At the end of last week, Dublin City Council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, sent out a new plan to councillors for dealing with a big illegal dump in Priorswood.
Keegan proposes to launch a planning process in November that would allow the council to remove the waste and build a new boundary wall around the site, says his report.
For years, residents living around Moatview Court have complained of growing mounds of illegally dumped waste on council land. They have worried that it is making them sick, complained of plagues of rats, and said they are fearful of letting their kids out to play.
In late July, a council spokesperson had said its plan was to clear the waste at the same time as fully redeveloping the site. That could have taken years though.
At Monday’s meeting of the council’s North Central Area Committee, Keegan told councillors he appreciates that they and the public have been concerned about this going back over a considerable period – and have been putting pressure on the council.
But he had been reluctant to spend significant amounts before he was satisfied that they wouldn’t just be clearing a space for those responsible to start illegally dumping again, said Keegan.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, they had been holding high-level engagement with the guards, and the council now has the support and commitment that they need, he said. “Given that, we now think it’s appropriate that we proceed.”
What’s the Plan?
Keegan told councillors that the first step is to put up CCTV. The council would also train the guards and authorise them to act under the Waste Management Act.
“They would be able to initiate prosecutions without the presence of city council officials,” he said. “So that’s a big step forward.”
Then, the council would tender for a contractor to treat and remove the waste, he said. They also need to build a robust wall around the site, he said. “The site is too accessible at the moment.”
“We will bring proposals to this area committee in October or November at the latest for that wall and for the plans for the removal,” he said.
He recommends that, long-term, the site be developed for public housing but not for Traveller accommodation, he said.
There have been plans to redevelop the Traveller estates to the north of the site, where people are living in poor and overcrowded conditions.
“I think we need to move ahead with that,” said Keegan. But this site should be other public housing, he said.
The wall and removing and treating the waste is likely to cost €10 million, he said. “This would obviously be a huge imposition on the city council.”
But he will look to two central government departments to help the council fund it, Keegan said. “And will set about doing that straightaway.”
The council don’t know if they’ll get that, he said. “I believe that because of the inadequacies in the Waste Management Act and in the enforcement provisions it’s not appropriate that a local authority should have to bear the full cost.”
Keegan’s report to councillors on Friday gave some timelines for steps.
Gardai would be trained under the Waste Management Act and authorised to act within four to six weeks, it says, while the new CCTV camera would be up in eight weeks.
The council intends at November’s North Central Area Committee meeting to kick off the “Part VIII” planning process to remove the waste and build a boundary wall. (That’s the process the council uses to grant permission to itself to do something.)
The council’s housing department will try to have an approved housing body selected and preliminary plans for housing done by the end of 2023, says the report.
At the meeting, independent Councillor John Lyons said the plan is definitely a step forward and he thinks that is because of public pressure from those living locally.
“But there are some timelines that need to be, I think, firmly shored up here,” he said.
The first timeline he would like to see is a date for a promised meeting with local residents, he said. “They’re the people who primarily need to be informed of what the intentions of [Dublin City Council] are.”
Keegan said he would talk to the council’s director of services about a meeting with local residents. “I’ve no issue about that.”
Lyons also asked for clear timelines on how long it would take to do both the Part VIII planning process for the wall and the tender to remove the waste.
“We need very clear timelines that we can hold each other to account and that the people living with that on their doorstep have a clear idea that these are the things that are going to happen and they’re going to happen in a timely fashion,” he said.
Labour Party Councillor Alison Gilliland asked if there are any emergency powers in planning laws that would mean they could press ahead with removing the waste and building the wall without having the Part VIII process. “Given that it will take quite a while to do that.”
Keegan said he would be happy to consider using emergency powers. He would bring the wall plan to the area committee and if members are happy, he would consider using those powers, he said.
The tender is now being prepared for the waste removal, he said. “The waste removal is a very substantial contract, it’ll have to go to tender.”
Lyons asked when the tender would be drawn up and issued.
Said Keegan: “I’ll report on that issue at the October meeting.”
The Enforcement Question
Keegan’s report says that the council’s waste enforcement unit has taken multiple enforcement actions over the years, impounding vehicles and taking court actions against people doing the illegal dumping in the area.
Over the past year, it had done covert and overt surveillance of the site, the report says, and checkpoints and visits with gardaí. As a consequence, Keegan believed that the dumping had stopped, he said, although the council accepts that some waste had been moved around the site in recent weeks.
Enforcement has been difficult, his report says, because of the layout of the area, criminality of those involved and intimidation of staff, and the inadequate provisions in the Waste Management Act.
At the meeting, councillors asked Keegan for more on how the Waste Management Act came into it.
Said Keegan: “It’s our view that the penalties are totally inadequate given the seriousness.”
From reviewing some cases, he had found that the most frequent penalty imposed was the application of the Probation Act, which seems unsatisfactory, he says.
“We have frequently confiscated vehicles but after a certain period on payment of a modest fine they have to be given back,” he said.
They have also stripped waste licences from people, he said, but then another family member has a legal right to get a licence. “It’s a very unsatisfactory regime given the seriousness of the activity we’re talking about.”
Penalties need to be more realistic, he said. “People have to face the prospect of lengthy prison terms.”
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said: “Penalties for serious dumping offences provided for under the Waste Management Acts are substantial.”
People found to be responsible for, or involved in, the unauthorised disposal of waste are liable for a maximum fine of €5,000 on summary conviction and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months, they said.
They face a maximum fine of €15 million on conviction on indictment and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years, said the spokesperson.
At the meeting, Gilliland, the Labour councillor, said she thinks it is really important that those responsible are brought to justice.
“As a statement to the local community both that this cannot and will not be tolerated in Darndale or indeed in any other community,” she said.
Said Keegan: “We have no action against the perpetrators, that’s the reality. Much as we would like to be able to, we can’t prove who’s doing this, so we don’t have any legal recourse.”
How has the council has both undertaken past enforcement action yet doesn’t know who is responsible?
A spokesperson for the council on Tuesday said that when Keegan was talking about enforcement actions, the impounded vehicle and court actions, he was talking about other areas. “Not the site being discussed,” they said.
At the meeting, Fianna Fáil Councillor Tom Brabazon said he still had one big question, given how many times the issue had been raised over the years.
“Why has it taken so long to get to this point?” he said. “This has been going on for so long.”
It’s important to get to the root of that in case those responsible just move to another patch, said Brabazon. The council would need to know how to deal with any illegal dumping in any new place too, he says.
Keegan said the council had had a high degree of support from the local garda station but what they were planning demanded a whole new quantum of commitment and resources.
He was now satisfied after meetings at the highest level that they have that commitment, he said. “And on that basis, I am happy that we would invest in the strategy I’ve outlined in my report.”