The Tuesday evening sitting of the hearing was what I really wanted to speak about. It was reserved specially for those who couldn’t attend during the day to have their voice heard. They weren’t scientists picking apart the EIS – the EIS was hardly mentioned – they were just ordinary people who were concerned about one thing: Ringaskiddy.
The atmosphere wasn’t electric like it was at the Ringaskiddy public meeting that I attended. You couldn’t describe it as angry either – only in parts. It was simply people talking about Ringaskiddy, and trying to convey to John Ahern how indescribably they love their town and their community.
The first speaker, Ger O’Mahony, spoke on the risk to staff on Haulbowline Island, and the risk to the proposed site itself in that the future of coastal erosion cannot be predicted by experts. He asked where the 240,000 tonnes will come from, and asked whether the NMCI would get compensation for losses to students and staff members – adding that he doesn’t trust the company one bit. Again he criticised Indaver’s experts, saying that the same kind of people told us 40 years ago that asbestos was safe – and who believes that now?
Martin Creener spoke of concerns for business next, saying that he works with business from all around the world to encourage them to set up stall in Cork. Businesspeople from all over visit here and admire the clean, fresh air we have. Part of my job, he said, is to help develop a vision of what they want to do in Cork, and not one business vision includes destroying it with an incinerator.
Ruth King of Cobh Tidy Towns told us of how the organisation started as a spring clean event in 1953, and how now it’s nationwide, run by a government department. She said that Cobh could say goodbye to a chance of winning the Clean Air award or the Climate Change award if the incinerator was built.
Kieran O’Flaherty from RRA told us of the battle Ringaskiddy’s people have had to fight for decades to save themselves from industry, and how the beach used to be a postcard picture, but now you can’t see it from the town. He said the area is not full of industry, it is bursting with it. He said the invaders, Indaver, were not welcome, and would not be welcome if they tried 100 times. He asked the suits sitting across the floor to leave the Harbour alone for the people of Ringaskiddy.
Joe Mac Carthy spoke next – his submission was amazing, full stop. He began with the Indian proverb – “Only when the last tree has died, and the last river been poisoned, and the last fish been caught, will we realise we cannot eat money” – and said it was deja vu addressing an oral hearing for the third time. Joe then placed some items on the table – a candle for the memory of Ringaskiddy’s people, a shamrock shirt, an old photo of the town, a book, a flower from the proposed site, a wish box, and a copy of the Proclamation.
He let the candle burn for the duration of the sitting, and the flower is still on a table at the back of the room as I write.
He spoke of when he was a young man going to Cork City for the first time, and people there hadn’t even heard of Ringaskiddy. To him Ringaskiddy was his whole world. He said how the people were told that they brought this on themselves by letting the factories in, but how could they know what was coming?
I kept looking for a response out of Indaver – Rory Mulcahy appeared like he was in a dream, and John Ahern looked solemn, but sure he always does.
Addressing Mr Ahern directly, Joe asked him to imagine Ringaskiddy in better days, when there were carnivals in the summer and hunting on Sundays. He walked us down the streets and told us of the people who lived here – families, teachers, priests.
Joe said that we all have the planet in common. This generation is in a place no other generation has been, he said; we are the first generation in a position to destroy the planet, and the last one with a chance to save it.
He questioned Indaver on their policy, on meetings held between them and prescribed bodies, and on who was employed to head their PR campaign and how much they were paid.
Joe said that Indaver have €12m behind them, while the residents have coffee mornings and bake sales, comparing it to David vs Goliath. “We all know who won, Goliath.”
He ended by saying directly to Mr Ahern, it’s not too late to do the right thing and take back your application. The audience stood to applaud.
Gertie O’Driscoll spoke next. She said she’s been living here her whole life, and so have five generations of her family. She said that every house had a boat decades ago, and now they can’t even see the sea.
Referencing the asbestos dump, she said the experts back then told them this was safe – we had that dump forced on us, she added, but John Ahern can no longer tell us what’s best for us. She said she lives in daily fear of an explosion like the one at Hicksons.
Gertie then read the emergency plan for GSK if the plant was to explode. She read a list of chemicals in use at the factory, then a transcript of the message that would go out on radio and television, which began, “Stay indoors. Keep calm. Close all windows and doors.” – to which the reaction of people in the room was a mixture of ironic chuckles and disapproval. Next she told us that An Garda Síochána would “make arrangements for the dead”, and the word “dead” had a terrible finality about it, eliciting tangible shock from those listening. The GAA hall would be a temporary mortuary, and the Carrigaline Garda station would be a reception for concerned relatives.
Sammy O’Driscoll spoke next, and during his submission showed us some beautiful pictures of the Harbour, joining others in describing the town as a postcard photo. He told us of when he was eleven and camping out on the site that was to become the asbestos dump, trying to put a stop to it. He painted a picture of Luck Beach in the summer, teeming with people and their cars parked in the field above.
Sammy spoke of harvesting razor fish with his dad, and he said he only did the same once with his kids, but because of water pollution he wouldn’t do it again.
The next part – I hope that Indaver saw me visibly upset as Sammy showed us an aerial photo of the streets he grew up on, as he pointed to all the houses, and in every single household at least one person had died of cancer. In one house they had three cases – two died. Indaver had no reaction whatsoever.
Debby Heyes repeated the emergency message people in Antwerp were hearing at the time of the explosion – “Remain calm. Remain indoors. Close windows and doors.” – an echo of the GSK message Gertie had read out earlier. In the primary school she works in, 56 out of 340 pupils have asthma. In prevailing winds, she added, the school would be directly in the line of wind, and she said that it’s madness we’re here for a third time.
Mairead Roberts posed the question: why this persistence on this site? The reason must be financial, she said, adding that the importing of waste would be inevitable. She said that incineration is a short term solution, and we don’t know what awful legacy it will leave.
Naomi James spoke of the cumulative effects of toxins in the environment, and how hospital beds are full to capacity. She said that Indaver have the power to choose, but we live with the consequences. Big business only cares about profit, not the health of the people, she concluded.
We then heard from 19 year old Sarah Jones, and a spokesman from the IFA, before Vivian Prout from RRA.
He spoke on concerns like site suitability, flooding, and traffic congestion – where he said there simply isn’t space on the roads even at off-peak hours. He said the trucks would be queuing in the town waiting, and he got applauded when he mentioned the devaluation of local property this incinerator would bring. Vivian finished up with stating that Indaver would not put us in the same position as the people of Carranstown, and that we will fight if it comes to that.
Finbarr O’Flaherty from Shanbally said that he was under protest on a number of grounds, including: we don’t know the identity of the applicant, and a transcript was requested a number of times but not provided. He spoke about bottom ash being taken to Bottlehill, and said that should’ve formed an essential part of the application.
“I love Cork Harbour deeply,” he said, adding later that we have a new enemy in this year of 2016. He said that everyone in the area could pledge to protect Cork Harbour, and that so much has been taken away, the people should at least keep the simple pleasure of skimming stones on Gobby Beach.
Finbarr concluded that the single-road access to the Harbour was once a problem, but now it is our weapon; “We will block off the Harbour to Indaver … It is the only language this corporate bully understands.”
Everyone stood to applaud. John Ahern had that mockingly sceptical look on his face.
Des McKee, Ballymoore, began by telling us that the community is not anti-development – we didn’t oppose the wind turbines even though they block our view, he stressed.
He described the health assessment being handed back and forth between the EPA and the Department of Health – both said the health effects of incinerators was the responsibility of the other. The risks outweigh the benefits, and the evening finished to Des asking the Board to opt for better developments that would not harm the health of our children.