An incredible 17 years ago, in 2001, Indaver announced plans to bring its hazardous and municipal waste incineration project on stream at the shore end of a yet to be developed peninsula in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, beside the last remaining beach in the area.
Opposition galvanised in pockets around Cork Harbour, to unify shortly afterwards as an umbrella group, Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (Chase) — we knew we were in for a long fight.
We were warned that we needed to prepare for as long as two years to fight the proposal, but we thought it was worth it.
People were concerned, of course, about the legitimate health worries that come with living near an incinerator, those concerns magnified in Cork Harbour by the reality of cancer incidences far higher than the national average in certain pockets.
But on top of that was the fundamental belief this area of Cork Harbour, dominated at the time by the toxic skeleton of Irish Steel, deserved better and had the potential to unlock a brighter future that would make use of the tremendous amenity of the surrounding area.
Three planning oral hearings, over 30,000 objections, three recommendations by hearing inspectors to refuse permission, two actual refusals of permission, two grants of permission, and over 17 years later the area in Cork Harbour adjacent to and surrounding Indaver’s site has been utterly transformed.
It is reaching a potential that in 2001 could only have been dreamed of, with attractions such as Spike Island winning global acclaim, a Naval HQ due soon for a visit by Prince Charles, a thriving hub of education and R&D, and a busy cruise liner schedule.
This transformation has been driven by a policy of regeneration and deliberate planning written into Cork local area plans and backed by millions of euro of Government investment — our hard-earned tax payments.
The inspector, Derek Daly, who presided over the 2016 oral hearing, recognised this change and it formed a key part of his recommendations to refuse planning.
He considered that the proposed development would not be compatible with recent development in the area, including the Maritime College, IMERC and Beaufort campuses, which are supported by objective C-01 of the Local Area Plan, and major public investment on Haulbowline and Spike islands.
It is, therefore, he said, considered that the proposed development would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
An Bord Pleanála didn’t listen to its inspector, just as it didn’t listen to this community, to our elected representatives, and to the incredible number of bodies and individuals who participated in the oral hearing, including the Department of Defence, PDForra, and several tourism and heritage interests.
It chose instead to listen to Indaver, despite Indaver submitting deficient information, exposed only by local experts on the final day of the hearing. It chose to anchor a decision in the past of Cork Harbour rather than embracing its future.
The questions raised by this application go far deeper than what to do with our waste and at this stage go beyond the integral unsuitability of the site. Paramount concerns that have emerged and motivated the incredible response from local communities over the past few days centre around how Ireland makes its planning decisions and the incredible challenge that any community faces to have a say in its own destiny.
It leaves us as a community in a position where we have little faith in the process.
We prove our case to the inspector, who then also gets ignored. There was nothing more that we could have done.
The sacrifices made collectively and individually to get to where we are today are enormous.
Children have been born and raised around campaigns, campaigners have died and are pushing up daisies, family events and important commitments are given less attention than they deserve, and the incredible amount of money raised, in the region of €600,000 to date to fund the ongoing campaign, could surely have been spent on something else.
But if ever there was a community that was ready to fight, it’s the Cork Harbour community, and the time is now. A GoFundMe campaign, launched only on Thursday, has already hit over €21,000.
As Indaver itself said, this is just the latest piece of a process. As we like to say around here — the only battle that matters is the final one.