Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan has refused to oppose, in principle, a call for the establishment an independent inquiry into waste disposal in the North West in the wake of illegal dumping on a massive scale at Mobuoy Road.
During a debate on the matter at Stormont yesterday (Tuesday) Green MLA Steven Agnew once again raised the matter of retrospective planning applications at Gorticross.
He said: “Six of the unauthorised quarrying sites had discharge consents. You have to wonder why the operators felt that they could operate without planning permission but not without discharge consents.”
He also pointed out - as highlighted in this paper last summer - that the illegal dump was located just hundreds of metres upstream from where the Carmoney treatment plant extracts drinking water for 50,000 people in Londonderry.
He said: “As well as the financial costs of the illegal dumping that has taken place, there are social and environmental costs.
“Again, if we look at the Mobuoy case, we see that the western edge of the dumping site stretches for 1.4 kilometres along the River Faughan, which is a special area of conservation.
“One kilometre downstream of the site is where two thirds of Derry’s drinking water comes from.
“So, it is important to ensure that we keep those waterways clean for safe and clean drinking water and for the protection of people’s health.”
SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood, speaking during the debate, said: “I was absolutely devastated and extremely angry when I saw the extent of this illegal activity on the outskirts of our city.
“It was clear to me and to anybody who looked at it that this was a highly organised and developed criminal enterprise and that those involved had been allowed to get away with vandalising and devastating our local environment for far too long.”
Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said: “I do not think that calling for a public inquiry - the definition and style of that inquiry is something that can be negotiated and discussed - undermines in any way what I consider to be an excellent report by Mr Mills on the failings over many years.
“Other Members and the Minister talked about that report’s findings. I acknowledge the fact that the Minister is not standing in opposition to an inquiry.
“Indeed, he is in line with the Derry City Council approach. The council has also approved the need for a further inquiry, because, in fairness, I do not think that the Mills report’s terms of reference were broad enough.”
Responding to the calls for an inquiry, Mr Durkan warned that setting up a further investigation in the wake of actions already taken by Chris Mills and ongoing actions being taken by the PSNI and DoE, could delay any real action.
Nonetheless he said he would not, in principle, oppose the calls for a public inquiry, stating: “If a meaningful public inquiry is to be established, it must go much wider than illegal landfill sites.
“It must include, as a couple of Members mentioned, fuel laundering and other waste crime and focus on the organised criminals behind it all. No stone must be left unturned.”
The Assembly resolved that it: “Recognises the issues raised in the recently broadcast BBC ‘Spotlight’ investigation into illegal waste disposal and other irregularities; and calls on the Minister of the Environment 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 and to allay concerns that other illegal waste disposal sites remain undetected.”