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.