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Andrew Lynch: . . . And all this is about rescuing Gormley's career

John Gormley has made his last throw of the dice. By launching a radical new waste policy, the Minister for the Environment is trying to intimidate both Dublin City Council and the US waste company Covanta into abandoning the controversial Poolbeg incinerator project.

It's still far from clear who will ultimately win this battle -- but it's hard to see any outcome in which the taxpayer doesn't end up as the loser.

Gormley's main tactic is crude but, he hopes, potentially quite effective. As well as introducing a new levy on incineration, he plans to impose huge fines on local authorities who don't do everything in their power to stop waste from going to landfill sites. This could force city and county councils to stump up around €11.5m a year, which is money they just don't have -- and would make projects such as the Poolbeg incinerator look like expensive white elephants.


It should be abundantly clear by now, however, that the Americans are not going to walk away without a fight. Covanta have already upped the stakes by lobbying Dan Rooney, the US ambassador to Ireland, who has demanded a private meeting with Gormley to thrash out the issues. They claim that rowing back on the deal now will do significant damage to the reputation of Ireland Inc as a place to do business.

Gormley's problem is that although the residents of Poolbeg are right behind him, he has precious few friends at official level. The incinerator has already received backing from An Bord Pleanala, the Environmental Protection Agency and even the Department of the Environment itself. Meanwhile, the Green Party leader is wide open to the charge that he has a conflict of interest, given that the proposed facility is right in the heart of his constituency and stopping it may be his only chance to save his seat at the next general election.

The people of Dublin South East are entitled to feel outraged that this 600,000-tonne monster is being foisted on them without proper consultation. However, trying to halt it now brings to mind the old joke about a farmer giving directions to a tourist -- "I wouldn't start from here."

Under pressure from so many different interest groups, the Minister has even been reduced to arguing with this week's ruling from the Competition Authority which appears to give the incinerator a clean bill of health.

As usual, Gormley's tough talk is simply not backed up with enough substance. He won no friends with his recent behaviour over the stag-hunting and dog-breeding bills, which dragged the Government into convulsions over issues that were utterly irrelevant to the country's real problems.

As far as Poolbeg is concerned, it is obvious the Minister is trying to spin the legal battle out beyond the next election which is now 20 months away at the very most. The problem with that strategy is that as long as Ireland fails to reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfill, we will be hit with EU environmental fines that could run into hundreds of millions.

There is no way to make this problem magically disappear. Gormley, however, will continue to fight this incinerator all the way -- because he knows all too well that if he loses, his political career will go up in flames.