Reflecting on the battle against Cork Harbour incinerator plan

They handed kids to the childminder, burnt the midnight oil brushing up on research and refused to be beaten by the planning system. Environmental lobby group CHASE could write the handbook for running a tight campaign. Later this week, they should know if their marathon efforts have all been in vain, writes Catherine Shanahan.

Reflecting on the battle against Cork Harbour incinerator plan

THE first time Linda Fitzpatrick heard of plans to build an incinerator in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, was at her child’s birthday party.

“My father-in-law, an engineer, was here to celebrate my daughter’s fourth birthday, back in 2001, and asked had we heard we were ‘getting a toxic waste incinerator’ down the road,” she says.

“With kids suffering from asthma, it felt like a punch to the stomach.”

The first time Mary O’Leary heard details of plans to build an incinerator in Ringaskiddy was when she attended a meeting in the Commodore Hotel in Cobh organised by local environmental activists — including Eddie Mansworth, one of the drivers behind Cobh Anti-Pylon Representative Association (CARA).

The first time Marcia D´Alton heard about the incinerator was when a neighbour called to her door in Monkstown asking her to sign a petition on behalf of CHASE, acronym for Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, who were opposed to the incinerator plan. Each of the women’s reactions to this initial exposure was different.

Linda took herself along to a meeting organised by a group of people in Carrigaline.

“There was standing-room only when I got there. It was packed to the gills with 200 or 300 people. After listening to Derry Chambers [Cork Environmental Alliance], Aine Suttle [Galway anti-incineration campaigner], and some others speak, people were asked to sign sheets leaving if they could volunteer to help the Carrigaline group objecting.

“Although word on the street was that the incinerator was ‘a done deal’, my own opinion was that a done deal would be cemented if people did nothing. So I stuck my name down, and ticked a box marked ‘have you any marketing or PR experience’.”

Volunteers were formed into teams and Linda ended up on the “marketing and PR team”. By October of 2001, Linda had taken up the role of spokesperson for CHASE, an alliance of a variety of groups, all with an affinity with the harbour area.

Mary’s reaction was to organise a second meeting at the Commodore. Eddie Mansworth was happy to bow out. He was, at that stage “absolutely worn out” from a protracted battle with the ESB, which had proposed to run a 220kV overland supply line from Aghada to Raffeen by means of 84 pylons via Great Island, on which Cobh is situated.

“I basically wanted to get back to work. I am self employed and I took days and days off for that campaign. Weeks even,” he says.

Mary says that at the time, there was a “loosely organised group of concerned citizens”.

“There was a group in Carrigaline, there was the Ringaskiddy Residents Association and there was a group in Midleton. Over time, more groups joined in — Kinsale, Monkstown. I hadn’t really ever been involved in a campaign, but we could see there was strength in numbers,” Mary says.

Marcia’ s involvement came a little later. She initially refused to sign the petition her neighbour had presented on the grounds that she wasn’t opposed, per se, to incineration.

“My story is different to most of the people in CHASE,” she says. “I was not there at the very start. I was a consulting engineer running my own business.

“At the time I was asked to sign the petition, I was at home, following the birth of my second child.

“I said ‘No’. I was an engineer specialising in waste and I was not, per se, anti incineration. But my neighbour asked me to read the environmental impact statement.” She did, and what she read changed her mind. Marcia was on board by the time of the first oral hearing in Neptune Stadium in 2003.


Grandmother Gertie O’Driscoll’s love affair with Ringaskiddy is lifelong. “I grew up here. I never left the house I was born in,” she says.

The 77-year-old, a member of Ringaskiddy Residents Association, remembers when her home place was “a sleepy little fishing village”, fronted by a low quay wall, beyond which almost every house had a punt tethered.

“The tide came right up to the quay wall and we’d such great fun. Every child swam there, we floated model yachts.

“During the summer, St Vincent de Paul would send deprived children down for a holiday. We used to call them the ‘fresh air children’ because they were sent to enjoy fresh air and country living. They came summer after summer. But of course they don’t come any more.”

Ringaskiddy in 2017 bears no resemblance to the Ringaskiddy of Gertie’s childhood. It’s been commandeered in the interests of industry, she says.

“They came in with their compulsory purchases orders and people had to leave their homes. Some had no objection, but others wanted to stay. Land was reclaimed and the water was pushed back. Now you can no longer see the water from our village.”

The view is obscured she says by a 4m-high noise barrier and visual screen erected by the Port of Cork as part of its redevelopment of existing port facilities.


CHASE chairwoman Mary O’Leary and Cllr Marcia D’Alton at a discussion with the local community opposed to plans for the incinerator in 2016.
CHASE chairwoman Mary O’Leary and Cllr Marcia D’Alton at a discussion with the local community opposed to plans for the incinerator in 2016.

Linda, Mary, Marcia, and Gertie are four very different people with one thing in common: a commitment to doing “the right thing”. The right thing in this case, each one believes, is to protect the integrity of the greater harbour area for future generations.

The women number among the many formidable people who make up the backbone of CHASE, now in year 17 of its battle to prevent Indaver Ireland Ltd siting a 240,000 tonnes per annum waste-to-energy facility, at the end of the Ringaskiddy peninsula.

Joe Noonan, CHASE’s solicitor since 2001, says a couple of characteristics mark CHASE out from other campaign groups: their outstanding knowledge of the harbour area; their ability to stick together; their staying power and their skill at feeding into the different development plans and strategic reviews of the area over the years.

“There is a very strong combination of people who have the advantage of knowing what goes on in the harbour, in the community and in harbour industry — because many of them work in harbour industries and so understand what is good, tolerable and well-managed.

“They’ve managed to work together very well across the community. Even though there are disparate groups, they’ve managed to combine their differences into a strength.

“Their dynamics and their focus are particularly strong, especially over a long haul battle.

“And they are very, very good at plugging into different strategies for the harbour because they recognise it for the exceptional asset that it is and they have a vision for it,” Joe says.

By way of example he says CHASE has always recognised the potential of Spike Island as a tourist attraction, while the government, at one point, saw it as the ideal spot to put joyriders behind bars.

“I remember sitting down the back of a room in 1981 [at a Fine Gael event] and Michael Noonan, then justice minister, getting a big cheer when he said he would be sending joyriders to Spike,” Joe says.

Michael Noonan’s tactic, in the middle of a media storm about joyriding, backfired. The prison opened and closed in 1985 following a riot. The riot allegedly ended when an irate mother of one of the prisoners arrived by boat at the island and ordered her son down off the roof.

Earlier this month, Spike Island was voted Europe’s number one tourist attraction at the World Travel Awards 2017.

Joe says CHASE has the ability to take a strategic overview to see what advantages they can bring to the harbour area.

“It’s about what’s best in the long term. They plug into county development plans and strategic reviews in a very constructive way. They are not identified as always being opposed to developments. They are a very rounded, holistic group, with a much wider vision.

“And they have all the bases covered — science, planning, policy, campaigning - they have a very good insight into what goes into national decision making when it comes to the Cork area.”

An additional strength is their willingness to combine campaigning with “the very gruelling task of taking legal action and seeing it through” — with the financial commitment that entails, and the personal responsibility of putting names to a case, Joe adds.


CHASE’s doggedness and passion for their environment led to an invite to take part in an exhibition which ran until yesterday at the Glucksman Gallery in UCC and now travels to Carrigaline Public Library, followed by Cobh Library.

Tadhg Crowley, curator of education at the Glucksman, said they had two other exhibitions in their main galleries, Now Wakes the Sea and Deep Maps, both of which examine the sea and our relationship to it, and the idea of involving CHASE evolved from that.

“Their campaign has been about preventing something going ahead and they don’t really have many opportunities to do this kind of work. We wanted to give them the opportunity to be creative, to put their material together and to reflect on it.

“CHASE are known to be passionate about the harbour and because they are around so long, they have many experts,” Tadhg says.

Eddie Mansworth agrees. When Mary O’Leary stepped in at the Commodore back in 2001 to help get the CHASE ball rolling, he says “she had a far more professional and technically correct approach than we had. CHASE has done amazing work. They are probably smarter people than we were. I was more than happy that people like Mary came along. They were so clued in.”

Despite playing down his own capabilities, Eddie and other members of CARA succeeded in preventing the ESB building those 84 pylons. People living in the Cork Harbour area have form then, when it comes to successful campaigning.

“Ultimately, they brought an underwater cable from Aghada to Cuskinny, and then ran it underground along the Tay Road to a substation at Cow Cross,” Eddie says. They also ran two cables underwater from Aghada to Ringaskiddy. Basically, they did everything they said couldn’t be done at the outset.”


Members of CHASE celebrating the planning refusal against Indaver in Monkstown in 2011. Picture: Eddie O’Hare
Members of CHASE celebrating the planning refusal against Indaver in Monkstown in 2011. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

Linda describes CHASE as “hardened hats who engage repeatedly in good faith, but know from experience that fairness doesn’t come without a fight”.

She says that first meeting she attended in Carrigaline was followed by 30,000 objections to Cork County Council in relation to Indaver’s first application which was for a 100,000 tonnes per annum hazardous waste incinerator.

“My impression from the outset has been of a very large body of local objection to the proposal, which has been sustained throughout the 17 years, “ she says.

That local opposition has been augmented over time by the support of other agencies. In 2011, the HSE, as the statutory body responsible for public health, made formal its concerns and called for a baseline health study of people living in Cork Harbour. Linda says farmers, doctors, tourism representatives and local sporting groups have also increasingly backed CHASE. Political support has grown too, helped by CHASE’s use of an election flyer in the 2007 general election calling on voters to vote only for parties with no incineration in their party policies.

At the most recent oral hearing in 2016, following Indaver’s third application for planning permission, all four Cork South Central TDs - whose voter base includes Carrigaline and Ringaskiddy — voiced their opposition.

In addition, PDFORRA [Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association] objected on behalf of their members at Haulbowline naval base; the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) objected on behalf of their members at the National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI) and CIT students union objected on behalf of the student body at NMCI. The Department of Defence also entered the fray, citing concerns about the proximity of the incinerator stack to the flight approach paths of Haulbowline and Spike Island. The department has since said concerns about the impact of the proposed incinerator on helicopter safety can be ameliorated if Indaver can guarantee any risk from the plume will be contained within 150m of the stack.

CHASE has embraced the buy-in from state agencies and politicians. The number of experts backing their stance has likewise increased.


Mary O’Leary claims Indaver Ireland boss John Ahern said at a public meeting about 15 years ago that the “one thing” that would get the project over the line “is apathy” — a word not in the CHASE vocabulary.

Marcia says opposition to the incinerator is “now part of our everyday lives”.

If An Bord Pleanála was to decide — and it is due to decide by Friday — to give the go-ahead to Indaver, Marcia says she will “lie on the site until they physically remove me. And I will take with me anyone else who wants to come— and I’ve had plenty of offers!”she says.

There have been many sleepless nights in this fight, she says, but CHASE is buoyed by the strength and commitment of the harbour community. “You wouldn’t have thought it was humanly possible,” Marcia says. “The years of effort and the unity and the opposition — which is increasing, not diminishing.”

Joe Noonan is firmly of the view that if CHASE didn’t exist, Indaver would have been up and running by 2005. He says the alliance is recognised in legal circles in Dublin “as being a significant body”.

“I deal with a lot of community groups and the ones that come to us [Noonan, Linehan, Carroll, Coffey Solicitors], share some of CHASE’s characteristics. But CHASE stands out. They have tremendous resilience and public-spiritedness, and they have it in spades.”

CHASE: 17 years of key dates

Nov 2001:

Indaver lodges planning application with Cork Co Council for waste management facility in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, consisting of a 100,000 tonnes-per-annum hazardous waste incinerator, a hazardous waste storage and transfer facility, and a waste recycling facility.

April 2003:

Cork County manager proposes a material contravention of the Cork County development plan which would allow for the granting of planning permission. Indaver lodges an operating licence application with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

May 2003:

Cork County Councillors reject a material contravention of the development plan. Cork County Council refuses planning permission for the proposed development.

June 2003:

Indaver lodges an appeal with An Bord Pleanála to overturn the County Council refusal. CHASE and over 20 other parties lodge counter appeals with An Bord Pleanála to uphold the planning refusal. CHASE demands an oral hearing.

August 2003:

EPA announces receipt of environmental impact statement from Indaver and invites comments from the public. An Bord Pleanála grants an oral hearing to CHASE.

Sept - Oct 2003:

A long and detailed oral hearing takes place, presided over by senior planning inspector, Philip Jones. In his report, the inspector gives 14 reasons why planning permission should be refused.

Jan 2004:

After three meetings, An Bord Pleanála decides not to accept the report and recommendations of their senior inspector and grants permission to Indaver.

Mar 2004:

Ringaskiddy and District Residents Association and 11 harbour residents lodge an application with the High Court for a judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision.

Apr 2004:

High Court appeal adjourned for three weeks.

May 2004:

High Court appeal adjourned until June 11 at the request of the State and An Bord Pleanála.

June 2004:

High Court appeal adjourned for the third time. Counsel for An Bord Pleanála and the Attorney General requested this extension to get their documentation in order. The judge said the matter would be raised again in three weeks, at which time he expected a full High Court hearing into the matter.

July 2004:

High Court application adjourned for a fourth time at request of An Bord Pleanála. After numerous deferrals and postponements a date for hearing the cases of An Bord Pleanála, the State and the Attorney General, as to why the application should not proceed, is finally granted. The defending parties to present their arguments on October 27.

Oct 2004:

EPA grants draft operating licence. No judge available to hear the case, which is listed for mention again on November 11.

Jan 24 2005:

High Court gives go-ahead for Judicial Review.

Feb - Mar 2005:

EPA oral hearing. Fifteen objections received by the EPA. Most parties present their objections at the hearing. The board of directors of the EPA rejects calls to attend the hearing. Decision expected in October.

Nov 2005:

EPA grants licence for two incinerators in Ringaskiddy.

Jan 2006:

Ringaskiddy and District Residents’ Association Ltd lodge an application with the High Court for a judicial review of the EPA’s decision. No date set for hearing.

March 2006:

National Maritime College of Ireland opens in Ringaskiddy, opposite the proposed incinerator site.

May 2007:

CHASE launches election flier. Voters asked to vote only for parties with no incineration in their party policies.

Nov 2007:

Adjournment sought by Judicial Review applicants pending outcome of a case against Ireland by the European Commission.

Feb 2008:

Indaver takes first steps in Strategic Infrastructure process, and submits for qualification to An Bord Pleanála. Adjournment of EPA decision turned down by High Court, but appealed to Supreme Court

June 2008:

Appeal to Supreme Court heard and Supreme Court reserved judgement at that time. (Re EPA licence)

August 2008:

State and Indaver look for costs against residents.

November 2008:

The State agrees to drop costs against residents. Indaver keep costs order. Planning case dropped by agreement of all parties (due to imminent strategic infrastructure application). As part of these negotiations the residents have to agree to drop the licence case as well. Waste licence stands. Second application lodged for hazardous and municipal waste incinerators under fast-track strategic infrastructure process.

December 2008:

An Bord Pleanála, who had not agreed to drop costs in relation to the withdrawn court cases, are refused costs in court. Court proceedings withdrawn on agreement by all parties in conjunction with dropping of planning case with new application pending.

Feb 2009:

Incinerator discussed at Cork County Council meeting, councillors pass motion opposing incinerator.

April 2009:

Oral hearing starts at Cork Airport Hotel and finally concludes on June 18 after a three-week break mid-way to allow for consideration of further submissions presented by the applicants.

Nov 2009:

International Review of Waste Management published by Government.

Jan 2010:

An Bord Pleanála announces it will “probably” refuse permission for municipal incinerator, but will consider granting planning to hazardous waste incinerator, pending the submission of more information on flood and coastal erosion mitigation by Indaver.

April 2010:

An Bord Pleanála grants Indaver a further extension to August 3 to submit further information on flooding and coastal erosion mitigation measures. CHASE refers repeated extensions granted to Indaver by An Bord Pleanála to the European Commission.

August 2010:

Indaver submits further information.

October 2010:

Cork County Council pass motion of dissatisfaction at Indaver response to An Bord Pleanála.

February 2011:

HSE make formal their concerns about Indaver’s project.

March 2011:

European Court Of Justice rules against Ireland on foot of complaints filed by CHASE.

June 2011:

Indaver refused permission to build.

July 2011:

Indaver appeal for judicial review.

March 2012:

CHASE vote to be represented at Indaver’s High Court challenge of planning decision.

September 2012:

Indaver announces it is once again in “pre-application consultations” with An Bord Pleanála for a new application

October 2012:

Indaver pulls back from High Court Case, due to start October 23, notifying the High Court the day before.

January 2013:

Judge awards costs to An Bord Pleanála and CHASE and critisises Indaver for “abuse of court process”.

February 2013:

Indaver withdraws costs appeal.

July 2015:

Indaver formally announces new application, following a three-year pre-consultation period with An Bord Pleanála.

December 2015:

Storm Frank causes major erosion on Indaver’s Gobby Beach boundary.

January 2016:

Third application lodged with An Bord Pleanála

February 2016:

Explosion rocks Indaver’s flagship Antwerp plant.

March 2016:

Deadline for observations on application March 9.

April 2016:

An Bord Pleanála refuses CHASE request for more time than the 18 days notice period given to prepare for oral hearing. Bord cites need to meet July 2016 decision deadline.

April 19 2017:

Oral hearing opens at Carrigaline Court Hotel to a packed room under senior planning inspector Derek Daly. It runs for 17 days.

July 2017:

The Board fails to meet the July 12 decision date, set under Strategic Infrastructure guidelines. A new decision date of October 26 is set.

October 2017:

Decision deferred a second time to January 24, 2017.

January 2017:

European Commission report on the implementation of the circular economy plan recommends moratorium on new incinerators.

January 2017:

Decision deferred a third time. March 10 set as the new decision deadline.

March 2017:

March deadline passes and Indaver is subsequently invited to submit further information on helicopter flight risk close to incinerator plume, as well as an opportunity to correct dioxin figures. A decision date of August 10 is posted on An Bord Pleanála website.

May 2017:

Observers are given six weeks to respond to the further information submitted by Indaver.

July 2017:

Local Area Plans agreed by Cork County Council on July 25 see Indaver site in Ringaskiddy re-zoned from industrial to educational use.

August 2017:

Decision deferred for a fifth time to September 10.

September 2017:

Decision deferred for a sixth time. An Bord Pleanála invite Indaver in “the interests of natural justice” to respond to observations made on their additional information.

Oct 27 2017:

Decision due date.

— Supplied by CHASE

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