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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Aug 23, 2010 - 8:24:15 PM

Irish Economy Post-Crisis: Significant change? Glacial change? More of the same?
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Jul 6, 2010 - 6:45:07 AM

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The Fernwärmewerk Spittelau incinerator/heating plant, Vienna. It supplies more than a quarter of a million houses and over 5,000 industrial consumers with heating> Source: Wikimedia Commons

Irish Economy Post-Crisis: We said last month that despite the crash and its terrible human toll, the best that can be expected is glacial change.

There is an argument that the current mix of teachers, solicitors, auctioneers and farmers who dominate membership of the Oireachtas and produce ministers of varying levels of competence, would be improved with individuals with experience in other sectors of the economy.

There is of course merit in this case and the standard routine of the new minister commissioning reports, appointing taskforces and so-on often betrays both ignorance and sometimes a wish to put a decision on the long finger. However, the saga of the planned Dublin municipal waste incinerator and Green Party leader John Gormley, who became Minister of the Environment three years ago this month, illustrates how little has changed in a political process of limited accountability where local interest often trumps national interest.

It is not only an issue of self-serving politicians, but also a conservative electorate that accepts mediocrity and low standards.

The issue of the incinerator saga was discussed on the Irish Economy blog in recent days, and I asked is it any wonder that the country is banjaxed?

Here we have an issue of abuse of power, public funds and a conflict of interest.

To the anti-incineration folk, all that doesn’t matter.

Google will always deliver some supports for a position - - whether truths and untruths no doubt.

A government decision was made in 2007 to choose incineration as one option in a number for waste management.

When Gormley became a minister, rather than cancel the contract and argue for alternatives, he appears to have sought to undermine the economics of it.

Conflict of interest of course would never be a concern on the Planet Bertie of cronyism and gombeenism, Gormley had excoriated in Galway in February 2007.In this case there was a glaring conflict of interest.

When the ESRI produced a report on the issue last February, an insignificant factual error was jumped on and the institute was dismissed as a shower of hucksters.

The ESRI said policy on Irish waste management and on incineration in particular, has “no underlying rationale” and is likely "to impose needless costs on the economy."  The institute did not make a direct charge of gombeenism against Gormley, but it appears that national waste policy is being dictated by the minister's desire to thwart the plans of Dublin City Council to build a waste incinerator in his political constituency of Dublin South-East, on the site of the former Poolbeg power station.

City Manager John Tierney said last February that he was implementing Government policy! He said €59.5m had already been spent on the project  -- €34m on acquiring the site and €25.5m in consultants’ fees.

Tierney told an Oireachtas committee the Department of the Environment had provided €7.5m towards the cost of the incinerator.

In April, Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan asked Gormley: “The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was represented on the PPP steering group for this project. Therefore, the Department was involved with it and it was in line with existing Government policy. In addition, some finance was contributed to the project by the Department. Now that the Department is no longer in consultation on it, has the Minister been in contact with Dublin City Council about the implications of the legislation? Also, will there be a contingent liability on the taxpayer?

Gormley said he hadn’t been in contact with the DCC.

So three years after becoming a minister, Gormley is waiting for another report, to estimate what it would cost to cancel the contract. Meanwhile, there is a risk of big EU fines if directive deadlines are no met.

This of course is the way Ireland is run; amateurs often putting local interest ahead of national interest in a system of limited accountability and where decision making moves at glacial pace.

It’s the system that has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of people while the incompetent politicians sitting in the high temple, have State meal tickets for life.

For those who do not see a problem, you may have if it had been an issue involving a big public investment in the constituency of Gormely’s predecessor Dick Roche.

Gormley of course would have been prominent in public vilification of low standards and conflict of interest.

Consider a well-run country in contrast, Austria, where the unemployment rate was 4% in May - - the lowest of the EU27 countries.

There is of course a fat chance of the Irish acknowledging the lamentable record of public project implementation and looking to what can be learned from countries like Austria.

Small minded politicians and much of the public who want to have their cake and eat it, leave the country always racing to catch up with standards thankfully set by the reviled bureaucrats in Brussels, where there is claimed to be a “democratic deficit.”

Of course, we are blind to the deficits under our noses.

We had to be shamed by the EU and the contamination of the water supply to the city of Galway to get action on water quality.

It’s always the same old story: respond to a problem only when there is a crisis…sorry…I should say: a dire crisis.

Vienna has three incinerators according to an Irish Times report and one of them supplies more than a quarter of a million houses and over 5,000 industrial consumers with heating.

A total of 9 incinerators in Austria are only one aspect of a sophisticated waste management and recycling system.

In 2010, Austria will generate 78.1% of its electricity from renewable sources - - the highest in the EU - - compared with 13.2% in Ireland.

There are choices to be in Ireland based on economics, emissions, safety etc.

We are told that tough choices will have to be made to respond to the threat of climate change.

Don’t expect the bandwagon jumpers in the Irish Green Party to be any different to other Irish political parties. It is pro-science on climate change but anti-science on GM foods - - of course because the public is scared!

You can live in Rossport, West Mayo and expect dangerous materials such as oil and gas be delivered from afar to support a modern life and CAP cheques funded by oil terminal workers in Rotterdam and Hamburg.

You can live in Cork, an area dependent on the chemical industry, oppose an incinerator and hope the hazardous waste will all be shipped to India.

Is it any surprise that Bertie Ahern was such a national hero during the bubble?

SEE also: Conservative Ireland rules despite the economic crash and its terrible human toll

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