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Minister for time-wasting

DUBLIN City Council appears to have all but won its battle with Environment Minister John Gormley over the construction of the Poolbeg incinerator. In order to do so, it has had to struggle for years and enlist unusual allies.

The saga is very much of the 'it could only happen in Ireland' variety. As with so many other fields of human endeavour, there is a waste crisis in this country and especially in the capital. We have quite simply run out of landfill sites. We have witnessed something comical as well as humiliating, waste sent to Northern Ireland and back again.

At all times the obvious answer was to build the Poolbeg incinerator. But the Green Party dislikes incineration, and its leader sits in the Dail for Dublin South East, the constituency that contains the site. Since he became Environment Minister three years ago, he has blocked the project. Among his tactics was the refusal to approve a "foreshore licence". Now at last the city council appears to have broken the deadlock by issuing a compulsory purchase order to buy 2.5 acres of land (mostly state-owned) on the site.

One may wonder why the council took so long to act. One may ask, too, what kind of government and what kind of Taoiseach tolerates open defiance of official policy by a cabinet minister. The question is all too easy to answer. The Green Party is essential to the existence of the Cowen Government.

So it took an outside force to intervene -- and dramatically, in the shape of US ambassador Dan Rooney.

Mr Rooney's intervention followed pleas by Covanta, the American company contracted to build the incinerator. Representations by foreign diplomats are of course an everyday matter, but this one was different. It was carried out in a glare of publicity.

The Americans had every right to put forward their case, and to want it known. And they must have been baffled by the continuing delays and objections at a time when Dublin was in danger of being suffocated by a mountain of its own waste.

Unfortunately, it still is. Fingal County Council intends to go ahead and build, or rather dig, a "superdump" in north Co Dublin. In the interim, the city will have to send household rubbish to various landfills around the country. There may be alternatives, as Mr Gormley and his party argue, but they are not available at present.

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