Mobuoy scandal must be tackled at Assembly level

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It is doubtful if a bigger mess has been made of any Derry issue in the past decade as of the illegal dumping at Mobuoy Road in Campsie.

The dumping is a danger to the health of the people, flouts European law and could cost the Assembly finances dear. Environment Minister Mark H Durkan and his predecessor Alex Attwood have serious questions to answer.

So do the other Executive parties. None has made a major issue of this scandal. But there’ll be no holding back once People Before Profit has a voice in the Assembly. I will expose the incompetence of the Department of the Environment, the arrogance of the planners and the contempt for the environment and the law of profit-driven waste companies. Between them, these interests have blighted a 1.4 kilometre stretch of land along the River Faughan and, potentially, blighted the health and lives of local people.

I will use an Assembly seat to help the people of the area, environmentalists and others organise on the ground against their rights being trampled and the defilement of the countryside. 

Two years ago, the BBC’s “Spotlight” exposed the situation at Campsie, where one of the biggest illegal dumps in Europe had been created. Unspecified waste had been deposited for years, under the noses of apparently couldn’t-care-less authorities.

After the programme was transmitted in February 2014, MLAs unanimously passed a motion on 11 March 2014 calling on Minister Durkan “to establish an independent public inquiry into waste disposal in the north-west and the rest of Northern Ireland, including the role unauthorised quarries and related planning enforcement issues played in facilitating environmental crime, to ensure that public confidence is restored.”

On this basis, public confidence must now be at an even lower ebb. The called-for inquiry has never been established. Last month, members of People Before Profit accompanied representatives of Enagh Youth Forum, Zero Waste North West, Maydown Community Association, River Faughan Anglers and Friends of the Earth on a “tour” of the Mobuoy Road site. Also present were Minister Durkan and representatives of his Department, the NI Environment Agency and NI Water.

Neither the Planning Service nor DUP Minister Michelle McIlveen’s Department for Regional Development showed up. No surprise there.

In fairness, Minister Durkan gave some hours of his time, answered all questions and didn’t conceal his own unhappiness with the situation. But not all his answers were satisfactory.

The Minister said that he believed the inquiry had been stymied in the Executive for financial reasons. If that’s the case, it adds to the scandal. The cost would not be prohibitive – a small fraction of the cost of a clean-up which wouldn’t be needed if Stormont had done its job in the first place.

In a report to the Assembly in June last year, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) characterised the situation at Mobuoy Road as “large scale organised criminality”. In November, the CJI warned the Assembly that it might face substantial fines from the Europe for failing to deal with the issue.

The CJI estimated a total of 516,000 tonnes of unidentified waste in an area adjacent to the Faughan - from which, not far downstream, 60 percent of Derry’s water is drawn. (The estimate is now 1.5 million tonnes and expected to rise.) Drinking water is tested daily. But officials have confirmed that there has been an element of luck in the avoidance of contamination of the river until now. It was also revealed that investigation of other illegal sites along the Faughan has not yet begun – despite the Department of the Environment knowing about local concerns for at least two years.

The last mention of the matter in the old Assembly came on 30 November last when Steven Agnew of the Greens asked the First Minister and Deputy First Minister “to explain the delay in initiating the public inquiry into organised waste crime...”

There was no response from OFMDFM by March 15th, when the Assembly closed for business. On my first day of business in the new Assembly, if the people of Foyle elect me, I will demand that the inquiry be set up without further delay and given a deadline. If the new Executive doesn’t deliver promptly on this, I will call for a public show of support from the many groups and individuals who have been fighting for years for clean-up of the site, protection of the river and prosecution of the perpetrators.

I will also demand that an enforcement order already in existence against the current owners be implemented without delay. One company concerned is HSBC, one of Britain’s “Big Four” banks. Ownership of the site fell to the bank following the melt-down of companies previously in charge. In taking the land, HSBC took legal responsibility for any levies against it.

So why isn’t the enforcement order being implemented? Why hasn’t HSBC been told to take remedial action to deal with the hazards, or face the penalties which would otherwise be charged to the public purse?

In pressing these matters, I will look for public support from the many groups and individuals who have been fighting for years for clean-up of the site, protection of the river and prosecution of the perpetrators.

Not only is the issue of illegal dumping not going away, the longer it is ignored the bigger an issue I and others will make it.