Incineration in Cork harbour: a burning debate that has raged for two decades 

The Chase resistance group set the template for how to fight a community cause and refused to give up, despite numerous setbacks
Incineration in Cork harbour: a burning debate that has raged for two decades 

Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment has campaigned for 20 years to halt the building of an incinerator in Cork harbour.

They set the template for how to fight a community cause, and honed and perfected it over 20 years.

Friday's High Court ruling in their favour may be a boost to the Chase community resistance group, but the residents have learned over and over again that the cold war is never truly won.

With the judge agreeing they were entitled to succeed in challenging the granting of permission by An Bord Pleanála for an incinerator by Indaver in Ringaskiddy, they will now have to persuade the High Court that the application should be quashed.

That will take place in the months ahead, but Chase has never shirked the challenge.

Giving up was never in the psyche of the community group in Cork, not in 2001, 2004, 2012, and not in 2021.

Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (Chase) felt its cause was just, righteous and very, very simple – it did not want an incinerator in Cork Harbour in the proximity of homes and communities.

Court battles

Court battles, oral hearings, public forums, Europe – Chase stuck to its guns over 17 years.

The community has outlasted numerous governments since protesting outside Dáil Éireann in April 2004.

That month saw residents travel to Dublin to request a moratorium on incineration until waste prevention and recycling policies were properly implemented.

Indaver lodged a planning application for a waste management facility in Ringaskiddy in 2001, which would see a 100,000 tonne per year hazardous waste incinerator installed if granted.

A material contravention of the Cork County Development Plan which would pave the way for the planning application’s approval was proposed by the local authority in April 2003, while Indaver simultaneously prepared its case by applying for an Environmental Protection Agency permit.

A protest in outside an EPA hearing in Cork in 2004. Picture: Des Barry
A protest in outside an EPA hearing in Cork in 2004. Picture: Des Barry

Spurred on by a community fiercely resistant to the proposal, county councillors rejected the material contravention proposal the following month, and the local authority rejected the application.

However, the fight was only beginning for the residents.

Indaver was as determined as the residents to get its project over the line, and lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála to overturn the county council’s decision.

Battle lines

Battle lines were drawn, and Chase fought for an oral hearing, which was granted.

It heard testimony in September and October of 2003, and the State planning authority’s inspector was moved to recommend refusal.

To the dismay of Chase, An Bord Pleanála went against its own inspector’s recommendation, and granted permission for the incinerator in January 2005.

A determined community, weary but not slain, lay down to bleed a while and then rose to fight again.

A judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision was sought at the High Court, and after an infuriating and agonising number of delays for Chase campaigners, the right to a judicial review was granted in January 2005.

Chase was fighting fires from all directions at this point. The EPA in October 2004 had granted a draft operating licence to Indaver, in an ominous sign of things to come for the community group.

An oral hearing by the EPA took place in February 2005, and in November that year, it granted a licence to Indaver for two incinerators.

Chase bled once more, but once more got off the canvas to fight on, applying in January 2006 to the High Court for a judicial review of the EPA’s decision.

That EPA decision would eventually end up in the Supreme Court, which would reserve judgement in June 2008.

Fraught negotiations

Fraught negotiations in November 2008 would see the planning application halted by way of mutual agreement, but it would not be long before residents had to motivate themselves for another fight.

That same month, Indaver applied for hazardous and municipal waste incinerators under the so-called “Strategic Infrastructure” process, which Chase had anticipated.

According to An Bord Pleanála, strategic infrastructure development “can generally be described as development which is of strategic economic or social importance to the State or a region”.

Chase members Linda Fitzpatrick and Green party councillor Dominick Donnelly at the Bord Pleanála hearing into the Indaver Ireland incinerator in Ringaskiddy in 2009. Picture: Dan Linehan
Chase members Linda Fitzpatrick and Green party councillor Dominick Donnelly at the Bord Pleanála hearing into the Indaver Ireland incinerator in Ringaskiddy in 2009. Picture: Dan Linehan

Cork county councillors once again voiced their opposition to the application, passing a motion against it in February 2009.

In January 2010, An Bord Pleanála somewhat softened its favourable position towards the proposed incinerator, saying it was likely to refuse a municipal incinerator, but could conceivably give the nod to a hazardous material one.

In April that year, in a sign that Chase was not only prepared to fight on, but also to escalate the campaign, it went all the way to Europe with its case.

Major victory

In a major victory, the European Court of Justice in March 2011 agreed with Chase concerns in a ruling against the Irish State that it had failed to comply with the necessary directive.

Indaver was refused permission by An Bord Pleanála for the incinerator in June 2011, but in a show of determination that mirrored the Chase campaigners, it took its own appeal to the High Court the following month, seeking to have the decision overturned.

That appeal was dropped in October 2012, and residents believed at last that the long fight was entering its final rounds.

It would have to resurrect the struggle in 2015, when Indaver said it was going to try again.

In January 2016, for the third time, the firm lodged an application with An Bord Pleanála.

An oral hearing into the application began in April. Delay after delay after delay on a decision was finally ended in May 2018, when An Bord Pleanála gave the green light for the application, again going against its own inspector’s recommendation.

Having learned the hard way since 2004 to always be ready to fight on, Chase was prepared for this day to come.

In July 2018, Chase applied for a judicial review in the High Court, which would lead to yesterday’s decision.

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