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Opinion: 'Ireland has become a pollution haven due to neo-liberal model of light-touch regulation'

We need people-power campaigns to stop environmental harm, writes Cian Prendiville.

Cian Prendiville

IN RECENT YEARS huge numbers have become environmentally conscious in their daily lives. However, the policy of the state has not caught up. Light-touch, self-regulation is still the norm when it comes to big business polluters.

Now with a push towards rubbish-burning plants in Poolbeg, Cork Harbour, Limerick and elsewhere, we need to build a movement to protect our environment.

We’ve all heard of tax havens, where small countries attract big businesses with tax loopholes. Well, Ireland has earned a reputation as a pollution haven. Successive Governments followed a neo-liberal model of light-touch regulation of emissions.

After scandals, including the discovery of an illegal dump on property belonging to Ireland’s largest company CRH, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created.

EPA “not racing to prosecute” big polluters

However, the EPA runs on a shoestring, with a skeleton staff, and relies on companies themselves to record what they emit and submit the figures for inspection. When ratings go over limit, mistaken sensors get the blame.

One table in CRH’s environmental impact statement for their cement factory in Limerick has two thirds of the readings marked unreliable or unread.

The head of the EPA, Laura Burke, was appointed in 2011 by Fine Gael and Labour. A former manager with Indaver, the company trying to build an incinerator in Cork, she takes a so-called “pro-business” approach to regulation and publicly announced she won’t be “racing to prosecute” businesses for not complying with environmental licences.

An incinerator by any other name would still smell as bad

shutterstock_483303772 We should also study the campaign against the North Dakota oil pipeline, where people have held their ground through non-violent civil disobedience. Source: Shutterstock/Diego G Diaz

Incinerators aren’t the only form of rubbish burning. In Limerick, Cadence-Enviropower (CEP) are trying to build a gasification plant, which turns the rubbish into gas which is then burnt.

Irish Cement, a subsiary of CRH, is also looking to move towards burning tyres and waste in their cement kilns in Drogheda and Limerick, calling it “alternative fuels”.

Local campaigns to oppose each of these have emerged right across the country, and have highlighted in their local areas the dangerous chemicals, dioxins and furans, that are produced by burning rubbish and the need to invest in recycling.

The people behind these projects are wealthy, well-connected and have millions in profits at stake. Cadence-EnviroPower (CEP), is part of a web of companies involving former Latin American politicians, US generals, and others described as “shady characters” by the Times of India, the world’s most-read English-language newspaper.

CRH, according to Minister Shane Ross, “bullied their way through the Irish corporate and political world.” My AAA colleague Joe Higgins compared them to an octopus with tentacles throughout the Irish elite.

People-power can win

We can’t rely on any white knight to stop this environmental destruction. Instead, we need people-power campaigns.

We can take heart that CEP have been halted from similar plans in India, Argentina and the US. In fact they haven’t managed to find a country that would allow them to build one of these plants yet.

We should also study the campaign against the North Dakota oil pipeline, where people have held their ground through non-violent civil disobedience. Similar action may be needed here so let’s prepare for it now.

This is not simply saying “not in my backyard” to pollution, we need a national movement to demand people and the planet are put before profit.

Instead of a neo-liberal model, we must fight for a green-socialist plan of public investment to make Ireland a world-leader in renewable energy, recycling and sustainable construction materials.

Cian Prendiville is a Councillor for the Anti Austerity Alliance in Limerick, and is active in the Limerick Against Pollution campaign opposing a number of rubbish-burning plants proposed for Limerick.

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Cian Prendiville

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