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DUP abstains from vote on Sinn Féin motion opposing dumping of radioactive waste

The DUP councillors weren’t happy with Sinn Féin’s response to a proposed amendment.

File photo. Underground repository for nuclear waste.
File photo. Underground repository for nuclear waste.
Image: Shutterstock/josefkubes

THE DUP ABSTAINED from a council vote opposing the dumping of radioactive waste in the local authority’s area last night, after their proposed amendment to the original Sinn Féin motion was rejected. 

The motion proposed that Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council note “with grave caution the recent surveys carried out in parts of our borough by a British Government owned company ‘Radioactive Waste Management’ to identify potential sites for the disposal of nuclear waste”. 

It went on to propose that the council register its opposition to any potential geological disposal facilities or further surveys in the area by writing to the UK secretary of state for the environment. 

The motion followed recent media reports of surveys carried out across Northern Ireland by Radioactive Waste Management, a UK government agency. 

A geological disposal facility (GDF) is described by the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as a “highly engineered structure consisting of multiple barriers that will provide protection over hundreds of thousands of years”. 

This disposal, it said, “involves isolating radioactive waste deep inside a suitable rock volume to ensure that no harmful quantities of radioactivity ever reach the surface environment”. 

In a post published on 19 December 2018, the UK government said its work had shown that there may be a “suitable geological setting” for a geological disposal facility in Northern Ireland, mentioning a site in Newry. 

Further notices on the department’s website noted that they “may find a suitable geological setting for a GDF” in other parts of Northern Ireland.

The agency notes that there are no plans to site a GDF in Northern Ireland and that any future policy decision on geological disposal in the North would be a matter for the Executive. 

The DUP’s group leader on the council Mark Baxter did not respond to phonecalls from TheJournal.ie. He told the Belfast Telegraph that while his party’s councillors were broadly supportive of the motion they abstained after their amendment was not accepted. 

He told the paper the DUP grouping decided not to vote after Sinn Féin refused to include an amendment on fuel laundering in its original motion. 

Their amendment, he said, had called for “a simple additional action of raising the requirement amongst HMRC and the Environmental Crime Unit of a redoubling of their efforts to stamp out the current and very real threat to our environment posed by the illegal criminal act of laundering fuel and the dumping of toxic sludge in our countryside”. 

Sinn Féin’s Catherine Nelson said her party regarded the DUP’s amendment as a separate issue, and said her party’s councillors would have been happy to support it if it was tabled separately. 

Rules dictated that councillors had to submit motions in advance of a council meeting, and the DUP did not do so, Nelson said. On the night, the Lord Mayor did not take the DUP’s amendment and it wasn’t put to a vote. 

The Sinn Féin motion on radioactive waste was voted through with the backing of other parties on the council, including the SDLP and UUP. 

Nelson said that while Radioactive Waste Management had noted that the Executive – which has been suspended since early 2017 – would have to sign off on any plan for a GDF, ”we wanted to make it clear that we would be opposed to it”. 

Earlier this month a similar emergency motion proposed at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council was supported by the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the DUP, UUP and smaller parties.  

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