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State could face daily fines over clean-up failure of Haulbowline contaminated site

An environmental group has lodged a complaint with the European Commission over what it alleges is the State’s failure to properly progress the decontamination of one of the country’s worst polluted industrial sites.

Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) have claimed the failure to ensure the decontamination of Haulbowline Island in Cork, based on a ‘whole of island’ approach, could lead to daily fines from the European Court of Justice.

The former Ispat/Irish Steel site had remedial works carried out on a nine-hectare waste plot known as the East Tip, a dumping ground between 1996 and 2001. Cork County Council has plans to open a public park on that section in due course.

In May 2015, the Government announced €61million would be provided to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to cover a whole of island approach to the remediation process. It followed a 2005 Programme of Measures submitted to the European Court of Justice, after it ruled Ireland had infringed the Waste Framework Directive, citing Haulbowline as one example of such a breach.

However, work has yet to be carried out on decontaminating the remaining 11 hectares on the island. And machinery used on the East Tip remedial works was removed.

The ownership of the island was transferred to the Department of Defence which indicated there is no definitive timeline for the completion of remediation works.

Tony Lowes of FIE has warned that breaching the 2005 agreement “could lead Ireland back to the European Court of Justice for daily fines”.

But Minister Michael Creed this week told the Dáil preparatory work on cleaning up the island is underway. “While the priority has been remediation of the East Tip, work on assessing a suitable solution for the former steelworks factory site has also been advanced in preparation for the next phase of the remediation project,” Mr Creed said.

“Detailed site investigations have been undertaken and the preparation of an application for planning consent has also been advanced.

“The Government has decided that the Minister for Defence will be the ultimate owner of Haulbowline Island, in keeping with the Naval Service being headquartered on the island. Any remediation solution for these areas will need to be cognisant of their likely long-term use.” Mr Creed said.

Cork East Labour TD Sean Sherlock, who raised the issue, said: “As far as the people of Great Island are concerned, this is a whole-of-Government issue which should be responded to by everybody across Government."

Mr Sherlock said he hoped the clean-up would not lead to a ‘turf war’ between the agriculture and defence departments.

“Some €61 million was originally allocated but my understanding is that only €23 million has been spent so far,” said Deputy Sherlock.