Irish Cement is planning to invest €10m to change process at its factory in Mungret
THE high-profile An Bord Pleanala inquiry into Irish Cement's €10m plans for its Mungret plant has reached a close.
After four days, and dozens of people providing testimony before Inspector Michael Dillon, parties summed up their cases in favour and against the firm's controversial proposals for the area.
Hundreds of people attended the hearing, which began on Tuesday at the South Court Hotel.
Irish Cement plans to phase out the use of fossil fuel and replace it with alternative sources, including used tyres and solid recovered waste. It hopes to introduce, utilise and store up to 90,000 tonnes of alternative fuels.
The controversial plans drew huge opposition from the community, paving the way for the oral hearing.
Residents are fearful the measures will see an increase in toxic emissions into the local environment. But Irish Cement has always maintained that due to the high temperature it plans to burn the alternative, lower-carbon fuels at, it will effectively mean there is no increase in any emissions.
'No more than a black box'
Summing up the case of Limerick Against Pollution (LAP), the group set up in opposition to Irish Cement's plans, Jack O'Sullivan, environmental consultant said: "If planning permission were to be granted by the Board, the existing facility would be better described as a ‘cement production plant involving co-incineration of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes”.
He criticised the quality of data the firm provided on the levels of dioxins in air and soil around the plant - and how it was arrived at.
"It became clear during questioning that Irish Cement’s consultants used the mathematical model as no more than a “black box” into which data was fed, and “results” obtained; and that there was no examination of the basic parameters on which model’s equations depended. I could not help but feel that this was a good example of the “Gigo” principle – garbage in, garbage out," he told the hearing.
He said Irish Cement's proposals run in conflict with both the European Waste Hierarchy and the circular economy.
This, Mr O'Sullivan added, is because "it would involve the destructive burning of a variety of discarded materials end-of-life tyres, plastics, paper, cardboard, wood"
"We would urge the board to refuse permission on whatever grounds you feel are appropriate," he concluded.
Anger is 'palpable'
Tim Hourigan spoke for both LAP and the Mungret Educate Together school parents association, for which he is the chairman.
"The fear and anger is palpable," he said, "Dr Connett and Dr Reid [two of LAP's witnesses] exposed the shortcomings of the Irish Cement application.
"It seems that despite being in operation here since the 1930's, Irish Cement doesn't know how to deal with its neighbours, nor do more than box ticking and inadequate models that lack thorough measurements, in order to ensure that our health, our environment and our precious habitats are not irreversibly injured," he told the hearing.
Dermot Flanagan, speaking on behalf of Limerick council's planning department, added: "Undoubtedly, more information has been proffered to you [the hearing]. A very significant degree of technical information was not put before the planning authority.
"It is a place to rest momentarily, but not dwell because of the significant amount of information that has come before us," he added.
Mr Flanagan pointed out that information provided by the company led the local authority to impose various planning conditions on Irish Cement.
"Based on the information put before the planning authority which did not include some of the very high-tech information put here, the authority came to a view - and it is now up to the board to form its own view," Mr Flanagan said
Concerns 'not adequately answered'
Kevin Feeney, who lives in nearby Ard Aulin, said in his closing submission, that he feels his concerns have not been adequately answered.
"I believe this development is contrary to proper planning and impacts on the rights of Limerick residents to enjoy a safe and accessible environment," he said, "There has been a want of candour by Irish Cement and a lack of due diligence by its experts, especially with regards to dioxin modelling."
Jarlath Fitzsimons, senior counsel for Irish Cement, stressed the company in its proposals is not seeking for a change of use.
"The development has been misdescribed. It is not a waste facility or an incinerator. It is a cement production plant," he said.
He also pointed out the Environmental Impact Statement - criticised by many parties through the hearing - is "more than adequate" to meet the needs of the board.
"It does not deal with hypothetical scenarios - it deals with what is there," he added.
Mr Fitzsimons added: "Perhaps a point lost in translation to some degree has been the saving of up to 40,000 tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide emissions as a result of using alternative fuels in substitution of pet coke. There are two aspects to this: you are using alternative fuels in substitution for a fossil fuel. That has to be an exercise in sustainability."
Philanthropist JP McManus was present for all the days of the hearing, which started on Tuesday morning. He was accompanied through the days by a number of well-known local figures, including Munster legend Paul O'Connell, former county state solicitor John Power, and businesswoman Helen O'Donnell.
Local TDs Willie O'Dea, Niall Collins, Maurice Quinlivan and Jan O'Sullivan were all present at various stages of the four day hearing, as were Senators Kieran O'Donnell and Maria Byrne
Members of Limerick City and County Council also turned up to show their support to LAP. These included metropolitan mayor Sean Lynch, Cllrs James Collins, Daniel Butler, John Loftus and Malachy McCreesh, all of whom represent the Mungret area on the local authority.
An Bord Pleanala inspector Mr Dillon will issue a report containing a recommendation to either grant or reject Irish Cement's plans.
The Environmental Protection Agency will then decide on whether Irish Cement is granted an operational licence to proceed with its reforms in Mungret.
"Following this hearing, I will prepare a a report which will be presented to the board. There will be no further written submissions, and all parties will be notified in writing in due course," he concluded.