Major crackdown needed to end curse of toxic dumping

October 2, 2012

By Christine Keighery

A further spate of indiscriminate dumping of the toxic waste from illegal fuel laundering has once again blighted the south Armagh countryside, with at least six incidents occurring throughout the area last week.

Angry residents, exasperated by a perceived lack of progress by any involved agencies in bringing this practice to an end, have voiced their fury to The Examiner about what some describe as a “hopeless situation, with more and more dumping happening every week.”

The latest finds have prompted calls from landowners and local people living in the affected areas for improved government initiatives to be set up, public meetings involving all agencies and governing bodies to be held, as well as more involvement from MLA’s and MP’s, the PSNI and Customs and Excise in searching for plausible solutions to the epidemic.

“In short”, a local landowner told us, “the population of south Armagh have had enough of the endless condemnation and empty words of political representatives and public figures. These criminals are laughing at communities and the government’s unsuccessful efforts to stop them dumping their lethal sludge wherever they see fit.”

One local referred to the proposal put forward by Louth Fianna Fail TD, Seamus Kirk recently, where he suggested the Irish Government end the price differential between agricultural and motor fuel, thus  deterring criminals from purchasing agricultural fuel at a lower cost, laundering it and selling it on as motor fuel for a profit. The south Armagh resident questioned why such a proposal could not be made in Northern Ireland.

Local Councillor, Geraldine Donnelly, told us she had been contacted by several irate residents who were “up in arms” about the latest finds.  Ms Donnelly visited the Ballinarea site in Cullyhanna and was shocked to find cubes of toxic sludge leaking into the nearby river.

Incensed by the frequency of the dumping incidents, she said,

“This is happening all too regularly now and no amount of condemnation makes any difference to the perpetrators of this crime. It’s time for words to be put into action and end this heinous practice once and for all. The untold environmental damage being caused is frightening, quite apart from the cost to the public purse.”

Councillor Donnelly revealed that she had attended a meeting earlier this year between Councillors, the PSNI, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Customs and Excise officials, to discuss initiatives for tackling the issue.  She now feels the magnitude of the problem calls for renewed government intervention and for further serious discussion at Assembly level.

She also urged members of the public to come forward and give over any information they may have on those involved with the fuel laundering process to the relevant authorities. She believes tackling this crime requires the full co-operation of the community and all agencies involved.

“This issue affects entire communities and while those responsible sneer at us each time they dump this killer waste, the damage continues unabated.  Diesel waste leaking into our drains and drinking water simply cannot continue for all our sakes so the bottom line is, drastic action needs to be taken.”

Sinn Fein councillor, Colman Burns, also accused toxic waste dumpers of “treating the local community with contempt.”

Visiting the Loughaveely Road site in Glassdrummond, he described these latest incidents as “a regular and very unwelcome occurrence.”

Councillor Burns continued,

“A total disregard has been shown, yet again, to the people living in this area. To cause the closure of the Cully Road and to inconvenience so many people that use that road is a very despicable act. At the Loughaveely Road, a local farmer had the entrance to his land blocked by these cubes of waste, preventing him from using his tractor on his land.

A number of other sites at Oldtown and Drumill, Cullyhanna, were used to offload this poison.

“The Council has been made aware of the locations of this waste but it could take several days before it is removed as it is now in the hands of the Environmental Agency who will be given the task of organising the removal.

“The cost of removing this waste ultimately falls on local rates and tax payers and I would again call on those responsible to end this activity in the interest of the community that live here.”

The Examiner understands that collaborative cross border task forces and extended powers for the Environment Agency have been implemented.  In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed earlier this year by HMRC and the Irish Revenue authorities, which sets out an agreed framework for the two countries to work together to formulate a new and improved fuel dye marker designed to make it harder for the laundering processes to work effectively.

Despite such measures, it is clear the problem is growing and communities are crying out for further discussion of improved co-operation between all groups so that those directly responsible for producing this illegal waste can finally be held to account.