'It’s like our prayers have been answered but this must never be allowed happen again'.
That was the message from residents who live overlooking a vast illegal dump on the northside of Cork city as a massive clean-up operation finally got underway.
Loftus Demolition and Recycling moved a team of workers, diggers and trucks onto the council-owned Ellis's yard landbank early today to begin the removal of an estimated 200 tonnes of domestic, building and hazardous waste from alongside the sprawling Spring Lane Traveller Halting Site.
Ray Loftus, engaged by Cork City Council to lead the work, confirmed the presence of up to five tonnes of cracked sheets of asbestos which will have to be bagged and removed separately to a specialist treatment facility in Dublin.
He said the entire clean-up could take up to two weeks and was one of largest such operations he had overseen in recent years.
“There is a fair bit of work to be done, and we’ll clean it up and, hopefully, we won’t have to clean it again,” he said.
Several members of the Travelling community watched from a ridge overlooking the site as Loftus staff wearing specialist shoes and gloves picked their way through mountains of waste to separate steel and metal. A large excavator and a low-loader scraped the remaining rubbish into huge piles, ready for loading onto trucks for transport to a licensed waste facility in Churchfield.
Over €500,000 has been spent on several clean-ups on the site over the last decade. This operation is expected to cost at least €53,000. Several thousand more will be needed to secure the site with new fencing and for the installation of a hi-tech CCTV system at undisclosed locations some distance from the site in a bid to deter future dumping.
Local resident Noreen Murphy who led a strong local campaign demanding the clean-up, welcomed the operation but criticised various state agencies for “failing in their duty” over several years to protect the environment and the health of locals.
“People have been fighting for years. People got burnt out over the issue, from the brick wall they met coming up against council and EPA officials,” she said.
Fianna Fáil Cllr Ken O’Flynn, who repeatedly called for the dumping to be tackled, slated the council for allowing it escalate over the years.
“The city council should have been much more vigilant. This should never have been tolerated. It’s a shocking scene in a modern western European city. It looks like the film set of a war movie,” he said.
The councillor said he supplied to gardai several licence plate numbers of those suspected of being involved in the dumping.
“There are people under serious investigation that are not living too far away from the site," he said.
Originally designed for eight bays, the halting site now hosts over 30 bays on an unauthorised extension of the site.
Mr O'Flynn said: “We should seek government funds to rehouse those that want to be rehoused and those, who want to carry on their tradition as Travellers, should be taken to individual sites that are maintained and managed for their needs. We will have a tremendous amount of land coming into the city with the boundary extension this summer and I would suggest Douglas, Ballincollig and Grange as locations for these halting sites.”
But, he said, Travellers will have to be told straight that thee homes will not come with “a spare acre” for horses.
While the council finalises a long-term strategy for Ellis’s yard, Sinn Féin Cllr Mick Nugent pointed out that it is zoned for Traveller housing.
The Green Party urged the city council to make a decision soon on its future. “Leaving it vacant, even with improved fencing and cameras will not solve the problem,” said its representative, Oliver Moran.