July 18: Gasification questions that need answers

THE ongoing debacle over the proposed gasifaction plant on the Gortadroma landfill site in West Limerick is an object lesson in flawed communication.

THE ongoing debacle over the proposed gasifaction plant on the Gortadroma landfill site in West Limerick is an object lesson in flawed communication.

Perhaps Limerick City and County Council believed it was consulting adequately with residents, via local councillors, after it organised a delegation to a gasification plant in southern France back in March, mere days before the council approved a lucrative 30-year lease of the 14 hectare site with Cadence EnviroPower (CEP), an Irish-registered company established by two US corporations.

CEP dangled the carrot of around 150 permanent jobs , with hundreds more during the construction phase – quite a proposition for an area badly in need of employment, but at what cost? Months later, that remains the great unknown.

We can only guess at what has been going on behind the scenes at both CEP and Limerick council since members of the local community began asking themselves, in increasing numbers, if the potential environmental risks posed by the plant are sufficiently serious to render the whole idea totally unsuitable. It seems safe to suggest, however, that with a multi-million euro contract in the offing, local opposition is being privately regarded as deeply unwelcome.

We need only refer back to comments made in February by the director for the Adare-Rathkeale municipal district, Tom Gilligan, for the strongest of indications that the council wanted to get the plant through the planning system without the inconvenience of delay.

“We are under pressure from CEP to get this up and running,” said Mr Gilligan back then, adding that the council had not “received any negative feedback” and that the financial bonanza arising from the deal was such that it should be made to happen “as soon as possible”.That sounds like wishful thinking now and the thought that senior figures at CEP were evidently pressuring the council in February – before any remotely acceptable public consultation process was under way – strikes us as deeply unpalatable.

One of the problems with the proposal is that accurate information about the environmental impact of the plant is not easily obtained. We know, of course, that there is huge money to be made. Gas produced at the plant from the thousands of tonnes of municipal waste will be converted into electricity and sold to the national grid. With a long lease in the offing, who could blame anyone living in close proximity to the plant from asking, “What are we getting ourselves into?” Into that vacuum has come what CEP and the council might prefer to dismiss as scare-mongering. But whether entirely accurate or not, the concerns expressed by those opposed to the plant are 100% understandable and they deserve comprehensive answers.

The council must accept that it has handled this matter badly. No matter how many jobs were involved, a plant of this kind was never going to be an easy sell to the people of Ballyhahill and the surrounding area. Its consultation process has been highly unsatisfactory. Taking some local councillors and a couple of community activists to France, on a day when the gasification plant was not even fully functioning, was merely a box-ticking exercise. With the best will in the world, these public representatives could hardly be expected to return with all the relevant facts. These are complicated matters. If the council and CEP are so convinced that there are no negatives arising from the gasification process, they will have to do a much better job of explaining it to the people whose homes are close by, as well as the rest of us.

Many of those deeply concerned citizens will meet this Thursday night in Shanagolden, where CEP representatives are due to attend. They can expect to be severely grilled – and rightly so. Far greater assurances than those already provided will need to be in place if this plant is to be built.