I thank the Minister for coming to the House. As she may be aware, events have overtaken this matter to a certain extent because I received a letter from the Minister this morning which was very helpful. I appreciate the fact that on a matter which is of genuine urgency, it was nice to receive a reply from the Minister so quickly, giving a full, though inadequate, explanation of what has happened in this quarry. I wish to explain the facts to the Minister in the light of her letter and the reply she will undoubtedly give.
About two weeks ago I was asked by a person who lives in the area of Balleece in Rathdrum to visit his house because of an explosion at a quarry nearby. At an estimate his house is at least half a mile from this quarry. This individual is a small farmer with a wife and family, and he showed me the distressing effects of the explosion in Balleece quarry. The explosion had thrown up boulders which were devastatingly heavy, I estimated their weight at 50 kg. to 100 kg. They would certainly have killed anybody they hit. These boulders were thrown past his house and landed very close to some cattle. Had they dropped in another direction, they would have landed on the road to which his house is adjacent. This explosion, whatever the Minister says in her reply, was definitely life threatening. It is not a densely populated area, but it is an area in which people live, and it is close to a road. The boulders would have killed people if they had landed on the road and people had been passing.
This quarry is adjacent to Avondale House, one of the most picturesque and historic tourist spots in County Wicklow. While I have my own misgivings about having a quarry beside it at all because of its effect on the environment and on tourism, I have serious misgivings now that there has been an explosion of this sort because of the possible consequences had the trajectory of the explosion been in the direction of Avondale House, which is close by. This is a considerable problem which, although not immediate, could easily have happened.
The Minister in her reply says that prompt action was taken by both the quarry owners and the Department. An inspector from the Health and Safety Authority was sent to inspect the quarry almost immediately after the explosion — there was a bank holiday between the date of the explosion and the inspector's visit — and the inspector appears to have reported, and I am concerned about this, that as far as he or she is concerned, this was an isolated occurrence. I wonder how the inspector can tell this is an isolated occurrence. This is an isolated occurrence until the next time it happens. What the Minister cannot give us is an assurance that this will not happen again in the next few months. What she can say is that there was a fault which was unpredictable but what she cannot say is that there are not more faults and what she has not done in her letter to me is to promise immediate action.
Some action has been taken: I gather all personnel from the quarry are to retire to what is considered a safe distance from explosions, but I do not believe this is adequate. The public road is within range of a potential explosion of this kind. Temporary measures should have been taken to ensure immediately that no further explosions are carried out at this quarry until we are absolutely certain it is safe.
I note that Morrisey's Quarries, the company involved, have commissioned a consultant. I am always uneasy when companies commission consultants because by the nature of such a commission, the company pays for it. I do not believe it is ill-motivated, but the consultant has a job to do and can hardly be independent. The consultant is expected to produce a report that is favourable to the company. I suggest that either the Department or the Health and Safety Authority should commission such reports and not the company because it is difficult for a consultant or a company to portray such a report as objective.
I thank the Minister but I ask her for an assurance that the fault which was life threatening is no longer present. We need intermediate action lest the same thing happen again while the cause of this explosion is being investigated. Nothing in the full reply I received from the Minister, by letter, has assured me that this is an isolated incident. I would like to see interim measures implemented to reassure the local residents and the workers — one of who had to retire to hospital because he was struck — that this will not happen again.