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Wednesday, 5 Feb 2003

Vol. 1 No. 3

Dumping in County Wicklow: Presentation.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome the representatives of the various organisations, namely Cement Roadstone Holdings Ireland, Wicklow County Council, the Eastern Regional Health Authority and An Taisce, the presentations of which we will hear in that order. Each presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

Members of this committee have absolute privilege but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before it. Members are reminded of the longstanding parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite CRH to make its presentation. Perhaps Mr. O'Loughlin will introduce the people in his party.

Mr. Tony O’Loughlin

I am accompanied by Donal Dempsey, managing director of Roadstone Dublin Limited, and John Glacken, our solicitor. I am managing director of CRH in Ireland, the division in CRH responsible for the group's Irish subsidiaries. Mr. O'Mahony, the chief executive, and Mr. Molloy, the chairman of CRH plc., have passed to me the letters of 29 January from the Clerk of the Committee with the request that I deal with the matters raised.

I thank the committee for inviting us to present our views on illegal dumping in County Wicklow. We share the committee's concern in respect of this activity and are pleased to outline the current position as we understand it. Roadstone Dublin Limited, is the owner of approximately 650 acres of land at Blessington, County Wicklow. It has recently been made aware of the illegal dumping at part of these lands. A thorough investigation into the dumping is being conducted by the environmental services of Wicklow County Council. I understand it has engaged the services of an independent consultant to assist it. Additionally, the committee may be aware that the Garda National Bureau of Investigations is also conducting an investigation and interviewing all persons it considers relevant to the matter. It has also taken forensic evidence from the Blessington lands.

These investigations have found evidence of illegal dumping on part of the company's lands. The extent and the sources of this illegal dumping have yet to be determined and are the subject of the ongoing investigations as well as our own internal inquiries. The company is co-operating actively and fully with Wicklow County Council and the Garda investigations and has provided the necessary plant and equipment, at its own cost, as well as its environmental records to facilitate the investigations. We are anxious that the situation be conclusively established as quickly as practicable and we will continue to co-operate actively and fully with the investigation in this regard.

It is the stated environmental policy of CRH to restore or landscape worked-out quarries and pits with a view to achieving longer-term sustainability. Specialist contractors are normally hired for this purpose. In the Blessington case, it appears the illegal dumping may have taken place while this restoration work was being carried out by an external contractor. However, as the committee will appreciate, all the facts are not yet known and the various investigations are continuing.

Roadstone (Dublin) Limited or CRH did not authorise or have any knowledge of such illegal dumping on these lands. We take an extremely serious view of the matter and are upset it took place. We are determined the full position is established and those involved be held suitably accountable. Although not responsible for carrying out this dumping, we are acutely aware of the views of our neighbours and recognise it is important that any damage to the environment is contained and appropriate agreed remediation is effected as soon as practicable.

Due to the ongoing status of the investigations, we feel it unwise to prematurely speculate on their outcome at this stage. We are concerned to ensure that the investigations and any potential legal actions and criminal prosecutions are not prejudiced by anything that might be said before all the facts are known and to ensure allegations are not made which prove to be inaccurate and which may themselves give rise to legal proceedings.

We share the concern of other relevant parties and elected representatives at the illegal dumping which has occurred. The phenomenon of illegal dumping is a significant national problem caused by scarcity of licensed waste disposal facilities, generating an economic framework which encourages unscrupulous operators. It is entirely appropriate that the committee address this problem. Unfortunately, the timing of this meeting is somewhat premature for CRH in relation to its lands in Blessington, due to the current status of the on-going investigations which, as we stated, are not complete but we hope will be in the near future.

We believe we could be of more assistance to the committee once the full facts have been determined and we have certainty as to the nature and extent of the dumping and what is planned in terms of remediation. CRH's Blessington business has been part of the community there for nearly 50 years. We are anxious that our good reputation is not damaged and that these investigations are brought to an early conclusion and a satisfactory outcome for all concerned.

I thank you, Chairman, for inviting us to address the committee and hope the submission is helpful to its deliberations on illegal dumping in County Wicklow.

We will move on and take questions from committee members. I call Deputy Allen.

Can the witnesses outline the type of security in place on site and what controls have been on the entrances and exits to the property over the last few years? Are there security devices in place such as closed-circuit television cameras, manned entrances or log records of visitors?

I note that in 1998, the Bailey family who lived nearby wrote to Wicklow County Council complaining about illegal dumping? I apologise. I am told that refers to a different site. I have not visited the area but I am told the Whitestown site is a different one.

Does the company have any evidence as to the identity of the parties who may have been involved in dumping at the site? Has it provided evidence to the Garda or Wicklow County Council? Does it have evidence which it has not yet supplied to those parties?

We will take a number of questions together and then allow the witnesses to respond.

Deputy Timmins, who represents the constituency, would like to ask a number of questions and I have left it to him to do so.

I will call Deputy Gilmore first.

I thank you, Chairman, for agreeing so promptly to my request that this meeting be held and that the different interests be invited to give evidence to the committee. I thank CRH for agreeing to attend the committee. I appreciate it is early days in the investigations but CRH has, at least, implied a willingness to return to the committee at some later stage to talk further when matters have progressed.

I appreciate that CRH does not want to speculate about the outcome of the investigations that are still under way but I was surprised that, having entered that caveat, Mr. O'Loughlin speculated on the illegal dumping occurring while external work was being carried out by a contractor. When did that work commence and how long did it last?

Mr. O'Loughlin said the company had recently been made aware of illegal dumping. When did the company first become aware there was illegal dumping in Blessington and how did it become aware of it? Does the company have any evidence of illegal dumping at any of its other facilities in County Wicklow or anywhere else, other than Blessington? Was Wicklow County Council dumping at Blessington or any of the other locations in Wicklow? He said there is evidence of illegal dumping and that the company has carried out its own internal inquiries. I appreciate Mr. O'Loughlin will be constrained in telling us what those inquiries have thrown up in detail, but will he tell the committee of the company's assessment at this stage - from the information it has from feedback and the ongoing investigations - about the scale of the illegal dumping in Blessington? Does he have any estimate of tonnage or can he give the committee a feel for the scale?

Perhaps Mr. O'Loughlin would like to reply to those questions.

Mr. O’Loughlin

A lot of questions have been asked. As I said in the statement, we are at a delicate stage in this procedure in that there are a number of official investigations going on and, unfortunately, I cannot give an account at this stage of what actually happened other than to reiterate that the dumping occurred without the authorisation or knowledge of CRH. When I said this had happened when it was being back-filled by a contractor, I actually said it may have happened - I am just surmising. We cannot come up with any other theory or any other time it might have happened. We were back-filling very large areas and the material was so deeply buried in those areas that clearly the back-filling was put in on top of the material that was put there. It is possible, and the wording I used in the statement was that it may have happened.

When did the investigation start? During the summer of 2002 we were informed that there may have been a problem and the investigation proceeded. At that stage the Garda Síochána became involved and began an investigation of their own, questioning all the relevant parties to the operations in Blessington, both our own employees and external people. I am not party to the Garda report: I hope the Garda investigation, which is part of the two investigations, will clearly come up with the answer as to how it happened. I am not at liberty at this meeting to go any further than that because of the legal implications I pointed out.

With regard to the company's assessment at this stage of the scale or tonnage, unfortunately Wicklow County Council, or its environmental division, is doing an extensive investigation on the site and at this stage I am not in a position to speculate on the size of the problem as this is a matter for the investigation and that report will be due out when the task is completed. As I said in the report, the timing of this for us is a little difficult in that there are many legal difficulties facing us: there are two outside investigations going on as well as our own internal investigation, and we cannot go into the detail of those because they all cross-reference with one another.

I appreciate that, but it might be difficult for us to come up with a good time for you.

Mr. O’Loughlin

We were invited here today, and accepted the invitation, to outline the position as we have it today. That is what I have done.

Was Wicklow County Council dumping in Blessington or at any of the other sites?

Mr. O’Loughlin

As I said, this is part of the ongoing investigation and it is not appropriate for me to comment at this juncture.

Does the company know whether Wicklow County Council was dumping there?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Clearly the company knows the position, but I cannot discuss it here: it is a matter for the investigation.

On a point of order, I asked a number of questions to which Mr. O'Loughlin did not refer at all.

Would Mr. O'Loughlin like to respond to some of the questions raised by Deputy Allen?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Deputy Allen mentioned security and supervision. This is a much more difficult site than we would normally have in our company. There are a number of entrances to it, not all controlled by ourselves. On account of this, it is impossible for me to describe to the Deputies how this might have happened. We have our own security at our own end, but there are other entrances. We cannot give an account at this stage of how it happened, other than to reiterate that it happened without the authorisation or the knowledge of Roadstone.

Surely, under the industrial safety legislation Roadstone must have controls on its areas of activity. If it was complying with these laws it would have been monitoring entrances and exits. It must have had some way of checking those who were coming and going.

Mr. O’Loughlin

As I said, Deputy, I am sorry. I have made a statement and I cannot go beyond what I have said on the matter. It is a matter for investigation by the Garda and Wicklow County Council how this might have happened and we must await the outcome of that.

My other question was whether the company has evidence in its possession relating to those who have been entering its properties, for example, video evidence.

Mr. O’Loughlin

We have co-operated with both of the investigations and supplied whatever evidence we were asked for to the authorities.

I take it from Mr. O'Loughlin's response that the company has the evidence and that it supplied it to the relevant authorities.

Mr. O’Loughlin

I am saying we have supplied whatever records, etc., we have been asked for by the Garda authorities and by Wicklow County Council in both of their investigations.

We will move on now and take a few more questions.

Mr. O'Loughlin stated that he controlled 650 acres of land. Does any part of these lands drain towards Blessington reservoir? Is the company currently engaged in moving that waste or are CRH or any contractors employed by you currently moving the waste from one part of that site to another or elsewhere? Does Mr. O'Loughlin feel that the loss of a domestic waste collection by Wicklow County Council for two years contributed to the problems the company now has on its lands at Blessington?

I thank the Chairman for facilitating me and I thank Roadstone for attending the meeting. I am a representative of Wicklow and Blessington is in my local electoral area. This problem is a matter of grave concern to everybody in the area. It is very important that it be addressed in as open a manner as possible. I have realised a difficulty today from what the representatives from Roadstone have said. It has come to my attention in the last few days that the Garda had evidence of material that was dumped at the Roadstone site as far back as last August. This is a matter I will take up with Wicklow County Council afterwards as it is the authority that should have been dealing with the problem in the first instance. It appears that it did not gather any evidence until perhaps last month, although I will have to confirm that with it. Can Mr. O'Loughlin confirm that it was the Garda that first brought the matter to the attention of Roadstone? Did the gardaí move in on the site in some manner at the end of summer last year? When did Wicklow County Council contact Mr. O'Loughlin about it? When did it move in on the site?

Mr. O'Loughlin seems reticent about elaborating on his own internal inquiry. Can I take it that he is of the impression that some of his staff, unbeknownst to the company, participated in this illegal dumping? He says that Roadstone did not actually authorise it, but that it may have happened during a period when external contract work was carrying on. While I am not privy to the amounts of waste that have actually been found there, I find it difficult to believe the explanation that it took place during this back-filling. Perhaps Mr. O'Loughlin could elaborate on the time usually taken for back-filling to go on. Is it a continuous process? What term would the contract last for?

Deputy Gilmore wondered if Mr. O'Loughlin had any concerns about other sites, in County Wicklow or anywhere else. I do not recall whether he answered. I acknowledge that at least he has shown up in front of the committee, and as the company is not the first to have been involved in illegal dumping in Wicklow, it is good to see him here. Maybe we should try to get some more people in who have been involved. There was an article in The Irish Times on 1 February that seemed to intimate that Roadstone may have had in its possession photographic evidence that Wicklow County Council dumped at the landfill itself and that it may have raised this issue with the council. Would he care to elaborate on that or pass any comment? The impression was being given that Roadstone intended to use this fact as a barter with Wicklow County Council during the investigations. I have taken that from the insinuations in that article of 1 February.

Mr. O'Loughlin said that Roadstone recently became aware of this illegal dumping on its land. How recently was that? What is the relationship between the company, Roadstone, and its directors? What is Roadstone? The people working there are Roadstone employees. We must get real. I do not understand how Mr. O'Loughlin was unable to give the estimated tonnage illegally dumped when it was widely reported to be over 100,000 tonnes. How could that have been going on without Roadstone, or whoever might be behind Roadstone, being aware of it? It would take years to accumulate such an amount. Who was aware of it? What part of Roadstone was unaware of it?

If Roadstone is carrying out back-filling, what material is used and where is it sourced? Is it top soil? If there are so many lorries taking material from Roadstone works to building sites, are all those lorries weighed on entrance and exit? Are they empty going in and full coming out or do they go in full of one thing and come out full of another?

There was a submission from the Quarry and Concrete Family Alliance to the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business in June 2002. That should be examined because it is relevant to this question.

Mr. O’Loughlin

We are dismayed and upset that this illegal dumping took place. We are taking it seriously and co-operating fully. Many of the questions about the practicalities of this happening are being considered by the two investigations. Anything I might say about movement of product might jeopardise them, so I am not in a position to elaborate any further.

Drainage was mentioned. We have not been notified of water pollution emanating from our lands by any of the regulatory authorities. If we are notified we will deal with it immediately. In the meantime, there is ongoing further testing of the water in the area in co-operation with Wicklow County Council. That is a priority in the investigation.

There was a question about the loss of waste collection. That is not an issue for me.

What about the way the waste is being moved on the site at present?

Mr. O’Loughlin

The waste is not being moved on the site.

Do the lands drain towards the reservoir?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Yes. All of that area does. The timing of the discovery was sometime in the summer of 2002, although I am not sure if it was July or August. Wicklow County Council informed us initially and it was then followed by the Garda.

Who extracted the material in August? There must have been discovery works because the Garda produced material at the time.

Mr. O’Loughlin

The Deputy should ask why the investigation was started when Wicklow County Council appears before the committee.

The question was asked if there was a fear that something similar could happen in other areas.

Mr. O’Loughlin

No. We have carried out an audit at each of our locations and we are satisfied that there is no illegal dumping.

Is Mr. O'Loughlin saying that Roadstone was unaware of any of this until it was informed by the county council or the Garda last summer? It has been in the public arena that it had been going on for years.

Mr. O’Loughlin

That is correct. We were not aware of any illegal dumping on our lands in Blessington.

Who are "we"?

Mr. O’Loughlin

The company - Roadstone.

Mr. O’Loughlin

CRH is the holding company. The company that operates the Blessington sand pit is Roadstone Dublin Limited.

Was anyone sacked for not seeing all of this stuff being dumped? I fail to understand how this could happen.

Mr. O’Loughlin

We are dismayed and upset that it has happened and that is why we are co-operating with the Garda and Wicklow County Council - to find out what exactly happened. As I said at the end of the presentation, this meeting is premature for us because of the legal implications of both investigations. I said clearly in the statement that we would be in a better position to answer the committee's questions when all the matters are clear to us. I apologise for not being able to answer them more clearly but I do not have the facts or results of the investigations by both bodies.

I thank the delegation for coming in. Would it be possible to go through, in some detail, what happens when a pit is dug? I do not know. What is the procedure? A sand or gravel pit is dug, something the company does all round the country, and it presumably has to be filled in at some stage. What is the timing and the procedure and what security is in place? How long does it take? How come it did not happen in this case?

Who is responsible for the lands in Wicklow we are discussing? I presume it is CRH but there is no one from that company here, Mr. O'Loughlin is from Roadstone. We have already dealt with when he was made aware of this issue.

Is it true that at Dillonstown five pits had been discovered which contained 200,000 tonnes of waste each? I presume Mr. O'Loughlin knows about that. He makes a great virtue of co-operating with the investigations, and that is reasonable, but I see no problem with giving us answers to our questions and giving exactly the same answers to the investigations. There is a lawyer with Mr. O'Loughlin advising him otherwise, but surely he could give specific answers to specific questions. I presume he will give the same answers to the same questions in the investigations. It would be helpful if these came into the public arena now so that Members of the Oireachtas involved could get that information early and make their own judgments.

I appreciate the presentation made. As a member of the relevant local authority, I was very conscious of the fact, for quite a long time before the investigations began on the Roadstone site, that there were calls from a local councillor in west Wicklow in particular for these investigations to be carried out. I am curious because my impression is that Roadstone was vehement in its denials of any illegal dumping having taken place there.

Were the Roadstone representatives not concerned at the fact that this issue was being raised in the media and at local authority level, and did they not carry out their own comprehensive investigations to see whether or not there was any substance to the allegations? They say that the county council came to them and informed them that this was now and issue. I am interested to know if they could detail what evidence there was at that point. If they are not willing to talk about the specific security arrangements and controls in place at the Blessington site, perhaps they could explain to us their company policy as to what controls they have in place. They run a very successful and lucrative business, and it is presumably in their interests to have very strict controls over traffic going in and out of their various sites throughout the country. I would like them to explain what precise security management policy they adopt and presumably apply at various sites, including this one.

The issue has arisen of a local arrangement with the county council on a limited form of dumping, and I would like clarification as to their view on any local arrangement on this site or the Fassaroe site. It is important to be specific in regard to the Fassaroe site. The Roadstone representatives are saying that, in general, they can stand over a statement that there is no illegal dumping as far as they are aware in any of their other sites. I know this was the position they adopted in relation to the Roadstone site at Blessington, but it turned out not to be the case. Have they carried out any investigation at all in relation to the Fassaroe site? If so, what are those investigations?

I am bamboozled. I spent much of my life working in quarries, pits and dumps. It appears there are 650 acres involved here in Wicklow, and I am bamboozled to think that we have not been told clearly how many entrances there are to these sites. Is there a gateway at every entrance? Are they manned, as they are in remote parts of Kerry? I know the people manning the gates in Kerry. There are watchmen in place all day and night.

I am a complete outsider here, in fairness, but I am flabbergasted that there are 650 acres of quarry land and we do not know how many entrances or exits there are on those sites. We do not know who would check a load in or out. Can one take any kind of load in or our of these sites without being seen by a man or woman?

I compliment you, Chairman, for holding this gathering, but I would be extremely interested in continuing the discussion again on another day when more information is available to the members of the committee. We would hope to be told exactly that there have been four, five, six or whatever number of entrances being manned over the years and to be shown a log book with details of loads going in and out and the registrations of the vehicles involved. These details should be marked clearly. We do not know how many entrances or exits there are on these sites.

I am also very interested to know what went into the landfill. We, only allowed good quality fill in the south,. What do I mean by that? I mean that in a village or town like Killarney, three or four houses will be knocked down. The stone debris will be drawn out and turned back into its original form of sand and gravel. I wonder, in this case, however, whether all types of material were dumped. Was household waste dumped alongside the stone that came in after the house was knocked down? This is a huge story, and it is our duty to find out what went in to replace the load that came out, as referred to by Deputy McCormack. What went in to fill that space, and is it safe to leave it there forever or must it be taken out again? This is of huge significance, and I am very interested in what Senator Ross said. He said that 200,000 tonnes of refuse was dumped there. That is a massive amount of refuse. Are we talking about 200,000 tonnes of stone, household refuse or what? I do not want to hog the meeting, Chairman, and take too long, but I am extremely interested in this and would like to talk to these gentlemen again when they have more information and know more what they are talking about.

I am conscious of the time and will be brief. I welcome the representatives of CRH and Roadstone. I wish to put a few questions. Many of the issues I wished to ask about have already been raised. Did CRH or Roadstone have a representative in place to check on the work that was being carried out? I know they are not implying that the contractor carrying out the work for them was drawing in any waste or rubbish, but was any company check done on that contractor and has that contractor any connection with a waste company? Has CRH or Roadstone any connection with or shares in any waste contractors or companies, or are any members of CRH or Roadstone involved in any waste companies or contractors that collect waste? If so, are any of these companies under investigation for illegal dumping in this site?

Mr. O’Loughlin

There were a lot of questions there. If I could just come back to what Deputy Healy-Rae and Senator Ross said and try to clear up an issue, clearly, we have procedures in place at all our locations, and any load going in or out is checked, as one would expect. When we dig a pit, we extract sand and gravel from a particular area. What happens in sand and gravel pits is that the topsoil or clay that is of no use to us is removed and replaced, so we reinstate and move the material. That does not happen in all cases, but where there is a lot of material, as in Blessington, it all happened internally at the location. None of the material that we would normally back-fill came from outside. It came from within our own area where we were working. That should go some way towards explaining why and how it happened. We would just move the material with dumpers internally from area A to area B. It would be left there and some silt material from ponds would also be piled there. When it would dry out in time it would all get bulldozed and levelled out. In time we would reinstate and make new fields out of it and return it to agricultural use.

I am sure that is what was seen at many of our locations around the country. That is just to give a picture of how this business operates. Senator Ross asked about the quantities. The issue of quantities is pure speculation. Nobody has quantified what has been found on these lands and we are awaiting the results of the investigation. I cannot say any more than that. Any figures the Senator has seen are pure speculation.

On the issue of whether CRH has shares in any waste company, I am not aware that CRH or Roadstone has shares in any waste company. I think I can be absolutely definite about that. We are not in the waste business and, therefore, there is no advantage in us taking waste in or having waste that we want to get rid of. We are not in the waste business.

Are there any members of the board who have a connection with any waste companies?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Not that I am aware of. Obviously, we have external directors but I am not aware that any of them have any connection with the waste business, and the company certainly does not. No dumping of any illegal waste that we are aware of has taken place at the Fassaroe site.

Did Wicklow County Council dump material from the N11 when it was being constructed in Fassaroe?

Mr. O’Loughlin

There is no material dumped from the Glen of the Downs. Some top soil was removed from the Glen of the Downs site and placed in Fassaroe.

By Wicklow County Council?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Not by Wicklow County Council, by the contractor.

Was there an agreement allowing for that?

Mr. O’Loughlin

There is an agreement between the contractor and Wicklow County Council in that regard.

Mr. O’Loughlin


And with Mr. O'Loughlin's company?

Mr. O’Loughlin


They dumped spoil from the Glen of the Downs.

Mr. O’Loughlin

It was not spoil, it was actually top soil - it is clay. The same as any ground would be reinstated with clay.

Are there any trucks going in now?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I can answer that question. There is a misapprehension here. There are trucks going in and out of Fassaroe every day of the week. The trucks going in are full of sand, chips and aggregate to make concrete that is batched on the site of Fassaroe. That material comes back out in the roundly drum trucks that one sees as concrete. That is why there is a misapprehension that there are full trucks going in and empty trucks coming out.

Does the same apply at the Blessington site?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Yes, it does.

The material is manufactured with material that is brought in.

Mr. O’Loughlin

In the Fassaroe site we bring in chip aggregates and sand and those trucks come out empty.

I am talking about the Blessington site.

Mr. O’Loughlin

There is no concrete batching plant at the Blessington site.

Are the lorries weighed before going in and coming out of the Blessington site?

Mr. O’Loughlin


Will those figures be available when Mr. O'Loughlin comes before the joint committee again? If so, I will refrain from asking my questions until then? Will the weights of the lorries going in and coming out be available when he returns to the joint committee?

I wish to ask a question about a restoration programme carried out by Roadstone. In answer to Deputy Healy-Rae's question, Mr. O'Loughlin mentioned that the top soil, etc., was kept on-site and spread by his own machines. Can I take it that Roadstone carries out the restoration programme under sandfill, quarries, etc., as it is obliged to do? If reports are carried out by Roadstone personnel in regard to what is being covered over, are such records and reports of those areas available from Roadstone? Has any illegal dumping been found under any of those sites where Roadstone carried out the restoration programme? If security firms patrol Roadstone lands have their records shown any illegal dumping?

On a point of clarification, Mr. O'Loughlin explained the position at Fassaroe. Will he clarify if loaded trucks are going into the Blessington sites?

Mr. O’Loughlin

We draw material into the site on the eastern side of the road, on the left hand side as one drives into the village for processing, so material is brought in there for processing.

Not on the other side?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Not on the other side.

The question asked by Senator Brennan.

Mr. O’Loughlin

Normally the position is that we move the material ourselves with the dumpers working on the site to the area of restoration and it is tipped out there. Special machines are needed with very wide track wheels on them to work on these soft conditions when pushing in reinstated material. We get contractors to do that work. We do not keep those machines because we would not have ongoing work for them on a particular site. We keep topographical records of the pits and what reinstatement is done and they are available to the investigation.

On the security issue, we did not get any feedback from our security people about any illegal movement of trucks going in and out of the site. We would like to know the answer to it and, hopefully, within a short period we will have all those answers.

May I ask one question which Mr. O'Loughlin omitted to answer. Who is ultimately responsible for what happens in the company's pits in west Wicklow?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Clearly, we own the land but the matter of who is ultimately responsible is a matter for the Garda investigation and the Wicklow County Council investigation.

What is Mr. O'Loughlin's view as to who is ultimately responsible?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I am not going to speculate. I have to wait for the result. A Garda investigation is going on and I am not going to double-think that one.

So it could be possible that the company is not responsible for what happens on its lands, on 650 acres?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I am not saying that.

But Mr. O'Loughlin is not saying he is either.

Mr. O’Loughlin

I have answered the question. We will have to await——

He has done exactly the opposite. He has done what he is doing. With the greatest respect, he is refusing to answer questions.

Mr. O’Loughlin

This is not an interrogation. I am answering——

No, it is to elicit information.

Mr. O’Loughlin

I am answering the questions to the best of my ability at this point in time. The Senator is asking me who is responsible. I have got to wait for the results of those investigations. This is not just a company investigation, it is the technical bureau of the Garda Síochána which is investigating this matter and has questioned a great many people. I have to wait for the results of that investigation before I can comment one way or the other.

It is not sub judice. May I say for the final time that this is totally unsatisfactory. There is no reason whatsoever why they should not give us exactly the same answers they intend to give to the Garda or anybody else. Unless there is an inconsistency Mr. O'Loughlin has nothing to fear from telling the joint committee exactly what he thinks is happening. He has nothing to fear in coming straight out into the open. I am not saying there is anything wrong with what is he is doing, but I would like to hear what is happening because we are getting no answers whatsoever.

Mr. O’Loughlin

My advice is clear and I have given it to the Senator. I have given him as much information as I can possible give today.

It is zero.

Mr. O’Loughlin

It is not zero.

Was the agreement for the dumping of the top soil off the N11 at Fassaroe an arrangement that involved payment to the company?

Mr. O’Loughlin


There was no payment to the company.

Mr. O’Loughlin

No. We had a beneficial use for the top soil, if I can answer the question in that way, for landscaping the area in that pit.

Mr. O'Loughlin said the company was dismayed at what it has discovered about the illegal dumping in Blessington. When Mr. O'Loughlin says the company did not know of it and that there was dismay, on whose behalf is he saying that? Is he saying it on behalf of the directors or senior management of the company or he is telling the committee that nobody at any level in the company knew of the dumping in Blessington? Dismay is something we are probably all experiencing here. A total of 650 acres is not exactly a several thousand acre ranch in Texas. It is a relatively small portion of land and I have to confess that if the extent of dumping turns out to be as reported, or anywhere near that, with high numbers of tonnage of waste of different kinds dumped in Blessington, the members of the committee and the public will be dismayed that nobody in the company ever saw a lorry going in with waste or ever knew waste was being dumped there. It is stretching credibility that the company did not know about it.

We have a saying in Cork - it is like getting blood out of a turnip. I am unhappy that this committee has experienced difficulties in getting responses to questions we have put. I reluctantly accept the company's position and I ask that the company be brought back before the committee again when its representatives believe they are in a position to respond to the questions they have effectively refused to answer today.

I acknowledge there are other sites in Wicklow where allegedly illegal dumping has taken place. We should ask the owners of all sites where illegal dumping has taken place to come before this committee also. This is about illegal dumping in Wicklow, not just on those sites.

A few moments ago Mr. O'Loughlin said the safety company on site did not report any vehicles moving illegally within the compounds. I presume that is correct from my recollection of it. In view of that comment, is there a procedure in place whereby the security company can report to management? Do they report to management on a regular basis? If they do, is it on a daily or weekly basis and would he be sufficiently happy with the reports of these safety companies which are furnished to him?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I will go back to Deputy Gilmore's question. I have to say, and I am not stonewalling, that I am not aware of anybody in our company who knew about the illegal dumping of this matter in Blessington.

Is Mr. O'Loughlin saying that in the light of what I presume are extensive internal investigations since this matter came to his attention?

Mr. O’Loughlin


Is Mr. O'Loughlin saying that nobody in the company at any level, from a gate man to a senior manager, knew that there was illegal dumping taking place in Blessington?

Mr. O’Loughlin

They are the facts that are at my disposal at the moment, yes. The gardaí have spoken to everybody in our location, not once but twice, from the ground up. That investigation is ongoing but we have no evidence to date that any of our people knew this was going on. That is all I can say to you here. That is what I know. The Deputy can say it is incredulous or whatever but——

To clarify one point, is it that they were not aware of the dumping or the fact that it was illegal dumping?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Nobody has said that they saw any dumping taking place on that site.

Are Mr. O'Loughlin's internal investigations continuing? Does he accept that?

Mr. O’Loughlin

Our internal investigations are continuing, along with the other two investigations. I said at the outset and I will repeat it again that today's session is premature for Roadstone. We have not got all the answers to this matter. Investigations are continuing. I am sorry I cannot add any more to that. If I had the answers, I would give them to the Deputy, but I do not have them.

I am not interrogating Mr. O'Loughlin. Does he accept that nobody in the company knew?

Mr. O’Loughlin

There are ongoing investigations. That is all I can say to the Deputy. I cannot second judge it at this point until the investigation is complete and we have the reports at our disposal. I am sorry I cannot elaborate further.

We will just ask you two more questions before we bring the session to a close. You mentioned earlier that it was your view or that it was possible the illegal dumping took place while restoration was being carried out by an outside contractor. Could you outline the terms of that contract?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I am sorry, Chairman, it is getting too specific. I am not avoiding the question either. There is an issue here that contractors are employed to do this work and I cannot go into the detail of that because of the implications for those people.

You mentioned earlier about the other inquires that are taking place and how you are co-operating fully and actively with them.

Mr. O’Loughlin


I cannot visualise other inquiries taking place that would not ask the same questions we are asking here today, and you have not been very forthcoming or enlightening to the committee in regard to our questions.

Mr. O’Loughlin

I am sorry. I have legal advice on this issue and I have to be very clear with you that I cannot go any further today. I stated clearly in the document that there are likely to be prosecutions and whatever relating to these issues and therefore I have to be very careful about what I say today.

Is there a procedure in place whereby the safety company which is on the site reports to the management? That question may have slipped Mr. O'Loughlin's mind. Also, is that company an in-house safety company or an outside contractor?

Mr. O’Loughlin

It is an outside security company that patrols the premises outside hours, and it reports regularly to the management.

How often is "regularly"?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I would have to check as I do not know off the top of my head.

If there was any movement or any type of suspicious nature, would Mr. O'Loughlin be confident the company would report that to management?

Mr. O’Loughlin


Your company's first priority must be to give a return to shareholders. How far up the list of priorities would you place the environment?

Mr. O’Loughlin

The environment is a key priority of the company. We spend millions annually on restoration, planting trees and doing all the environmental work required. There is a clear statement from the board of directors in the annual report. It is right up there on our priority list and that is why as a company we are upset and dismayed as to how this occurred. We are determined to get to the bottom of it and to take whatever action is necessary. That is our position at this time. The environment is a clear priority in all of our locations throughout the country and throughout our group worldwide.

We will take a final question from the Minister of State, Deputy Roche.

I compliment the committee on having this hearing. Mr. O'Loughlin said the company pays a huge amount of attention to environmental issues. Our feeling in Wicklow is that there are hundreds and thousands of tonnes of waste on his property. I do not expect him to comment on the exact tonnage but how can we believe his company has any concern for the environment if this illegal dumping was happening there? The material clearly was not carried in by fairies in the middle of the night. If one were to go to the properties that the company owns in the Blessington area, one would realise that the dumping must have been done over a substantial period. Is Mr. O'Loughlin expecting us to believe that his company had no consciousness of what was going on?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I have already dealt with many of these issues. The figures are pure speculation. The investigation is continuing.

The tonnage is significant.

Mr. O’Loughlin

Nobody knows what the tonnage is until the environmental report is published by Wicklow County Council. I am not privy to what it has discovered or it is saying is there.

Mr. O'Loughlin has access to the company's lands. He has significant engineering staff——

Mr. O’Loughlin

Illegal dumping has gone on here. We are not privy to the quantity or the amounts that were put in there by some unscrupulous person. That is part of the two investigations that are proceeding at the moment. To be honest, I would love to have the answers here in front of me today, but I do not have them. I would love to be more frank with the Minister of State and to answer his questions in a good deal more detail but unfortunately I cannot do so at this time.

Has Mr. O'Loughlin been to the site to have a look at things on the ground?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I have visited the site.

Was Mr. O'Loughlin perturbed? What was his reaction?

Mr. O’Loughlin

I visited the site. I saw the hole Wicklow County Council had excavated on that day and again I have to wait until it decides what the parameters of that dumping is. At this point I would be only speculating as to what I think. I am not an expert in this field. Therefore, I am not prepared to sit here and speculate as to what I saw and the meaning of it. We must wait for the report.

We will bring the first quarter of the meeting to a close. I thank the representatives of CRH for their presentation to the committee.

Are representatives of the company prepared to come before the committee again when they are in a position——

I believe Mr. O'Loughlin said he would come before the committee again. I thank the representatives for meeting us today.

We will suspend the sitting briefly before the next group, Wicklow County Council, comes before the committee.

Sitting suspended at 3.40 p.m. and resumed at 3.45 p.m.

We will resume with a presentation by Wicklow County Council. I welcome the delegation from Wicklow led by the county manager, Mr. Edward Sheehy.

Before he commences his presentation I draw his attention to the fact that members of this committee have absolute privilege, but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the longstanding parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

We will hear the presentation from the council and then have a question and answer session. I call Mr. Sheehy and invite him to introduce his colleagues.

Mr. Edward Sheehy

My colleagues are Mr. Phillip Duffy, senior executive officer in the environment section and Mr. Thomas Murphy, senior executive officer in the corporate affairs section.

I thank the Chairman and the members of the joint committee for inviting me to give them my views on the problem of illegal dumping in County Wicklow. We in Wicklow County Council obviously share their concerns regarding a number of serious incidents of systematic illegal dumping which have occurred mainly between 1998 and 2001 and which have come to light as a result of investigations by Wicklow County Council. We are delighted to assist the members in any way possible in their deliberations into the matter.

It is important to put the illegal dumping in Wicklow in context. Wicklow is the garden of Ireland and is a beautiful county blessed with wonderful natural amenities including, coastlines, mountains, lakes and rivers. Wicklow County Council, through its policies and activities, invests considerable resources in protecting, enhancing and developing the county in order to ensure that it remains a top class location for our customers to live, work and relax in. Our success in this area can be judged from the large number of internationally acclaimed films which have been made in Wicklow, the large number of visitors to the county from Dublin at weekends and during holiday periods who come down to enjoy the various amenities which Wicklow offers, the large number of tourists drawn to the county each year and the intense development pressures placed on Wicklow by people who wish to locate in the county because of the excellent quality of life it provides.

We were shocked and appalled at the recent discovery by council officials that the illegal dumping of domestic, commercial and even hospital waste has been taking place on a commercial scale at a number of sites in the west of the county for several years.

I will give some of the background information in relation to this. In August 2001, council staff followed a truck containing waste to a site owned by Mr. Fenton at Coolnamadra. Mr. Fenton was warned about the illegality of what he was doing and the penalties and risks involved. He undertook that he would cease dumping, clean up the site and remove waste therefrom to an authorised facility. A follow-up inspection in October revealed that Mr. Fenton had not honoured this undertaking and that a significant amount of additional waste, including hazardous hospital waste has been dumped at the site. The site was sealed off and was subjected to extensive and intensive investigation by the county council and the gardaí.

The admission by a major Dublin based waste contractor that this waste had been collected by it from two well known Dublin hospitals and had passed through its transfer station in Sheriff Street before being illegally dumped in Wicklow alerted council staff to the possibility that other locations in the county may have been subjected to illegal dumping on a commercial scale. During the investigation of the Fenton site a large illegal dump was discovered by council staff on lands owned by a Mr. John O'Reilly at Whitestown and during the investigation at this latter site, the council became aware of rumours that another large illegal dump had been operated on a nearby site owned by the Stephenson family. During the investigation of the O'Reilly site, council staff also heard persistent rumours that illegal dumping had taken place on lands owned by Roadstone near Blessington. Following the completion of the other three investigations, council staff commenced an investigation at the Roadstone site. A quantity of domestic and commercial waste has been found at a number of locations on this large site. The investigation is continuing.

I will describe the investigations that are taking place in Wicklow at present. The discovery of major illegal dumps in west Wicklow is being treated very seriously by both Wicklow County Council and the Government. There are two types of investigation of illegal dumping taking place. First, Wicklow County Council is investigating a number of sites to find out the nature and scale of the dumping which has taken place, the environmental consequences of the dumping and the appropriate remediation measures which need to be taken. The aim of this investigation is to ensure that all necessary remediation action is taken by the landowners, the waste companies involved and the directors of those companies, either voluntarily or on foot of High Court orders.

Second, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations is investigating whether serious offences under the Waste Management Act 1996 have occurred in relation to these sites. The aim of the Garda investigation is to prepare files for the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to any criminal offences which may have occurred. Those guilty of such offences are liable on conviction to fines of up to €12.5 million and/or ten years in jail. I have made formal written complaints to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations in relation to four sites in west Wicklow. It is clear from our experience during 2002 that the courts are now taking a serious view of breaches of environmental legislation.

The investigations in Wicklow are progressing well and we are pleased with the results. Wicklow County Council is attaching a high priority to this work and management, executive, engineering, legal and other staff are involved, as well as outside consultants and senior and junior counsel. We have completed our investigation of three major sites, the Fenton, O'Reilly and Stephenson sites, and are investigating a fourth site owned by Roadstone. There may be other sites which will require investigation over the coming months. In general, we have found domestic, commercial, construction and demolition waste on these sites. We have also found hospital waste on the Fenton and O'Reilly sites.

The up to date position in relation to the individual sites I have mentioned is as follows. In October 2001, council officials discovered an illegal dump on the lands owned by Mr. Fenton at Coolnamadra. The dump contained some builders' rubble and domestic waste but also contained a significant quantity of hazardous waste from two Dublin hospitals intermingled with the other waste. Overall, the site contains about 8,000 tonnes of material. On 31 July 2002, the county council was successful in obtaining a High Court order directing the landowner, the waste company involved and the directors at that company, Louis Moriarty and Eileen Moriarty, to comprehensively remediate the landfill and to bear all the costs of same. Those parties were also ordered to pay all costs and expenses incurred by Wicklow County Council in pursuing the case.

In a landmark decision, the directors, Mr. and Mrs. Moriarty, were personally ordered to carry out the works and to cover the costs in the event that Dublin Waste and Clifford Fenton failed to do so. Since the date of the above decisions, Dublin Waste has applied to the EPA for the necessary licence to carry out the remediation works. A decision from the EPA is awaited. I have made a formal complaint to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations in relation to the illegal dumping which took place on this site.

We estimate that there may be over 300,000 tonnes of waste material in the O'Reilly quarry. It includes domestic, commercial, construction and demolition waste and some hospital waste. We believe it was placed there by a number of large Dublin based waste companies. We understand that there may have been one big player who managed the dump and had their own plant and staff on site. We had hoped that these companies and the land owner would offer to remediate the site but this has not happened. I have engaged a legal team to prepare High Court proceedings against the waste companies involved, the directors of those companies and the landowner. I have also made a formal complaint to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations about the illegal dumping that took place on the O'Reilly site.

When we indicated that we intended to investigate the Stephenson site, it was strongly and persistently stated to the director of services that we would be wasting our time and would find nothing. We formed the view that efforts were being made to distract our attention from this site and when we persisted with the investigation we found a large amount of waste on it. We estimate that there may be up to 180,000 tonnes of waste material buried on the site. This includes domestic, commercial, construction and demolition waste intermingled with cover material. We believe the waste was placed there by or on behalf of a number of large Dublin based waste companies. Unless these companies and the landowner voluntarily remediate the site to Wicklow County Council's satisfaction, we will take High Court proceedings to compel them to do so. I have also made a formal complaint to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations in relation to the illegal dumping which took place on this site.

The investigation of the Roadstone site is ongoing and will require a number of weeks to complete. Roadstone has made plant, equipment and men available to help with the excavation work. We have found a quantity of domestic and commercial waste at the site. The investigation is continuing to establish the scale and nature of the dumping, the source of the waste, the environmental implications and the appropriate remediation measures. I have also made a formal complaint to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations in relation to the illegal dumping which took place on this site.

It now seems clear that west Wicklow was considered ideally suitable for large scale illegal dumping by a number of mainly Dublin based waste contractors. The main reasons for this are probably the proximity to Dublin, the large number of sand or gravel pits along the N81 national route, the willingness of greedy landowners with holes in the ground to accept rubbish from Dublin at a fraction of the cost of depositing it in legal landfills, the multi-million pound savings to be made by unscrupulous waste contractors by using these holes in the ground instead of bringing rubbish to legal landfills and the relative remoteness of the sites from large population settlements and the likelihood that trucks entering busy working quarries would not alert suspicions.

The illegal dumping on these sites was large in scale and well concealed but had no regard whatsoever for the environmental damage which it could cause. An indication of the economics of this activity can be gauged from the fact that a gate fee for accepting a 20 tonne load of hospital waste for deep burial in the Fingal County Council landfill facility in north County Dublin was approximately £2,400 in 2001 while Mr. Fenton admitted that he was paid £90 for accepting a similar load on his land. Remediation is likely to cost the landowners and waste companies many millions of euro and the courts may also impose criminal sanctions in relation to these activities.

Wicklow remains the garden of Ireland. It is a beautiful county and Wicklow County Council will do everything possible to protect, enhance and develop it. We have recently discovered that systematic, serious illegal dumping has taken place at a number of locations in the county. We have deployed considerable staff and financial resources to investigating the dumping and devising appropriate remediation measures for the sites. We have successfully pursued the first of these cases to the High Court to ensure that the necessary remediation works are carried out and that our costs and expenses are recouped in accordance with the polluter pays principle. Unless the necessary remediation measures are taken voluntarily on the other sites, we will initiate similar High Court proceedings to compel those responsible to do the works.

We are working closely and co-operating fully with the ongoing Garda investigation which will, hopefully, result in criminal proceedings being taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions against those who have committed serious offences under the Waste Management Act 1996. I acknowledge the commitment and professionalism shown by the gardaí in this investigation and thank the former Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, for arranging with the commissioner to make these Garda resources available. I also acknowledge the support and assistance of the Minister, Deputy Cullen, and his officials and the staff of other agencies such as the EPA and Eastern Regional Health Authority in what has been a trying and challenging time for the county council.

I pay tribute to the members of my staff who have shown such commitment and dedication to dealing with this serious problem over the past 15 months. I also pay tribute to those elected members of Wicklow County Council committed to addressing this problem in a responsible manner. We have identified the problem and are investigating and dealing with its consequences. Wicklow County Council, with the help and support of other agencies, is doing and will continue to do everything possible to solve it in an appropriate and responsible manner. We will also do everything possible to prevent a recurrence. However, unless adequate infrastructures are put in place to deal in an integrated and sustainable manner with the waste being generated in our growing economy, there is every danger that further illegal dumping will take place in County Wicklow or elsewhere.

I thank members for their attention. We will be happy to answer any questions they may have.

May we have a copy of the report?

We have received a copy of the presentations by CRH and Wicklow County Council and will arrange for each member to receive one. I thank Mr. Sheehy for his presentation. A number of members have indicated that they would like to ask questions.

I thank the officials of the county council for coming. I know they were in the audience earlier when we heard evidence from CRH. What is Mr. Sheehy's opinion of and reaction to the incredible evidence given by the chief executive of CRH that illegal dumping had been ongoing on a 650 acre site for quite some time and that nobody in the company knew anything about it until it was brought to their attention by the Garda or county council? Does he find it credible that this could have happened on such a massive scale and not been noticed?

Is Mr. Sheehy satisfied that he has the necessary resources, in terms of manpower as well as expertise and finance, to carry out the investigation on such a scale? It was reported in The Irish Times on 3 April 2002 that the county council had listed 88 illegal dumps, 19 of which have yet to be investigated. Mr. Sheehy mentioned four today - O'Reilly, Fenton, CRH and Stephenson - but there may be others. Is he satisfied that he has the necessary resources, as mentioned? He thanked the Minister. Has he sought support from the Department for his investigations and, if so, when? What extra resources has the council been given to carry out these investigations?

The next question relates to the allegation that the council was involved in illegal dumping on one of the sites. Will Mr. Sheehy confirm this? If that is the case, is the council the most appropriate body to be investigating? Has the Garda or an external agency investigated the reported loss of a file containing information on the illegal dumping of hospital waste, or has it since been found? What was the outcome of the investigation?

On his visits to the sites in question, has Mr. Sheehy called in the Health and Safety Authority to investigate the activities on them? If, as stated by the previous witness, the owners were totally unaware of comings and goings on the sites, health and safety regulations on what is effectively a work site must have been non-existent. Has the council been in contact with the authority regarding the implementation of safety regulations on all sites? It seems that the regulations must have been non-existent if monitoring of the entrances and exits to the sites was lacking.

I thank the manager and officers of the county council for coming before the joint committee and compliment them on the work they have done to date, both in investigating and prosecuting illegal dumping in the county. I wish them success in pursuing this.

My first question relates to the allegation that Wicklow County Council was dumping illegally on the Roadstone site. Will the county manager address this and tell the committee whether it is true? I am sure he has seen the reports that there is photographic evidence of Wicklow County Council vehicles dumping on the site. Has he seen the photographs? Has he investigated it? What can he tell the committee about it?

Mr. Sheehy described the illegal dumping in west Wicklow as being on a commercial scale. Would he now describe the dumping on the Roadstone site as being on a commercial scale? Does he agree with the statement made by Mr. O'Loughlin that it was in summer 2002 the county council first brought to the attention of Roadstone its belief that there was illegal dumping on its site? I just want to get the date right. Is he satisfied that the county council, given the description he has given to us of County Wicklow effectively being used as the spillover illegal dump for Dublin, has the resources both to investigate the extent of the illegal dumping and to take the necessary action arising from it?

In relation to commercial dumping, the county manager gave us a description of what was happening in County Wicklow and told us about the payments made in the Fenton case of €90 per tonne. Will he describe the commercial arrangement? After the period of time he has been investigating he should have some idea of the arrangements. Does a waste company approach a landowner and do a deal with him or her? How is it then operated on the ground? What happens when the trucks arrive? Is there, as has been alleged, some kind of voucher system at these illegal dumps whereby one pays €40 for a lorry of one type of waste and so many euro for another type? Will he describe the kind of vehicle that goes in and out of these dumps? Taking domestic waste as an example, is the type of vehicle that goes in and out the kind of domestic waste freighter with which we are all familiar, which collects and compacts waste and then discharges it? Is it possible that a vehicle disposing of waste might be mistaken for a lorry going in with a load of sand or gravel to a pit? Perhaps Mr. Sheehy could describe that to us, so that we can get some idea.

Will Mr. Sheehy deal with those questions?

Mr. Sheehy

Yes, Chairman. You asked for a copy of the submission. The submission was considerably longer but in deference to the committee we shortened the verbal presentation. In relation to Deputy Allen's questions about the evidence given by Roadstone, I have no view on that. We are carrying out an investigation to assess what is on site, to assess the environmental implications and to decide on what remedial action may be taken. The Garda Síochána is carrying out an investigation, quite separately, as regards whether any criminal offences may have been committed. We had no knowledge of the dumping taking place in Blessington on any of these sites, to any significant extent, prior to August 2001. I am not aware that any significant numbers of members of the public or other people who are, in retrospect, saying "we told you so", had any actual significant evidence of these things taking place. Roadstone have given their evidence. I have noted what they said and that it is a matter between them and the committee. I have no comment to make on it. I can certainly——

I will stop you there, Mr. Sheehy. What do you mean by "to any significant extent"?

Mr. Sheehy

There had been a previous complaint in relation to one of the sites - not the Roadstone site - in 1998, which was investigated. The officer from the county council who was investigating at the time was assured that the activity had stopped and at that stage the file was closed as the officer did not see any significant evidence of illegal dumping on the site. That was the only prior knowledge that I am aware of that council staff had of these sites prior to discovering the first one - Mr. Fenton's one - in August 2001. Subsequently, when they revisited the site in October, they were appalled to see a large amount of hospital waste. As a result of that investigation we discovered the O'Reilly and Fenton sites and, subsequently, as a result of rumours and doing thermal imaging in the area using new technology, we found evidence of material under the Roadstone lands. It strikes me that the county council staff, local residents and elected members could speculate in retrospect and ask "Should they all not have known?", but I am not aware that any of them knew.

In relation to the county council's involvement, I did confirm at the county council meeting last year, and I can repeat it, that over the years it has been the practice for council staff in the normal course of their activities in connection with road maintenance, minor road improvements and other sundry works, to deposit mainly small amounts of inert material which arise from carrying out these activities, at convenient locations such as adjacent farmers' lands, quarries and sandpits. These arrangements were entered into with the owners of the various premises by agreement as and when the need arose. Based on statements which members of my staff and retired council employees have made to the Garda Síochána, I understand that local arrangements were made to deposit this type of material on the O'Reilly and Roadstone sites. Both of these sites would require material for reinstatement. Mr. O'Reilly's planning permission required reinstatement. Roadstone have already said they would have been interested in topsoil. This material was deposited as a result of local arrangements and I would expect it has been going on ever since road building has taken place in the county.

I am not aware of a missing file. There was a letter from a Mr. Russell Bailey in 1998 concerning dumping at Whitestown. The letter was received in the planning department and was referred to the planning enforcement officer in March 1998. In April, representations were received from a local Deputy and they were referred to the environment section and passed on to the planning department. The matter was investigated at the time by the enforcement officer who visited the site and instructed Mr. O'Reilly to cease all unauthorised development or otherwise proceedings would be instituted under the Planning Acts. The enforcement officer visited the site again in May 1998 and reported on his findings. His report stated that he saw no evidence then of illegal dumping on O'Reilly's site. This would have been one of hundreds of planning enforcement files that were created over the years. The file was closed when the matter was resolved to the official's satisfaction.

The original letter from Bailey's was placed on a general unauthorised development file in the planning section, which covered the period 1997-99, but the file has been mislaid. We believe that this file was mislaid during the extension of the county buildings a couple of years ago, when the entire planning section was moved and files were relocated. We have carried out an exhaustive search for the file but we cannot find the letter from the Baileys, although we did find the letter from the local Deputy. However, we have been able to reconstruct a lot of material from the correspondence and various other files, which shows that a complaint did come in and was examined by various enforcement staff. They formed the conclusion that there was nothing significant at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can say that those members of staff who visited the site were clearly misled by what they were told.

It should be born in mind that we understand the illegal dumping on this site took place at night and was covered early in the morning. Certainly, early last year when I visited the site I walked across a road, - as did various other people who visited the site, and it was only several weeks later when we excavated under the road that we found waste buried there. I am not justifying what happened but I am saying that a complaint was received and was dealt with at the time. I do not attach any particular significance to the fact that the particular letter has disappeared; it is very unfortunate that it did. It is equally unfortunate that the Baileys, who claimed that they may have had registration numbers of vehicles attached to the letter, did not keep a copy of the letter, or of those registration numbers, and are not able to give us those details now. Obviously, they would be useful but suggestions that because this file was lost we would not be able to take legal proceedings are totally wide of the mark. We have examined the site forensically and so have the gardaí. We found rubbish there. We have written to dozens of businesses whose waste was found there. We asked them who their waste contractors were. We pieced the story together and we know a number of firms who were dumping illegally on the O'Reilly site. We also know the large firm who, we understand, managed and had planted material on the site. We are preparing our case against it and, equally, the Garda Síochána has been preparing a file for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I thank Deputy Gilmore for his initial comments. He asked if the county council was dumping illegally. I have acknowledged that we deposited material on two sites with the agreement of local landowners. Whether it was illegal or not is a matter for another day. My advice is not to comment on that.

The question of dumping taking place on a commercial——

Does Mr. Sheehy have any estimate of the quantity?

Mr. Sheehy

I have no estimate of the quantity. I am told by local staff that if they were doing a road job, for example knocking out a bend, and there was a bit of surplus material as a result which was surplus to the needs of the county council, if a farmer had a hole in his field and wanted it, it might be deposited there. Otherwise it might have gone to a convenient quarry or whatever. It strikes me that if you want topsoil for your garden and your neighbour has a surplus of topsoil and gives it to you, that is not illegal dumping; it is using a product which is surplus to somebody else's requirements and which you need. The question of whether this was illegal or not is, at the end of the day, a matter for the Garda Síochána and the DPP who have been investigating all aspects of it.

In relation to the Deputy's question about Roadstone and whether the dumping was on a commercial scale, I have to say that the work we area doing in Roadstone is work in progress. We have completed the investigation on three other sites and we have formed conclusions. We have prosecuted one case successfully through the courts and are preparing two other cases.

In relation to Roadstone, we have carried out preliminary digs and are beginning to form a picture. However, it would be irresponsible and premature to speculate on our ultimate assessment of it. There is commercial and domestic waste on the site and we are trying to evaluate the quantities of it and identify from where it came. This will require a great deal of forensic work, including delving through the waste and writing to people to find out the identities of their waste contractors, etc. We are trying to assess the environmental implications of it and we have carried out a lot of water testing, etc., in the area. Ultimately, we will try to assess what remediation actions are required. I would be happy to come back to the committee at a future date with our findings, but it would be unwise and irresponsible of me to speculate at this point.

This has been going on since last summer. Why is Mr. Sheehy still referring to preliminary investigations? How long does it take to complete such investigations?

Mr. Sheehy

This work is very painstaking and needs to be done carefully so that it will not cause environmental damage, etc. Progress can be dependent on the weather. We entered the Roadstone site last summer assisting the Garda as part of an investigation it was carrying out. The initial view formed by the Garda and ourselves was that a significant amount of material had not been illegally dumped on the site. I advised the elected members of Wicklow County Council of that. However, we noted the file for further investigation when we had completed our work on the Stephenson and O'Reilly sites. We were not totally reassured, so we decided to defer further action until we had completed the two other investigations.

We returned to that site the week before Christmas, although we suspended the operation over the holiday period. We have been back there now for a number of weeks. I expect it will take several months before we have an overall picture of what went on at this site, the quantities, the culprits, the environmental implications and an assessment of whatever remediation action is required. Obviously, we are attaching high importance to this. Considerable resources from the county council have been devoted to it. We have engaged outside consultants and senior and junior counsel to pursue the other cases. I estimate we have probably spent in excess of €1 million of county council funds which we hope to recover under the polluter pays principle from those who are primarily responsible for this activity.

In relation to resources, it has been a very expensive investigation to which we have deployed considerable resources. The National Bureau of Criminal Investigation has also deployed considerable Garda resources to the problem. In the court case in regard to the Fenton site, we were awarded our full costs and expenses and, obviously, we will try to recover our costs and expenses in relation to the other sites, either through the courts or voluntarily, from those responsible. We are determined to make those who cause the problem pay the full costs of solving it.

To date, lack of resources has not been a constraint on the council investigation. I have allocated whatever resources I considered necessary to do the job in an effective and efficient manner. Having said that, we sought some additional resources when the Department of the Environment and Local Government reviewed the work in this area, particularly for additional operatives to prevent and detect breaches of the Waste Management Act 1996. I understand from contacts with officials in the Department over the last few days that the allocations from the newly established environment fund will be made shortly by the Minister, Deputy Cullen. Obviously, I hope Wicklow County Council will receive a substantial grant which will enable us to do further work.

I stress that resources have not been a constraint. We have progressed as fast as was safe, wise, efficient and effective, given the painstaking nature of the inquiries, the need to gather evidence and to protect it carefully and the various other constraints on the inquiries. Lack of resources has not been a problem. I am pleased with the support we received from the Minister and his staff, in particular his invitation to the Garda Commissioner to get the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation involved.

The Deputy's final question was on how this commercial arrangement worked. We have talked to the waste management company, Dublin Waste, to some hauliers and to the landowner. Although we received some limited co-operation from them, they certainly did not give us all the secrets on how the operation worked. We believe from rumour and hearsay that it operated on the basis that somebody went scouting in County Wicklow, presumably on the instructions of these companies, approached local landowners where they saw holes in fields which might be suitable for their purposes, made offers to the landowners and, if those offers were accepted, they then made the necessary arrangements and lorry loads of waste were delivered.

To clarify the figures, the charge in Fingal County Council dump would have been £120 per tonne, which would have been about £2,400 per load. The charge Mr. Fenton imposed was not £90 per tonne but £90 per load, so there was a huge saving to the waste company involved and a very small gain for Mr. Fenton. Given the results of the High Court case last July in which he and the company were ordered to bear the costs of remediation and our expenses, they will very much regret that they got involved in this sort of activity in Wicklow.

I thank the manager for coming today. Does Mr. Sheehy believe this is still going on? If he sees a large truck in front of him as he heads back to Wicklow this evening, will he get a sinking feeling about it or does he believe this problem is under control and that further illegal dumping is not happening in Wicklow? What kind of additional resources is Mr. Sheehy seeking? Is he looking for lawyers? What does he need to completely tackle the problem? Does he believe damage was done in the county during the period in which private operators rather than the county council collected domestic waste without a permit system in place and when the system was completely unregulated? Does he believe that the two year period in which Wicklow County Council did not have a domestic waste collection system contributed to the problem of which we are now aware?

Does Mr. Sheehy believe this is still going on? What type of resources does he need? Did getting rid of domestic waste collection in Wicklow contribute to the problem?

I thank Mr. Sheehy for coming. We learned more in the first five minutes of Mr. Sheehy's address than we learned in the previous hour. Mr. Sheehy dealt with four different landfills, including that on John O'Reilly's lands - where illegal dumping of hospital and domestic waste was found - the Stephenson site, the Roadstone site and another site. He said 8,000 tonnes had been dumped in one site, 300,000 tonnes of illegal waste, including domestic and hospital waste, had been dumped on O'Reilly's lands and 180,000 tonnes had been dumped in Stephenson's lands. That brings to the total to 480,000 tonnes, without including the main Roadstone site. This matter is far more alarming than we were lead to believe earlier.

Mr. Sheehy has clearly estimated the amount of waste on the O'Reilly and Stephenson lands. What is delaying the investigation on the Roadstone site? I presume it is coincidence that Mr. Sheehy used the same words Mr. O'Loughlin previously when he said it was premature to say what was in the Roadstone site. I do not know if there is any foundation for the suggestion that there may be liaison or a cosy arrangement between the council and Roadstone. Is the council a client of Roadstone and does it supply the council with materials? I only ask this to clarify matters.

Mr. Sheehy indicated that there was resistance and that he was strongly advised that the council would be wasting its time investigating the Stephenson site, where an estimated 180,000 tonnes of material was found illegally dumped. Will he indicate who advised this? I am glad he did not take it and proceeded with an investigation.

Despite the fact that the Roadstone site is under investigation, is it business as usual at the site or have operations been suspended during the investigation? Thus far, 480,000 tonnes of material has been found illegally dumped. On present trends and given that the investigation of the 650 acre Roadstone site, which has several gates, has to be completed, that figure could reach 1 million tonnes. Where will the council put all this material? Has the material the subject of the recent court case been removed and, if so, where has it been put?

Mr. Sheehy said that in the recent court case, a minor case by comparison with impending cases, costs were awarded to the council. Have they been recovered? The possibility of a €12 million fine and/or ten years in prison for those found guilty of illegal dumping did not emerge in the earlier investigations.

I concur with previous speakers in expressing my gratitude to Mr. Sheehy, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Murphy for attending. Mr. Sheehy is the manager of a fairly large local authority, one of the largest outside the Dublin region. He has deployed huge resources into the investigation to ascertain who is operating these illegal dumps, who is benefiting and who is culpable. The investigation has been ongoing since last summer and cost approximately €1 million, which he hopes will be recompensed under the polluter pays principle and following successful prosecutions. According to his sources, what is the quantity of waste disposed of illegally at the Roadstone site? Was it the same source who notified him of all the illegal dumps and, if so, can he identify it? Was it the Garda Síochána, council officials or those living near the sites? Does he consider it plausible that illegal dumping has been carried out at sites without the owners' knowledge or suspicion? How does hospital waste end up in an illegal landfill site? Is there collusion to ensure the illegal dumping is lucrative for those involved?

A number of questions have been raised by the previous three speakers. Perhaps Mr. Sheehy might like to reply.

Mr. Sheehy

Deputy Cuffe asked if illegal dumping was continuing and what additional resources were required to prevent it. We are doing everything possible to prevent it. We have established a freefone litter line, employed two full time litter wardens and mounted checkpoints in association with the Garda Síochána on the N81 to try to identify the destination of trucks in an attempt to ascertain if they are engaged in illegal dumping in County Wicklow. While we have also impounded trucks on a number of occasions, it is not possible to follow every truck travelling through the county.

We have made a submission to the Department of the Environment and Local Government seeking additional community wardens and a waste enforcement office, which would significantly improve our capacity to prevent this activity. We have also placed advertisements in local newspapers warning that we will prosecute landowners who fail to prevent their properties from being used for dumping. In addition, we have, through various advertisements, invited members of Wicklow County Council, their staff and members of the public to bring to our attention any knowledge they may have of illegal dumping. While we have taken every possible step to prevent illegal dumping, I will not give a hostage to fortune by saying it could not happen again. It could, given the lack of capacity for landfill and the profits that can be made.

The discontinuation of domestic waste collection in County Wicklow did not contribute to illegal dumping. The waste we found and identified in the major sites where we completed investigations - Fenton's, O'Reilly's and Stephenson's - was deposited by major Dublin based waste contractors, bringing waste from Dublin. It was not domestic waste generated in County Wicklow. That is a red herring, created by some mischievous people. It has no foundation in truth and is an attempt to distract the debate.

Deputy McCormack asked about delays to our investigation of the Roadstone site and suggested a cosy relationship between the company and the council. The investigation is not delayed and work is in progress. The council became intensively involved in the week before Christmas and Roadstone has made men and equipment available to help with the excavation. While we are proceeding carefully, we have completed a number of digs and are trying to assess what is there and arrive at estimates of the amount of material dumped. We expect to undertake at least another three bores, perhaps more, depending on what we find. We have overflown the general area by aeroplane using modern terminal imaging technology to try to sense the heat that may be generated by activity under the ground. Much of the waste is buried several metres underground. We are assessing this information. When I am in a position to do so, I will be happy to issue a statement to the elected members of Wicklow County Council. Our findings at that stage will determine the further action we will take on environmental protection and remediation.

There is no cosy relationship between Roadstone and Wicklow County Council. We are a customer of the company from which we buy materials for various road building projects. That is the extent of the relationship, which is a business one. It is insulting to suggest there is a cosy relationship and that it would affect our handling of the investigation. We are investigating this site in the same way as the other sites. I already made a complaint to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation regarding the dumping which has taken place on this site.

I did not make the suggestion.

Mr. Sheehy

I fully accept that. I note that others have done so.

Mr. Sheehy should listen to his local radio station.

Mr. Sheehy

I do not know what was said. Somebody told me that the suggestion has been made. I find it insulting.

It is certainly plausible that the dumping could have gone on without Cement Roadstone or the landowner's knowledge. We are carrying out an investigation into what is there, the environmental consequences and the remediation action which needs to be taken. That is the extent of our investigation. Who did wrong and whether people knew this or that, etc., is a matter for the Garda and, in particular, a professional team from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. They will form a view on that. I do not have a view on it. However, I do know that much has gone on in this country without people being aware of it at the time but, in retrospect, with many people saying "I told you so." In recent months we have certainly had a lot of that on the issue of illegal dumping in Wicklow.

As to whether it is business as usual on the Roadstone site, that is a matter for the company in question. Roadstone operates on the site and any legitimate activity it is carrying on in accordance with its business activities is not impacting on our investigation in any way.

On the question of who discouraged us from investigating the Stephenson site, the Chairman already warned me at the beginning of the meeting that I was not protected, in my statements, by the law of privilege so I do not propose to identify the source, but certainly the director of environmental services formed the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that efforts were being made to divert him from entering the Stephenson site. We persisted and found up to 180,000 tonnes of material.

Where will the material be put? The court order we have got provides for the removal of the material from the Fenton site. We still have to prepare remediation plans for the O'Reilly and Stephenson sites.

Remediation plans will be prepared by our consultants. We will have to discuss matters with the EPA. It may or may not require removal of all or part of the material. We are not in a position to comment on that yet. Remediation will depend on things such as: what will be the environmental impact of the various courses of action; if we are to move a large amount of material, what dangers to the environment would that cause; what capacity there is elsewhere to receive that sort of material; and, finally, what would be the cost of removing it and who would pay for its removal. Those are the sort of considerations that would affect it.

At the end of the day, a plan will have to be submitted to the EPA and agreed. We are working on that, in the case of both the Stephenson and O'Reilly sites. We are not in a position yet to judge what the investigation on the Roadstone site will throw up.

We are carefully preparing the bill for our costs because obviously if Dublin Waste and the landowner are unhappy with it, they can go back to the court to challenge it. We need to vouch for every item on the bill and we are anxious to ensure that we do not overlook any item that may have been devoted to that investigation. We expect to finalise the bill within the next few weeks and send it to the defendants in the case. If they then do not pay within four weeks, we will go back to court.

The bill will be fairly substantial. It will run into several hundred thousand euro, but this will still only be a small fraction of the cost of remediating that particular site because all the material will have to be carefully sifted due to the fact that it contains a lot of hospital waste, etc., some of which will have to be removed for thermal treatment.

In answer to Senator McCarthy's question about the amount of waste on the Roadstone site, I can only repeat that we are in the middle of the investigation. We are not in a position to judge it. There is certainly what we regarded, from our trial bores, as evidence of significant amounts of commercial and domestic waste. As to the significance and size of the quantities involved, we will assess them and will report to our elected members on that.

With regard to the sources of that waste, again once we identify the waste we will go through it carefully sifting out letters and documents. We will then contact householders and businesses and ask them who were their waste contractors. When they tell us, we will try to put together a picture of which waste contractors were involved and we will invite them in to talk to us.

The results of our invitations, in the case of the O'Reilly and Stephenson sites, is that people have not been enthusiastic about coming in to discuss the matter with us at all so we are preparing legal proceedings. We will have to wait to see whether the same will occur in the case of the Roadstone site.

As to the question of from where this waste was coming, in the three sites where we have completed the investigation so far it is very clear to us that the waste that has been identified was deposited there by a number of large, well known Dublin-based waste contractors. It was waste which they collected in the Dublin area from reputable businesses and householders who paid them commercial charges for taking away their waste on the understanding that it was being disposed of at legal landfills. It would appear that the temptation to dispose of it cheaply in sand and gravel pits in Wicklow was too great and they took the cheap option rather than doing what they had contracted to do by the householders and the businesses who paid them.

For the purposes of clarification, when did Mr. Sheehy take up the post of manager in Wicklow?

Mr. Sheehy

In January 2001.

I welcome the representatives from Wicklow County Council and the county manager. I am sure they listened as intently as Members to the Roadstone presentation. I think it would be fair to say that their claim that nobody in Roadstone was aware of this illegal dumping was met with a certain amount of incredulity here because we are all aware that a massive number of vehicles have been entering the county, dumping waste and moving out again.

One has to be conscious of the fact that Wicklow County Council staff are in the locality in west Wicklow and the county council has an office in close proximity to the Roadstone site. It is remarkable, therefore, that there were no complaints or there was no information coming back to the county council about such extensive illegal dumping.

It is important that what actually happened in 1998 be put on record. When a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey, were so agitated and upset at the extent of illegal activity of which they became aware - even though they do not live beside the site in question, their home overlooks the site and is some distance away from it - that they complained to the county council and received no response. Their dismay grew so much that they contacted me and asked me to contact the county council, which I did immediately. I asked that the county council telephone Mr. and Mrs. Bailey. I left the telephone number for the county council to contact them. The county council did not sit down with the Baileys in order to obtain the information in their possession.

This information needs to be put on record because the actual situation that couple faced has not been fully recorded. I would ask the county manager does he not now regret that that request was not followed up effectively. If it had been, a lot of illegal dumping could have been prevented in the county. Does he not also regret that it took until 2001 to start work which began to unearth extremely extensive illegal dumping, the full extent of which we still do not know, in a relatively small area in the county? The county manager provided councillors with a list of between 80 and 100 possible dumps in the county. Is he investigating dumps in east Wicklow, for example, where there have been reports of chemical contamination?

Will he comment on the Garda criminal investigations that have been going on for some time? No prosecutions have been taken in regard to this major dumping. There was one prosecution but it did not relate to the major sites. Given that this is significant criminal activity, is he concerned that the Garda investigation is taking so long? Will he comment on the time it is taking the county council to investigate and assess the extent of illegal dumping?

He mentioned that he was satisfied with the Department of the Environment and Local Government's response. When did the council first approach the Department seeking resources? How long is it since the first request was sent to the Department? The costs of investigation are high and, while I welcome the funding that may be provided by the Department, would Mr. Sheehy acknowledge that the time it is taking to investigate these matters is creating a problem in terms of bringing prosecutions? If there is a considerable delay in amassing and assessing evidence to bring to court, whether it is through the criminal or county council investigation, it reduces the chance of success at the end of the day in dealing with criminal activity. I congratulate the council on the success it has had so far.

I also welcome my former colleagues from the county council. Chairman, you asked when the current county manager took charge and it is important to note that shortly after he was appointed, significant action was taken in this area. People who do not live in or know County Wicklow cannot comprehend the extent of the problem, which is extraordinary. Using the cost for dumping a tonne of waste at a Dublin local authority site, €74 million worth of waste has been dumped in the three sites that we know of in west County Wicklow. We still do not know the tonnage involved at the Roadstone site because, as Deputy McManus stated, questions are being asked about other Roadstone sites in the county.

I made complaints regarding north east Wicklow, which were followed up, and legal action was taken. One major dump was closed and another operator faced High Court action and ceased his activities. I was happy that happened but the dumping in west Wicklow had been going on for some time. The question asked by Deputy McManus is on everybody's lips. How, in the name of God, could this level of dumping happen in the case of the Roadstone pit virtually within sight of the county council office in west Wicklow? I find it difficult to understand how that level of activity was able to take place over time. I do not believe that Roadstone could conceivably be unaware of what was happening on its land. That is for the company to answer. However, I was always dismayed that this was happening in a small area along the N81 in west Wicklow. If one was a council official in that area, one could not have been unaware of the difficulties there.

I will underline a second point raised by Deputy McManus. Consistent complaints were made by the Bailey family over time and those were consistently ignored. As Deputy Cuffe stated, illegal unlicensed dumping is still going on in west Wicklow. There is a problem in Modh an Easpaig on the N81. The council knows about it and has tried to intervene. Unless there are serious prosecutions and jail sentences are handed down, people will still take chances. The temptation is significant for criminals given that the cost of dumping on legitimate sites would have resulted in €74 million in waste charges for the county council's coffers.

Council staff have been vigilant and have acted everywhere except west Wicklow. Is there a rational explanation as to why more effective action has not been taken and how council staff on the site had not been conscious of the level of dumping taking place? The county manager pointed out that most of the people in Dublin who disposed of materials through the various companies that have been involved did so innocently and paid the full commercial cost. Will the county council pursue them under the Litter Act? It is pursuing people in Wicklow who, in good faith, hired skips and waste disposal processors but whose waste material has turned up illegally elsewhere. If summonses are being issued against householders in Wicklow for such operations, they should equally be issued against the businesses involved, particularly the hospitals in Dublin.

I accept the manager and staff of Roadstone do not have an idea of the tonnage of waste deposited at the pit on its site, but will Mr. O'Loughlin outline whether the tonnage involved is in the same league as, for example, Coolnamadra where 8,000 tonnes were dumped or more on the scale of the O'Reilly pit? Are other Roadstone sites subject to complaint and/or investigation? I pay tribute to Mr. Sheehy. We do not always agree but he put a great deal of energy into this matter when he took over the portfolio in Wicklow.

Mr. Sheehy

I saw the story in the newspapers that waste has been found on Roadstone lands within sight of the council's office in Blessington and the obvious implication of that is that council staff saw or should have seen the dumping take place and did nothing about it. That seems plausible when it is pointed out by those who say it. The reality is somewhat different. The council office referred to is the new Blessington civic office, which was completed and occupied by staff in late 2002, many years after the material was deposited on the Roadstone lands. The staff who moved in in late 2002 could not have seen this activity taking place. We have attempted to explain that to the media over many weeks but, unfortunately, it does not seem to be getting the publicity it deserves. The reality is that the waste was discovered by the council staff investigating the site as a result of us using modern thermal imaging technology and the only way we could confirm it was to excavate. We have excavated in some cases to depths of up to 15 metres to find where the waste was buried.

I have no knowledge whatsoever that any council staff were aware of illegal dumping of this nature and scale taking place. I have no information that any local residents, other than Baileys, to whom I will return, were aware of significant dumping taking place in west Wicklow. When I came to Wicklow in January 2001, I wrote to all 24 elected members. I stated that I appreciated the role of the elected members and their insights into various issues, opportunities and difficulties facing the local authority and so on and was anxious to have an opportunity to listen to each of the members in an informal setting to tell me what issues they considered were important and on their minds and so on. Many members took up that invitation and met me in my office. My secretary was present during the meetings and took very detailed notes of what was said. I have reviewed them in recent weeks and none of the elected members who came to me in 2001 mentioned illegal dumping in any of the four sites described. I have no evidence that council staff or elected members were aware of it at the time. In response to my invitation to discuss the problems in County Wicklow, none of them mentioned any of the four sites to me. An attempt is being made by various people to say the council should have done this or that and that both it and Roadstone must have known and so on. I do not know what people knew in 1998.

I have reviewed the Bailey file in so far as we can reconstruct it. It indicates that a complaint was received, which was examined at the time; that a letter was received from a public representative on foot of the complaint; that staff investigated the matter and got assurances from the landowner, which they accepted, that no further illegal dumping was taking place. Between May 1998 and 2001, when the Stephenson site was discovered, there was no further complaint in relation to it from either the Bailey's or any public representative. It appears in retrospect that after the council staff had left the site in 1998 dumping took place on a different part of the site where it was not visible from Bailey's. They assumed the problem had been solved and no member of the family or elected member between May 1998 and when the county council discovered the major illegal dump, after we had become aware of the Fenton site, made complaints to the council during that period. I am not trying to justify what went on. Obviously, in retrospect it would have been great if the council had investigated the matter but whether this would have prevented the same thing happening at other locations is speculation. I am sure the committee did not invite me here to speculate on matters. I can only give members the information and evidence I have at my disposal.

On the delay in the Garda investigation and the slowness of the council to investigate, there was no delay. These are painstaking and very difficult investigations. It is very unpleasant work involving entering wet, damp, smelly, stinking sites, sifting through dirty paper, sanitary towels, syringes and all sorts of unpleasant material. It needs to be done carefully, recorded, photographed and videoed in some cases because we need to assemble the evidence. I do not think a delay will cause problems in prosecution. In fact, undue haste would be far more likely to cause problems and lead to carelessness and so on. I am quite happy with the progress of the county council investigation and have tremendous faith in the commitment of the staff involved. I also very much appreciate the commitment and professionalism of the Garda Síochána.

On Deputy Roche's questions, while the county council office was completed in late 2001, we have not yet had an opportunity to have an official opening.

There have been staff in west Wicklow since time immemorial. The question that arises is not how they could not see the site from their offices in the last two years but how they could not have seen it over the previous ten or 15 years. I do not wish to get involved in controversial dialogue but the reality is that Mr. Sheehy had senior engineering staff there, certainly while I was a member of the council. During Wicklow County Council meetings a councillor from west Wicklow regularly made reference over the last three years to the Roadstone site.

Mr. Sheehy

I have endeavoured to answer the question the Minister of State asked about the site being within sight of the Wicklow County Council office. I stress again that the Wicklow County Council office, to which the Minister of State referred and of which there was a photograph in a recent newspaper, was not built at the time the illegal dumping took place.

That is what——

Mr. Sheehy

The Minister of State knows what I am saying is true. I do not deny it. There are staff, elected members and thousands of residents in west Wicklow. I do not know what they knew prior to our investigation. Let me say emphatically and categorically that I have no knowledge or evidence whatsoever that any member of my staff was aware that significant and systematic illegal dumping was taking place at any of the four sites to which I have referred. Any evidence which has emerged so far is to the contrary. It is easy for the Minister of State and others to speculate that people should have known. I suggest that is being wise with hindsight. We have discovered a problem and are dealing with it as vigorously and effectively as we can.

Like my colleagues, I welcome Mr. Sheehy and his officials to explain what happened in County Wicklow. I agree with Deputy McManus and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. I find it difficult to believe that more than half a million tonnes of waste could be brought into the county without being brought to the attention of an official of Wicklow County Council or Roadstone. Wicklow is a densely populated county within close proximity of Dublin. Approximately 70,000 trips were involved in bringing this waste into the county. I find it very difficult to believe this went on without coming to the attention of officials of Wicklow County Council. Is any official of the council under investigation or was any official ever disciplined while this was ongoing?

Mr. Sheehy said most of the waste came from large companies in Dublin. Are court proceedings being instigated against the companies concerned and are they still in operation in Dublin? He said the matter was first brought to his attention in 2001, which I find very difficult to believe. How many court cases are pending?

With no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, is a new precedent being set here this evening in allowing a Minister of State to address the joint committee before a member speaks?

I will accept responsibility in that regard. To clarify, all Members of the Oireachtas are allowed to attend meetings. I have discretion to allow them to speak. Given that the Minister of State is an elected member in County Wicklow and we are discussing illegal dumping in the county, I thought it would be appropriate to give him an opportunity to speak as he sought the opportunity. The Senator now has an opportunity to speak.

I wanted to clarify the situation. I welcome the county manager who complimented both the current and former Ministers for the Environment and Local Government for their co-operation and making the necessary resources available to Wicklow County Council. Will the cost be recouped from the defendants as the State should not incur losses as a result of the investigation? Did the council interview representatives of O'Reilly and Roadstone in relation to this illegal dumping and, if so, what was the result? There could be a conflict of interest because Roadstone claims the council dumped waste without its knowledge. This issue needs to be clarified.

I have a few questions for the representatives of the council. I am pleased the county manager put to bed the issue raised by Deputy Cuffe which has been raised in the past and is a red herring.

The media have played a very positive role in the matter from the beginning. I hope the manager will agree with this. However, some of the material they have published has given rise to difficulties. A great deal of innuendo and rumour has been published. The Irish Times printed the name of a gentleman on its front page. That was unprofessional. The man in question committed suicide a short time later. Will the manager indicate if that individual was under investigation by the local authority for any wrongdoing? The message went out from a leading national newspaper that this was the case, which is regrettable.

There is a great deal of concern about water in Blessington. I know this question should be put to the health board representatives, but I have to attend in the Dáil Chamber soon and I will not be present for that session. Is water in that area, I refer in particular to the Deerpark estate, being tested? Is there a connection between illegal dumping and contaminated water discovered in the area?

Regarding the council's application for resources, it is my understanding that the SPC in the Department of the Environment and Local Government requested it to make application to the Minister in this regard. The manager stated that lack of resources was not hampering the investigation. That impression was given yesterday by the Minister in reply to a parliamentary question from Deputy McManus. I raised the issue of providing additional resources for Wicklow County Council with the previous Minister several months ago. It is unacceptable not to be able to get additional resources to deal with illegal dumps. Do we know how many dumps exist?

I live in west Wicklow and I am on familiar terms with many of the people there. The concept of the dogs in the street knowing about illegal dumping is not, in my view, true. It would be naive to think that many people did not know. I have driven by the Whitestown site and the Stephenson's site three days a week for the last seven years and never noticed anything. One cannot see into the pit because the bank is built up. Another dump was found at the Roadstone site in recent days. On the last occasion I passed it there were eight trucks on the road. There is a phenomenal amount of truck movement on the N81. I do not condone illegal dumping, it is a scandal. However, I would not like the message to go out that Wicklow is a garbage county; it is a beautiful county. The council needs to address various issues there, but it must be given resources by the Government to do this. Has the council requested funds from the Government? If not, will it do so?

Another issue discussed during the debate on the Estimates - Deputy Roche mentioned a permit holder who was dumping more than he was entitled to - was the possibility of using this as a means of income and of policing it. We should impose a levy on land reclamation. It is genuine in many cases, but in many others it is being used as a cover. I have been contacted by contractors who say they cannot compete with illegal operators in the Dublin area who are outbidding them for jobs so they can use the landfill as a cover-up for dumping this material. It is important that we police this activity and, perhaps, place a levy on it. There are many pits available in which to hide this material. It is not too easy to get into Wicklow. There are only four routes into Wicklow from Dublin, two of which are feasible, the N81 and the N11. Will the manager go back to the Garda and ask it to increase the number of checkpoints in the area?

I referred earlier to innuendo, rumours and the irresponsibility on occasion on the part of the newspapers. The printing of the picture depicting the new council office with diggers in the background - I assume it was a local development rather than a landfill operation - was highly irresponsible. The council has not assisted its case. Last year, I inquired from Wicklow County Council as to whether there was illegal dumping at the Roadstone site and I was told that while it had received a great deal of information in this regard it had not carried out any checks.

I have learned in the past day or two that last August the Garda produced material from the landfill at Roadstone. Who excavated this material? Was it done by the Garda Síochana or the council? Is there no liaison between the two? Certain people knew material was found in August. In December, the council told its members nothing had been found. Does it liaise with the Garda with regard to its investigation in order to ensure there is no overlap?

I thank the delegation for coming before the committee. I know the council has a difficult task in dealing with this issue. One's motives are often doubted when one tries to approach this issue in a reasonable and responsible manner. It is felt that if one is not prying and trying to instil fear into people one is not concerned about the problem. That is wrong.

Mr. Sheehy

On Deputy Grealish's point about the quantity of rubbish dumped in Wicklow, what happened there was a scandal. We were appalled by it. It should not have happened. I have no evidence, nonetheless, that council staff, elected members or residents were aware it was happening. This matter was not raised with me as a significant issue between the time I took up my position in 2001 and the time we discovered the first illegal sites in October. We deplore the situation and are determined to do everything possible to prevent it recurring. There are no officials under investigation and I have not taken disciplinary action against anyone. I have no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing on the part of any council official.

With regard to court cases, we have taken a very successful court case in relation to the Fenton site. We have obtained the relevant court orders and are preparing cases regarding the O'Reilly and Stephenson sites. Senator Bannon asked if the costs could be recouped from the defendants. It is my view that before Wicklow County Council goes cap in hand to the Minister for money to pay for this investigation, we should pursue to the ultimate the perpetrators of the wrongdoing in Wicklow under the polluter pays principle. That is what we did in the Fenton case and that is what I intend doing in the O'Reilly and Stephenson cases and any others that arise. In the event of our being unsuccessful in recovering some of our expenses, I will attempt to make a case to the Minister for additional funding given our tight financial situation. We are determined to try to make the perpetrators pay the full costs of investigation, monitoring and all actions taken by the council.

The council made a submission to the Minister for additional funding last spring or early summer. I have spoken on a number of occasions to the officials in the Department of the Environment and Local Government and discussed in considerable detail the type of resources required and people to be employed to prevent this happening again. I have been advised that the newly established environmental fund is a possible source of funding for such staff. I understand that an announcement will be made by the Minister in this regard in the near future.

I have put the case for Wicklow strongly and the progress being made there and the justification for a generous allocation. I am hopeful we will get it, but I, like everybody else, will have to await the Minister's announcement. If we get the resources, we will spend them wisely. I repeat that lack of resources has in no way hindered or delayed the investigations undertaken to date.

On whether I interviewed Mr. O'Reilly, Mr. Stephenson and others, my staff and I have interviewed a number of people regarding illegal dumping. We have endeavoured to interview a greater number who have declined our invitation for various reasons. We have assembled evidence. There are people to whom we would like to talk, but they are equally desirous of not meeting with us. All we can do is assemble evidence in other ways and take civil proceedings against them. The Garda has greater powers and if someone is reluctant to accept an invitation to give evidence, its members can bring him or her to the station for questioning. Unfortunately, I do not have such powers but I am sure gardaí are using theirs.

I was asked whether I interviewed Mr. O'Reilly, Mr. Stephenson and so on. While I would not like to go into specific detail of the people I have interviewed, I have been anxious to personally interview anyone who could assist with the investigation. While some have been willing to be interviewed, others have not.

On Deputy Timmin's question in regard to the involvement of the media, while we welcome media involvement and have tried to assist its legitimate role in whatever way we can, we deplore some of the scurrilous accusations repeated in some organs of the media. One of our councillors coined the acronym, LIAR, from some of the things said, L stands for lies, I for innuendo, A for allegations and R for rumours. It certainly seems that at times that was what was being promulgated by a small part of the media. Stories were being stirred up by particular individuals and lies fed to the media. I received several telephone calls from journalists who put to me seriously defamatory and bizarre stories with no foundation. When they told me the source of the stories, I was horrified that the individuals concerned would make such claims to the media. When I explained the position, the rumours were pre-empted in the media.

Other scurrilous things have been said in the media, in particular, about our former overseer in west Wicklow who died in tragic circumstances during the course of the investigation. He was not being investigated in relation to wrongdoing. However, I did interview him to see what information he might be able to give us and he gave me certain information. Any evidence that has come to my attention in the intervening period bears out the explanations he gave me at the time. No evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing on his part has come to my attention. In fact, he was one of the best regarded staff members of Wicklow County Council. A couple of years ago he received an award as employee of the year. Nonetheless, one or two organs of the media did, after he died, have the courage to say scurrilous things about him which they would not have had the guts to say if he was still alive. I deplore that sort of behaviour. If they had been prepared to say it and suffer the consequences when he was alive, one could have some respect for the story but not when they were repeating these sort of things about a man who died in tragic circumstances. One can imagine the consequences for his family, friends and so on of these appalling, uncalled for reports.

Deputy Timmins asked about the impact on water supplies. Illegal dumping on the scale we have seen in County Wicklow can give rise to serious environmental damage and risks. We are aware of and understand the concerns of local people in relation to contamination of water supplies. As everybody knows, County Wicklow is a major source of water for the entire Dublin area. We take any threat to local or regional water supplies seriously. As part of our investigations, we have been monitoring both groundwater and surface water close to the illegal dumps. We have analysed samples for bacteriological and chemical contamination. Because of scare stories doing the rounds it is important to stress that, to date, we have found no evidence whatsoever of actual contamination of drinking water sources by leachate from any of the dumps.

Dublin City Council also carries out extensive monitoring and testing of its supplies and is happy with the excellent quality of County Wicklow water. Having said that, we cannot become complacent and must continue to be vigilant. Obviously, the mere existence of these illegal dumps may create a risk which must be assessed and monitored carefully. We are increasing the scope and size of our monitoring and testing programmes and will take all possible action to ensure the dumps do not contaminate drinking water supplies in the future.

We have also been engaged in discussions with Dublin City Council in relation to the issue. It is also extending its comprehensive monitoring and testing regime. We will continue to liaise closely with its officials in relation to the matter. Within the last week I arranged for a high level meeting between Dublin City Council officials and officials of Wicklow County Council to discuss the implications of our finds and try to put in place various protocols which will enable us to respond in whatever ways are appropriate.

In relation to water supplies in the Deerpark estate, there have been efforts to create terrible scare stories by linking the isolated water problem there with the illegal dumping. It is important to say the water supply in the Deerpark estate is taken from a private well and is the responsibility of the developer of the estate. He is responsible for providing the well, the equipment and its managing and monitoring and so on. When tests of water from the well showed bacteriological contamination, a boil water warning was given. Our investigations and the best professional advice available to me indicate that the problem was caused purely by poor management of the chlorination plant. We visited the developer responsible for the well and gave him advice on how the chlorination plant should be worked. As a result, further tests have proved negative and there is no longer bacteriological contamination. We also did a range of tests for indicators which might show contamination by leachate from dumps but have found no evidence whatsoever, to date, of any contamination of the Deerpark water supply by leachate from dumps. Nonetheless, there are people who have persisted in spreading scare stories among residents. That sort of behaviour is irresponsible. All of the evidence I have shows there is no foundation whatsoever to them.

I have dealt with the question relating to resources. The question of the "garbage county" was raised. There are certain malicious and irresponsible people referring to Wicklow as the "garbage county". All of us in this room know that it is not, that it is a beautiful county.

We can appreciate that.

Mr. Sheehy

A lot of people visit the sights at weekends, many of whom leave their litter behind.

We will bring our deliberations to a close and take the last question from Deputy Grealish.

Sorry, I asked a question which was not answered.

When I asked from which companies the waste came, the reply was that most of it came from large companies in Dublin. Is their identity known and are they still in operation?

Mr. Sheehy

Yes, we know the identities of a significant number of large, well known Dublin companies whose trucks can be seen on the streets of Dublin on a daily basis. They are still in operation. We have taken a court case against one company which I can name as Dublin Waste. We are preparing proceedings against a number of other well known Dublin companies but until we initiate the proceedings and in the light of the Chairman's advice at the beginning of the meeting, I will not name them.

I would like the county manager to reply to the question I asked. It is important to note that the truth that has emerged about illegal dumping in County Wicklow is far scarier than any scare story circulating. The extent of the dumping is so incredibly huge that people have difficulty getting their heads around it. It is important to note that a lot of council time has been spent discussing illegal dumping. The original list of 80 to 100 dump sites was only put together at the request of members to the county manager. I again ask the question to which I did not get an answer. Is there any investigation or action being taken in regard to illegal dumping in east Wicklow where there may be chemical contamination?

The county manager was critical of certain sections of the media in regard to misinformation. Did the council dump on the Roadstone site without its knowledge?

I have two very brief questions. When will the investigation into the Roadstone site be completed? At a meeting of the county council on 14 October last Mr. Sheehy stated in the minutes: "He stated that preliminary investigations had taken place in Blessington but to date no evidence was found to show significant systematic illegal dumping". Four months later is it still his view that there is no evidence of significant systematic illegal dumping on the Roadstone site?

Mr. Sheehy

There was half a million tonnes with perhaps 25,000 vehicle movements. Bearing in mind the number of vehicle movements over a period of years on the N81, it would be a relatively small number per day but still significant and a cause of concern to us that it went unnoticed.

Senator Bannon asked whether Wicklow County Council dumped on Roadstone lands without its knowledge. There was a local arrangement between Roadstone and Wicklow County Council to deposit small amounts of inert material in its quarry, as there was with other quarry and landowners. There were local arrangements with various landowners, including Roadstone, to deposit - I am not using the word "dump" - material surplus to requirements for road works. It was inert material. There was such an arrangement in respect of the Blessington quarry.

Deputy Gilmore asked when the Roadstone investigation would be completed. I expect it will be several months before we have the full picture and identified the amount of waste, its sources, the environmental impact and the remediation action required. We are moving as quickly as we can, as is the Garda.

The report to which the Deputy referred, from the minutes of the county council, was based on the information available at the time and a result of both county council officials and the Garda being on site. I subsequently met members of the Garda to discuss the findings. It was their view and that of our officials that there was no evidence of systematic illegal dumping on the site. Equally, I had discussions with representatives of Roadstone who gave me whatever information they had. Based on all the information, from my staff, the Garda and Roadstone, I formed a view at the time. From the picture now emerging it seems the evidence is beginning to point towards a situation where there was some systematic illegal dumping on the Roadstone site but I am not in a position to evaluate who, how much and when, or all of the other questions that may be exercising the minds of members. By the time we complete the investigation we will be in a position to do so.

Mr. Sheehy did not answer my question. I asked him about investigations in east Wicklow. Will he, please, state whether they are being undertaken?

Mr. Sheehy

As we told the council previously, there are investigations of a large number of sites, many of which were subject to fly tipping of small amounts and so on.

I am talking about chemical contamination.

Mr. Sheehy

Let me answer the question. We are investigating a large number of sites, many of which are minor. While we are investigating a number of other sites where there may be significant amounts of material buried, we are not in a position to form a picture. I am aware of one site where we have carried out investigations to ascertain whether there is chemical contamination. I am not sure whether it is the same one that the Deputy has in mind. I am not in a position to name it at this stage. If the Deputy has concerns about a particular site and gives me the details and information she has about the nature of the material - if it is not the one under investigation - I will have some preliminary investigations done.

Mr. Sheehy knows which site I am talking about. At what stage is the investigation?

Mr. Sheehy

I do not know which site the Deputy is talking about. Mr. Duffy, who has been in the county many more years than I have, does not seem to be aware of it either. If the Deputy can give me the details, I assure her that we will examine it.

Mr. Sheehy said he had gone down 15 metres, 45 feet, on the Roadstone site. Has he got to the bottom of it yet? That is a serious question.

Mr. Sheehy

We are in the middle of an investigation. We dug where we felt we should dig and as deep as we felt was necessary. I am not going to speculate on what picture will emerge over the next few weeks and months. I am giving members all the information in my possession. The investigation is ongoing and will be pursued vigorously. Roadstone has made plant, material and machines available to assist with the excavation of the site. We have excavated about four trial pits and expect to excavate at least three others. Depending on what we find, we may investigate more.

I thank the representatives of Wicklow County Council, Mr. Sheehy, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Murphy, for their presentation.

Sitting suspended at 5.35 p.m. and resumed at 5.40 p.m.

I welcome the delegation from the Eastern Regional Health Authority led by its chief executive, Mr. Liam Woods. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. As I understand the delegation will not be making a presentation, I will call on Members to ask questions.

I understand the health board issued notices to households in the Deerpark estate in Blessington to boil their water. When were those notices issued? Does the health board believe or have any evidence that there is any connection between the contamination of water in west Wicklow and dumping? Given what we have been told about the extent of illegal dumping about which we know and the investigations that are under way by the local authority, have specific investigations been carried out by the health board into the safety of water in or near those sites? Concerns have been raised in the media about whether there may be some risk concerning the water in the Poulaphouca reservoir in Blessington following dumping in the area.

I welcome the delegation. When was it first reported to the health board that illegal dumping was being carried in the area? Does the health board have any evidence that hazardous waste was dumped? When was this first reported to the health board? Has the health board been called in to carry out investigations and tests on water supplies in the area and if so when?

Have any local authorities in the Dublin area sought the health board's advice on the general issue of possible contamination of reservoirs that supply members of the public in that area? What concerns does the health board have over possible contamination of the water going into those reservoirs?

If I may I will introduce myself and the other members of the delegation. On my left is Dr. Marie Leffoy, director of public health at the ERHA. On my right is Mr. Ian Daly, chief environmental health officer and further right is Mr. Martin Gallagher, assistant chief executive of the East Coast Area Health Board. I had not intended making a statement. We are more than happy to listen to the proceedings on a matter of public concern and while doing so I made some notes. If it is helpful to the Members, I will make a brief statement.

Mr. Woods should feel free to do so.

I will then answer the questions raised by the Members.

I will explain very briefly the structures within the eastern region in health and then move to the specific issues around water quality. The ERHA is responsible for planning, arranging and overseeing health and social services for the 1.4 million people in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. The authority is not directly involved in service delivery. The service delivery is the responsibility of the three area boards - the East Coast Area Health Board, South-Western Area Health Board and Northern Area Health Board - along with the voluntary agencies in the eastern region, of which there are 36 that are funded directly by the authority. There is one department of public health, which is represented here by Dr. Leffoy. That is within the ERHA and works as a service to the three health boards. At times this can provide advice to the local authorities through the area health boards as referred to by Members.

I will cover the role of the area health boards. There were three aspects to the issues raised here in discussion that are relevant to us. The broad health concern, being a health authority, is one aspect of our role and responsibility. The role of the environmental health officers in acting on an agency basis as a tester of water quality for the local authorities including Wicklow County Council is another matter to which I will advert briefly. Somewhat indirectly, in terms of the relationship to the ERHA, Members referred to clinical waste and the observance in illegal dumps in Wicklow. I will also refer briefly to that matter.

I will firstly deal with the broad public health concern. The board of the authority includes 30 councillors from the eastern region. Some of them, particularly those from the Baltinglass and Blessington areas, have raised concerns as far back as September of last year in one of the committees of the board and indeed at the board itself. So the issue has been the matter of discussion at the board of the ERHA. On the issues being raised, obviously there has been communication between us as an authority, the East Coast Area Health Board and Wicklow County Council. I wanted to inform the committee that, in terms of timescales, this is what is happening.

In terms of the role on the broad health side, what action has the authority taken as a health agency in terms of its concern around broad health considerations before we get to testing? The department of public health has obtained advice from the chemical incident management support unit of the college of medicine at the University of Wales, which is a Welsh expert organisation in environmental health matters, in relation to investigations that may be undertaken to assess if leaching is occurring from a landfill site. That advice has been taken and forwarded to Wicklow County Council.

Our department of public health has also commissioned further research on the potential health effects of landfill sites from the department of public health and epidemiology in UCD. The objectives of this ongoing research are as follows: to describe types of landfill sites and the variety of waste found therein; to determine the potential health problems from landfill sites, categorised by type of waste; outline and categorise the roots of possible exposure that might give rise to public health problems; establish the factors that influence the production of leachate from landfill sites; outline the investigations that can be carried out to assess the potential impact of leachate on health; and outline control measures that can be put in place to reduce the possible health effects of landfill sites.

That is broad background research in terms of the potential impacts. I would highlight, as I believe did the members of Wicklow County Council who are present, that we do not yet have evidence that would lead us to be concerned about this. However we are sufficiently concerned, given the public interest and the points raised within the board's remit, to carry out this kind of research. The output of that research will be made available to the area boards in discharge of their legal function and also to the local authorities. That is our response in terms of broad health concern.

In terms of the role of the area boards, the committee has discussed at some length some specific sites and testing. I will refer briefly to the sites to give members of the committee a little more information. Reference was made to a site at Coolamadra, which was also referred to as the Fenton site. Samples were taken from two group schemes, though the source of supply in both schemes was not in the vicinity of the illegal landfills and the results of the water analysis found that both supplies were fit for human consumption. I know the county manager referred to that site.

A site visit was undertaken by staff to the Whitestown or O'Reilly site in 14 December 2001. At the time of the site visit some domestic waste had been uncovered. Site access was restricted appropriately by Wicklow County Council due to health and safety concerns relating to gas and unstable site conditions and also due to an accident involving a member of the council staff. After some training in using particular apparatus on the site, some samples, taken on 6 February 2002, revealed the water was fit for human consumption.

The other site referred to earlier was the Dillonstown or CRH site. Investigation at the site at Dillonstown has revealed quantities of domestic refuse. The site is close to the village of Blessington. Routine water sampling is ongoing at Blessington as part of the water-sampling programme, which is undertaken by the East Coast Area Health Board on an agency basis for Wicklow County Council. This includes the Blessington public supply and private well at Deerpark and Haywood. The health board has been sampling the Deerpark supply since August 2002 due to problems with bacterial contamination. There is a current boil alert on this private supply.

Blessington village is served by a combination of a surface water supply, which is on the far side of Blessington lake and a bore well at the council depot which is located near the Blessington to Naas road. Outside of the Deerpark-Haywood site, tests in Blessington on the main water supplies have indicated that they are fit for human consumption and, at present, there is no concern about that. On the Deerpark-Haywood site, samples have been clear for the past six weeks in response to testing performed by the environmental health officers, but, as the county manage indicated, concerns remain about the effective management of the facility. Until they are satisfied, the "boil water" notice will remain in place. In response to the earlier question on that matter, I believe the notice has been in place since last August - almost seven months ago.

I will now deal with the clinical waste issue. The authority is not directly responsible for services or activities of the voluntary hospitals in the eastern region. We do fund hospitals and, at the time when concern was raised about clinical waste in illegal dumps in Wicklow, we corresponded with all 39 health agencies in the eastern region to seek their assurance that there was no waste going from hospitals or other facilities within the region to illegal dumps. It transpired that there was one instance in which that was happening. We understand that, soon after, the contract with the supplier who was mentioned here earlier was terminated.

The issue of clinical waste is now part of a national contract which is a ten year arrangement. In fact, it is a joint arrangement, North and South, that was negotiated under the auspices of the Department of Health and Children. The authority, in response to the issues that arose at the time, corresponded with all hospitals to ensure that they were applying what was an already existing circular of the Department of Health and Children relating to the effective management of clinical waste. I just referred to that issue because it was adverted to earlier.

There is no explicit evidence to indicate that there is a connection between water quality and illegal dumping. It is not possible to say definitively that there is no link, but tests have indicated that there is no connection at present. The issue will obviously have to remain under review until we are absolutely sure and the environmental health office will co-ordinate its activities in this area with those of the South-Western Area Board. Perhaps I should clarify that the Wicklow mountains are the divide between the East Coast and South-Western Area Boards. Blessington and Baltinglass are in the South-Western Board area. The South-Western Area Board will continue working with Wicklow County Council to test the water supply until there is satisfaction that it is fit for human consumption on an ongoing basis.

On the question as to whether there are any specific investigations in relation to water safety, the normal work of the environmental health office includes testing water on an agency basis for local authorities. In Wicklow, there was a plan in 2002 to take 537 samples whereas a total of 844 were actually taken. There is an ongoing process of testing and I have referred to one or two areas where there is specific testing around incidents of concern, but it is part of the normal business of the local authority, in its legal remit on water quality, to engage the health boards in the process of testing. That is very much part of the brief. I understand that the testing on the Poulaphuca reservoir is done by Dublin City Council, which undertakes over 30,000 water sampling tests per year. That is ongoing work.

There was a question about whether there had been any reports of hazardous waste. We do not have any reports of toxic waste. We have, as already stated, undertaken some research to identify what actions may be appropriate for local authorities, how environmental health officers might partake in that and whether other skills or disciplines would be required. Ms Leffoy's department has a body of clinical expertise which is available as an advisory service to the area boards and, through the area boards, to the local authorities.

As to whether the local authorities have sought advice, that is part of the ongoing process. As I described earlier, the local authorities relate through the environmental health office and they contract services from the health boards in respect of the issue of water quality.

With regard to the broad concerns of the ERHA, the board of the authority, as I said earlier, has discussed this issue on a number of occasions and it has been discussed in committee. Yes, issues of water quality, given the scale and significance of water supplies and quality, are a key concern to the ERHA and the three area boards in the eastern region. Therefore, to the extent that it is required for us to clinically or technically assist the area boards or the local authorities in their work, we will do that. I feel sure the issue will be back in discussion within the board of the authority.

I thank Mr. Woods for his replies. He referred to correspondence with Wicklow County Council. When did that correspondence commence? Will he inform the committee, in general terms, what was the nature of the correspondence? Will he make the correspondence, or at least elements of it, available to the committee? Was the board satisfied with the response, if any, which it received from Wicklow County Council?

In relation to water supply at Deerpark, people living with the "boil water" notice for over seven months are having to put up with severe inconvenience. When a number of public representatives met them during the week before last, they proffered a sample of the water they were having to use. The smell of chlorine was so strong that one could not possibly use it, even after boiling. Mr. Woods is now saying the water is clear and has been for seven weeks. However, one cannot expect people to use that water with the present content of chlorine. Perhaps Mr. Woods will comment on that. He said the "boil water" notice could not be lifted because effective management of the plant is needed. Who is responsible for resolving that problem? Somebody must resolve it. I know it is a private supply but Mr. Woods has clearly been dealing with the county council. Is he satisfied that the county council is dealing with this in a proper manner to ensure that the residents are not further discommoded?

We can, of course, make available the correspondence with Wicklow County Council to which Deputy Gilmore referred. In terms of the recent correspondence about these instances, the authority - the ERHA corporate - has engaged in ongoing communication, in written and other forms, with Wicklow County Council since the 9 September. This correspondence can, of course, be made available.

In terms of the second element of the Deputy's question concerning our interpretation of the response of Wicklow County Council, the South-Western Area Board has provided advice to the council as an input to its processes. The council is, on an ongoing basis, availing of the services of the environmental health office, which is within the South-Western Area Board to assist. The type of information we were seeking, and the main content of it, was some assurance that issues of public concern around water supply were being considered and addressed. We were bringing to the attention of the county manager issues that were being raised within the forum of the board of the ERHA and its committees. I referred earlier to councillors from the area having specific concerns. Of course we will make that information available.

The "boil water" notice, the chlorine content and the management of the system are all related. The chlorine and the management of the system are interlinked. The possibility of the county council taking over the operation of the water system in that area is under discussion. That is a matter for the county council rather than the authority. The authority does not have a legal responsibility in terms of water supply - we are providing an agency service.

I understand - and I ask the committee to accept this as my understanding rather than anything firmer - that the original planning included the notion that the supply would be set up and adequately run by the private contractor originally on the site. There may be some issues between those people and the county council. It is certainly not our intention that people would be drinking heavily chlorinated water. Regardless of it being fit for human consumption, there are other issues at stake in that regard and we would see those being addressed in the management of the facility, which is an issue between the private operator and the county council.

I appreciate that voluntary hospitals are not under the control of the health authority. How would hospital waste end up being taken by a private contractor to an illegal dump in County Wicklow? While I appreciate that the hospitals concerned may not be under the direct control of the ERHA, would Mr. Woods like to make an observation on the matter?

Our understanding is that the waste ended up in an illegal dump in County Wicklow because a reputable organisation involved in waste disposal, which had signed a primary contract with the hospital, signed a subcontract with another company, which was named earlier. The subcontractor appears to have brought the waste to an illegal dump in County Wicklow.

I appreciate that a new arrangement is now in place. Is the ERHA satisfied that it is working?

Yes. The national contract now in place is effective.

Did the hospital not behave irresponsibly by giving responsibility for this type of waste to a company involved in skip hire?

I am not sure that was quite the case. The hospital undertook some research to determine that the waste would go to a licensed site but it did not foresee that a subcontract would be put in place. The subcontract led to the problems. The competent agency is the hospital involved. I do not have much more detail on the case.

Does the same scrutiny apply to a private hospital as to a hospital directly under the control of the ERHA? There is evidence that a tributary of the River Slaney, which is used as part of the water supply, was polluted by leaching from hospital waste. The new ten year scrutiny plan, operated both north and south of the Border, should apply to private and public hospitals.

Our responsibility as a health authority rests in the public health system. While legislation relating to waste disposal and water quality applies to all agencies in the State, it is not within the statutory remit of the ERHA to monitor such matters. Our concern in terms of water quality arises from our concern as a health authority for the health of people in the ERHA area. Private hospitals in the eastern region are bound by the same legislative criteria as public hospitals. Although the ERHA funds public hospitals, it does not control them as they are independent agencies, by and large.

What degree of co-operation is there between the ERHA and the EPA?

We have had some communication with the EPA in relation to health issues. Such communication takes place where appropriate as part of our normal business. Formal meetings take place, for example, at area board level.

Does that conclude questions? I thank representatives of the Eastern Regional Health Authority for attending. I apologise for keeping them waiting for so long and thank them for their contributions. An Taisce is the final organisation to address the joint committee today.

Sitting suspended at 6.04 p.m. and resumed at 6.06 p.m.

I welcome Mr. Frank Corcoran, president of An Taisce. I apologise for keeping him waiting. We have tested his kidneys and patience. Members of the joint committee can ask questions after he has finished his presentation.

Mr. Frank Corcoran

I thank the joint committee for inviting me to help its deliberations on the issue of illegal dumping in County Wicklow. An Taisce has acquired its information on this matter as a consequence of the fact that it is one of the prescribed bodies in relation to planning. It receives environmental impact statements from the EPA and An Bord Pleanála when planning permission is sought for a landfill site or waste licences. It examined the Blessington site in detail because an EPA licence for an inert landfill site - a landfill site of inert material that will not cause environmental harm - at Dillonstown was awarded to an operator other than Roadstone. I looked at that matter in detail also.

An Taisce made an appeal to An Bord Pleanála in relation to a planning application by Roadstone for quarrying at Blessington. Hydrology was one of the major issues dealt with in the EIS for that location. Following a two day oral hearing, An Taisce succeeded in overturning Wicklow County Council's decision to grant an extension of quarrying to Roadstone. More detailed knowledge of the hydrology of the area, including surface water, etc., was acquired during the appeal process. I am quite familiar with the area - I walk through it quite often and have flown over it on many occasions. I am very familiar with the council investigations. I received photographs taken from an aircraft last week.

I apologise for interrupting but were you here when I mentioned that you do not enjoy parliamentary privilege?

Mr. Corcoran

I understand and appreciate that fact and I will respect it.

Not only do I have a good knowledge of the Blessington area from overflying it and a good knowledge of the council's investigation, I am also familiar with the many townlands within the Roadstone site covered by the investigation.

In relation to hydrology, it has been correctly stated the groundwater flows towards the reservoir but it also flows to the wells that feed the housing estates in Blessington, a number of which, including Ashton Estate where I live, source their water from a well originally sunk by the developer of the estate. The water for the wells comes from the Roadstone quarries. It was originally filtered by the volume of sand in the area but the removal of the sand as a result of quarrying means the level of filtering is now less than it was originally. It is one thing for the level of filtering to be less, but there is now evidence of waste replacing the sand in some areas. Rather than being filtered by sand, the water that will eventually feeds the wells is being filtered by waste.

All of the waste which was dumped in west Wicklow did not, as was stated earlier by the county manager, come from Dublin. Wicklow County Council secured a conviction against a waste contractor for illegally dumping and tolling material which was collected in Wicklow. The contractor was imprisoned. Road materials are not inert and it is not perfectly fine to dump it. Tarmac reacts and cannot be regarded as inert material, which one will see if one looks at the landfill manuals of the EPA. A licence is required if one is to dispose of tarmac properly. EU law requires the decontamination of sites, particularly in cases where it is not known if hazardous waste has been dumped. One cannot be sure that such waste is there because if it has been dumped illegally, the person responsible will not have made checks regarding the nature of the material. It is always a possibility that some of the material is hazardous.

It would be worrying if the response of the local authority were to leave the illegally dumped waste in situ and, to be fair, it is not proposing to do that in the case of Coolamadra. However, no decision has been taken in relation to Whitestown or Stephenson's Quarry and it would be a mistake if the authority decided to leave the illegally dumped material in place.

Under EU waste directives, there is a duty not to mix hazardous waste with ordinary waste which goes right back to Directive 75/442, updated by Directive 91/156, and hazardous waste Directive 91/689. There is also a duty to dispose of waste without causing harm. In Coolamadra, there is evidence of very nasty and hazardous clinical waste, such as swabs and body parts. The water in the area was tested and showed up zero coliforms because the leachate takes time to concentrate and come through the ground to do the damage. One could drink the water from the well beside the Coolamadra site, but is there anyone who would be prepared to do so?

The water at Deerpark showed 32 parts coliform according to the health board investigation. That was exposed when the developer's chlorine pump broke down and the coliforms ceased to be killed. One Christmas, half the residents on the estate contracted gastroenteritis. They were vomiting and had diarrhoea, which exposed the problem. The exposure was not a result of examination by statutory agencies or of monitoring, it came from the laboratory results from hospitals. People do not accept that the water is fine because the pump is working again, or that you can drink the 32 parts coliforms with a cocktail of chlorine. An Taisce agrees that the fundamental problem must be dealt with which means confronting the areas where the contamination is coming from. Nobody can make a connection between Deerpark and Roadstone since no investigation has been carried out. However, we can say that people do not wish to tolerate soil contamination and that they are not prepared to accept use of chlorine to deal with it when problems arise.

The county council was aware of the Whitestown dump in 1998 as various complaints were made about it. No action was taken. That year, after complaints were made in writing, a letter was sent to John O'Reilly from the county council, but no section 55 notice under the Waste Management Act 1996 was sent out. That is very significant. Lawyers do not have to be consulted before one can send out a section 55 notice. It is necessary only to reach into a drawer, pull out the notice, fill in the name of the person against whom the allegation of dumping has been made and inform them that they are on notice to cease the unauthorised activity. One does not ask the person if they are dumping illegally and, having listened to their answer, find that there is no evidence of unauthorised activity. One does not take a person at their word, one serves the notice as provided for under the Act. The reason west Wicklow was targeted for disposal of illegal waste was because section 55 notices were not served, even when detailed complaints were made to the county council.

Wicklow County Council negotiated with John O'Reilly in 1999 to buy the Whitestown dump from him. It sent its engineer to the dump to investigate it in order to buy or lease it. However, Mr. O'Reilly was not interested. This information is available in writing because the county council proposed to him in a letter that it wished to lease or buy the dump, setting out the payments it was willing to make. Despite the fact that a county council engineer investigated the dump with a view to it becoming a local authority waste disposal facility, no section 55 notice was served. According to the evidence of the county manager in relation to the dump at Coolamadra, when it was noticed in August that illegal material was being brought to that site, the dumper was told not to do it any more. That response was inadequate. The county council should have served a section 55 notice, particularly as such notices are provided for in legislation for just such a purpose. Had that been done, the subsequent dumping of clinical waste on the site would not have occurred. The material was dumped after the failure to serve the notice. It should be obvious that the trend underlying this activity has been lack of enforcement and failure to serve the rudimentary section 55 notice. People felt that there were no consequences to dumping illegally in west Wicklow, although that is probably not the case now.

Why do the Waste Management Act and EU directives prescribe such ferocious penalties? Can anybody think of other legislation which provides for terms of imprisonment of ten years and fines of €12.5 million? The penalties are so heavy because illegal dumping of waste contaminates groundwater flows and as well as surface water. While the contamination of rivers and lakes may flush out, ground water is a bigger problem because it provides the well water that people drink. We do not know where the contamination goes because the haphazard nature of our glaciated geology makes flows unpredictable. They meander in very odd ways, which makes it extremely difficult to follow the contamination. Aquifers become contaminated. The latter are underground stores of water which take hundreds of years to replenish. The advertisement for Ballygowan refers to a filtration period of 800 years and it is true that 300 years is about the length of time it takes for water to get into an aquifer. If it is poisoned, the water will not be satisfactory for that length of time. In Europe, people regret that they have destroyed many of their aquifers. In Ireland we should cherish them since they are so precious.

The soil has also to be considered because the bacteria move through it. They can move up hills and do not have to move down because they can move around in gradients. The Waste Management Act places such a heavy penalty on illegal dumping because remediation sometimes becomes almost impossible. The mere removal of the illegally dumped material does not solve the problem because of the bacteria moving through the soil. One has to follow the soil through. If one reads European case law and the directives one will realise that sites have to be decontaminated. That is the only way to deal with the problem.

Apart from groundwater, people are concerned about other problems. The health board officials alluded to the gases that come out of contaminated sites. When the waste is buried deep without any oxygen it produces methane and other landfill gases like carbon dioxide, which are asphyxiants. Methane is the same gas as one gets in one's oven. People who want to commit suicide stick their heads in the oven to do so.

International studies have shown that the closer people live to landfills the higher the incidence of congenital birth defects and foetal abnormalities because the gases seem to be able to penetrate the placenta. In other countries there is also evidence of cancer clusters in landfill areas. The epidemiology department in Trinity College conducted research into congenital birth problems in the greater Dublin area and its findings are consistent with international ones. The report has not been published yet but I have a copy. It is still going through peer review and was supposed to have been finished last April. I do not know why it has not been released because it should be.

Could Mr. Corcoran confine his remarks to the issue of illegal dumping in Wicklow? Members will want to ask questions as well.

Mr. Corcoran

Illegal dumps produce landfill gases, which persist for a period of 40 years. People in Blessington are not prepared to wait for ongoing tests, but they want the illegally dumped material to be removed and the site decontaminated. That is in accordance with EU law.

The first of the photographs I have circulated to the committee, taken over the N81, shows a new housing development in Blessington. It shows a council estate being constructed on the left and the new Woodleigh estate being constructed on the right. The council offices are in the foreground and there are two industrial units in the background. Behind a hedge in the distance there are three small, orange council diggers, which are at the site of the dump. The townland is called New Paddocks, and it is on Roadstone's land.

The second photograph shows a close-up view of the scene. One can see three council investigators in New Paddocks and the exposed dump. The third photograph——

Where is the council office on that photograph?

Mr. Corcoran

The council office is very much to the left.

Is it on the photograph?

Mr. Corcoran

It is to the left of the two big industrial units.

Is it the low building with the green roof?

Mr. Corcoran

Yes, that is the new council office and it is newly occupied. There is an old council office up on the hill that sees all the trucks going through Blessington. I would not make an issue of the newly occupied office.

New Paddocks is the townland in which the council has exposed material. The photograph depicting this was taken last Friday. The third photograph shows the exposed material in greater detail . The council is extending the site outwards and one can see that the dump is right on the boundary of the new development.

If one looks at the fourth photograph, one will see the type of material in the new development. Mr. O'Loughlin of Roadstone said that he did not react when he saw the excavation. I think the first reaction of anybody who saw it would be to retch because the smell coming from it is appalling. It would be impossible not to react to it.

The fifth in the series of photographs portrays the land Roadstone has reinstated, in the middle of which there is a mound. It is called Dillonstown and is the first site that the council started to investigate. It is producing very large amounts of landfill gases such that the alarm on the council's gas monitor went off. I walked the site and could smell the gases myself. I am used to smelling landfill gases because, through work, I visit landfills all over Europe to see what other countries do with them. Methane is odourless but there are other gases mixed with it, which can be smelled.

Deerpark is the townland where Glending woods are situated. The green area on the photograph represents a part of Glending woods that has been quarried by Roadstone already. The county council has found very substantial amounts of waste in that area, which I have seen myself. It has covered up that excavation again. It excavates sites, looks at them and closes them up again. The photograph shows the area of Glending woods for which Roadstone got planning permission from Wicklow County Council to quarry. Roadstone reinstated the land but the reinstated land has waste in it.

The current plan for Blessington shows the extent of the quarries. Across from the N81, there is an extractive industry called Doran's pit, and there is another on the left hand side of the N81, not all of which is associated with Roadstone. The map I have circulated shows a second area of extractive industry inside a box. Planning permission has been gained in respect of 15 acres inside that box. Wicklow County Council is proposing to allow Roadstone quarry that area, which includes a national monument. The sand in this area washes the water in Blessington. An Bord Pleanála has thrown out that application. The map in question is Roadstone's planning application map.

Roadstone's planning application map includes the national monument and the wetlands area. Notwithstanding the fact that waste was found on Roadstone's land and that it has breached previous planning regulations in respect of remediation, the council is proposing to reward it with further rezoning. A road loops down to the area in question signifying that planning permission has already been granted in the area.

Has Mr. Corcoran permission from Wicklow County Council to use the map at which we are looking?

Mr. Corcoran

This map is in the proposed Blessington area draft development plan. It is on display.

Could Mr. Corcoran refer specifically to illegal dumping?

Mr. Corcoran

The road in question bends down to the right just before the New Paddocks dump. The planning permission documentation does not have it bending down at all, but going through the area of the dump. That is the planning permission granted, but somehow the road goes through some other landowner's land in the draft development plan. They say it is an error.

The planners told me the rezoning of Glending woods to Roadstone was a mapping error. They also said the road bending down is a mapping error. That does not inspire confidence in people of the ability of Wicklow County Council to deal with this point.

We are not dealing with planning. If Mr. Corcoran does not confine his remarks to illegal dumping in Wicklow, there is no purpose in his continuing.

Mr. Corcoran

I was talking about the New Paddocks dump which is there. That is the relevance because, if the plan had the road going through, the development of the road would have exposed the dump. The cat is out of the bag now because the dump has been exposed.

I have full confidence in the county council investigators on the ground. Their innovative methods include the use of satellite imagery and over-flights and I am impressed with what they have achieved. They have carried on regardless of the fact that they have exposed dumping even by the council itself. That inspires confidence in the investigators. At the same time it worries us when these things are happening. We need an assurance from Wicklow County Council that it will not show any favourable treatment towards this company. No other company had embankments built around the excavations so the press could not see it like this one.

Deputy Timmins referred to diggers in The Irish Times photograph. He said they were not council diggers behind an embankment but, in fact, they are. The county council should bring a limited number of press in to see what is there because people have a right to know. I saw the bucket coming out with waste in the water table in the Deerpark - Glending Woods part of that site. A spring for a river that goes through the Deerpark estate rises in the area where the waste is dumped. The hydrology also shows that the water feeding wells, including my own, comes from the area in which the waste is dumped. People are naturally concerned about this.

In order to inspire confidence, the county council must demonstrate that it will not show this company favourable treatment, but the State must do likewise. The Moriarty tribunal has specifically stated that it has excluded Glending Woods from all investigation. The terms of reference never did that but the tribunal did. In order to inspire confidence that the company does not get favourable treatment, the State should appoint an auxiliary judge to the tribunal who can deal with these matters.

Mr. Corcoran is getting completely away from what we are discussing. If he insists on doing so, we will have to bring the meeting to a close. We spend long enough in this House discussing the tribunals. We set them up and we will let them get on with their business. If Mr. Corcoran wants to continue discussing illegal dumping with us, we will be happy to do so.

Mr. Corcoran

The senior people in the EPA have kindly agreed to meet with us twice a year to discuss matters of concern. I welcome that opportunity. The last time we met, I asked the senior person why hazardous clinical waste can go missing when there is a fool-proof method in place - called a C1 form - to track it. The form is filled out by the hospital, the contractor and the local authority. It says where the waste is going and the receipt goes there. The local authority that receives the C1 form sends it away, every 28 February, to the EPA. I asked the EPA what it does when they see from the return from the local authority that hazardous waste has gone missing. They answered that they do not read the C1 forms. The next time I meet them, in two weeks time, I will ask them whether they now read the forms because it could be a useful way of tracking where hazardous waste goes so it does not go missing and end up in west Wicklow.

Mr. Corcoran referred to an attempt by Wicklow County Council to buy the O'Reilly site in 1999 and correspondence he had in connection with that. Can he make the correspondence available to the committee?

Mr. Corcoran

Yes, I will.

Is Mr. Corcoran satisfied that the Waste Management Act 1996 has sufficient clout to address illegal dumping and is he convinced that Wicklow County Council is applying sufficient resources to the issue under the Act?

Mr. Corcoran

There are many powers under the Waste Management Act 1996 and if they used the C1 forms - section 55 notices - that would solve many problems. However, the Act does not comply properly with EU directives because the directives require all illegally dumped material to be removed. They do not require evidence of environmental harm. There is a good reason for that. By the time one gets the evidence of the environmental harm, it is too late because it cannot be reversed. Illegally dumped material must be removed. We should not wait and monitor sites for 40 years, looking for evidence of environmental harm. It should be removed before because the harm it causes is irreversible. If harm is caused to an aquifer it cannot be undone.

In relation to Coolnamadra, Mr. Corcoran spoke of "harm waiting to happen". What advice does he offer to prevent harm happening? He apportioned much blame to Wicklow County Council regarding non-compliance with regulations regarding section 55 notices. When this was brought to the notice of An Taisce, as custodians of the environment, what action, if any, did it take? Did it take it to a higher authority as I would expect it to?

Mr. Corcoran

I raised it with a Wicklow county councillor who raised the issue of illegal dumping in Blessington many times, many years ago. It should be in the minutes of those meetings and was certainly reported by the local newspapers. The problem An Taisce has is that it does not have statutory powers to investigate, so we have to rely on the enforcement agency to do so. I am anxious to see the Act fully implemented so these problems do not occur. This is why I raised the issue with the EPA. I hope to be able to get a successful conclusion because, if the EPA begins to monitor its C1 returns, at least we will know more about what happens to hospital waste.

We have a detailed study under way about how to deal with waste. We would never suggest that waste is put somewhere else. Rather, we believe waste is our responsibility and should be dealt with in a safe way. That research will soon be complete and we hope it will be published shortly.

If correct procedures are not followed in relation to the section 55 forms, I see it as part of An Taisce's responsibility to take it a step further to a higher authority.

Mr. Corcoran

When a complaint is made to a local authority and, if we find it has not served a statutory notice, we raise the matter. We assume the local authority serves the statutory notice because it is so easy to do - there is no need to seek legal advice on it.

How soon after An Taisce finds out that a notice has not issued would it raise the matter?

Mr. Corcoran

A statement was made by Wicklow County Council that a section 55 notice was served on the Coolnamadra case and it was only subsequently that we learned one was not served. The statement was made at one of its meetings. It confuses us when the council makes a statement that a section 55 notice has been served when that is not the case.

Does Mr. Corcoran have evidence of that?

Mr. Corcoran


Perhaps he could make it available to the committee.

Mr. Corcoran

I do not have it with me today but I can make it available.

Does An Taisce examine the records kept by local authorities in relation to their obligations of monitoring and inspecting waste facilities?

Mr. Corcoran

It is not easy for us to do that. In fact, we are trying to be systematic in doing it and we need resources to do so. It would take huge resources for An Taisce to do that. We only have one planning officer, one heritage officer and one nature officer and they have to deal with all issues such as that as full-time employed staff. We are not focusing all our attention on Wicklow, however, and have done a lot of monitoring of other counties to see what is happening. We are pushing for the authorities to use the powers they possess and watching to see whether they are neglecting to use those powers because that is where problems arise. We do not confine our attention to Wicklow, we also consider other counties.

Mr. Corcoran mentioned in his statement that the reinstatement at Deerpark had waste in it.

Mr. Corcoran

There are substantial amounts of waste in the part of Deerpark, which has been reinstated. There is waste in Glending Woods. That is the problem to which I alluded.

On behalf of Members, I thank the four organisations for their presentations. We got a certain amount of information, although we expected and would have appreciated a little more. I thank everybody for the effort they made and for giving us the information we received.

One of the things that has emerged from our discussion is that due to ongoing investigations there is a certain constraint on some of the witnesses. I propose, without, for obvious reasons, setting a date, that the committee return to this issue at a point at which the investigations are further advanced or concluded. This matter requires further consideration.

All organisations have expressed a willingness to return to us at a later stage. We will avail of that opportunity. I remind members of the select committee that we will have a motion related to African-Eurasian migratory water birds to consider, which must be sent back to the Dáil by 18 February. It is a very important issue, I am sure.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.45 p.m. sine die.