction to “halt all activity as the owner continued operations after the collection and storage permits were withdrawn”, he said.

A spokesperson for the council told The Journal that this action led to Doocey giving undertakings which “satisfied the purpose of the council’s application to the Courts”. On this basis, the council agreed to have these proceedings struck out and the case was settled in October last year.

Around that same time, according to the audit, the council tendered for the remediation of accumulated waste from the site at a cost of €739k.

“The works, completed in early 2022, comprised the removal of 5,315 tonnes of waste farm plastic and the restoration of the site,” the auditor added.

Legal costs for the court actions against the former mayor amounting to approximately €45k were incurred by the local authority, he continued. It employed the legal firm Mason Hayes and Curran for the work. 

“Thereafter, following various applications and communications, state grant funding was provided to remediate the site. This funding is repayable should the council recover its costs.”

Waterford Council told The Journal this evening that “all costs incurred by the Council” – for remedying the site and its legal action – were covered by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications under a Waste Stream Stockpiles Remediation Grant. 

“There has been no net cost to the Council in this case,” the spokesperson said. 

When asked to outline what steps it is taking to recover the public funds used for the case, the council said it is “currently in discussion with the Department regarding any further action that may follow with respect to the recovery of the grant”. 

In his written response to Moran, council chief executive Michael Walsh said the local authority would be taking further action.

“The remediation costs in respect of this site have only been finalised in recent weeks and all appropriate actions in accordance with our statutory obligations will be pursued.”

Council meeting

When initially contacted by this website on Monday and asked to outline what steps the council is taking to recover the costs involved, a spokesperson said it would not be issuing any comment until the audit report was presented to elected councillors on Thursday of this week. 

At that meeting, four councillors highlighted a range of issues raised by the auditor in his report concerning council matters, from large overruns on spending on housing projects to governance and conflict of interest issues at a company formed by the local authority.  

The auditor’s comments concerning the council’s case involving its own councillor, who was present in the chamber, was raised briefly by one councillor but went unmentioned subsequently. 

One council director, Michael Quinn, who oversees the economic development department, told councillors that they could “spend all day” discussing the audit if they wanted but that the formal process was simply to “note” the audit and carry on with the council meeting. 

Independent councillor Donal Barry said they were “not doing it justice by just glancing over” the audit. He added: “I think we need more time and longer meetings to be discussing the report in more detail.”