Trashing the environment

Just five miles from Derry’s city centre, on the suburban edge of the Waterside, is the site of one of the worst environmental crimes in UK history. It has been described as Europe’s largest illegal waste dump, which may be an exaggeration, but it is certainly one of the very biggest.

The Mobuoy waste dump runs across both sides of Derry’s Mobuoy Road. It covers 116 acres and contains one million tonnes of illegally buried rubbish. While the company running the site was legally registered as a waste disposal business, it evaded around £100m in tax through its illegal use of the site. There are fears that toxins from the waste could spill into the adjoining River Faughan, which provides some of Derry’s drinking water. It is contaminating fresh water relied upon by wildlife and there are fears for neighbouring farmland.

Until a few weeks ago, it was not possible to report properly on this scandal, though there was an official investigation into Mobuoy by Chris Mills – the so-called Mills Report. There has been a long-running attempt to prosecute directors of the company. Two of whom have now been convicted, which means Mobuoy can now be discussed.

The Mobuoy effects will be long lasting. Not only will most of the rubbish not decay naturally, quickly, but there is no decision yet on how to clean it up. Any solution is likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds. And the final element of the upgraded section of the A6 Belfast to Derry road was to have arrived at Gransha – via Mobuoy. Instead, for the moment at least, it ends at Drumahoe.

A recent Radio 4 series and podcast reported in detail on this crime and led to much greater attention to it than had previously been the case. In addition, Sam McBride of the Belfast Telegraph wrote a series of reports on the Mobuoy scandal.

In the latest of the podcast series Holywell Trust Conversations, Sam provides the background to his articles and the shock he experienced on visiting the site. We also discuss with Queen’s University PhD student June Hwang his research for his dissertation and his assertion that it is the sectarianisation of Northern Ireland government that led to environmental protection being sidelined.

Dean Blackwood, a member of Derry environmental group The Gathering, who is also a professional planner and one of the most respected figures in Ireland in environmental protection, considers in the podcast why Northern Ireland, especially the North West, has such a serious problem with this extremely lucrative environmental crime.

While Mobuoy is the extreme example of environmental crime, Derry’s rural roads are littered with dumped rubbish. And illicit waste operators have long been accused of taking local waste across the border into Donegal to illegally bury trash.

This is a problem for which there is no quick or easy solution, either regarding Mobuoy, or the wider problem. But it is essential that the challenge is properly examined and discussed.

The podcast can be listened to at the Holywell Trust website.

Disclaimer: This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council.

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