Efforts have to be made to clean up Buncrana fire site, demands Judge

March 19, 2023

Financial constraints are hampering the removal of 300 tonnes of waste material from the site of a major fire in Buncrana, it has been claimed.

Colm McDaid is before the courts under the Waste Management, 1996.

At a recent sitting of Letterkenny District Court, at which Mr McDaid, of Druminar, Meenagorey, Buncrana, appeared, the case was again discussed.

The court heard that two loads of waste had been removed from the site.

On October 27 last, 46 firefighters battled a blaze and spent a total of 36 hours on the site to bring a fire under control.

Mr McDaid has appeared at multiple court sittings with the local authority anxious about the lack of progress. The case was first mentioned before the blaze broke out last October.

Mr Kevin McElhinney, solicitor for Donegal County Council, said that at the current rate of removal it could take up to nine months for the site to be completely clear.

“That is far beyond what was initially suggested,” Mr McElhinney said. “Every time this is before the court, there is an issue. It seems that every time it comes before court, a different barrier comes up.

“The latest barrier is now the cost. I accept that there is a significant cost to this remediation, but he already would have received payment for the waste, which arrived on the site and now he submits he can no longer afford the costs.”

Mr McElhinney said the local authority was seeking a ‘firm proposal’ on how the waste could be ‘quickly’ removed.

Solicitor Mr Frank Dorrian, representing McDaid, said the process was very expensive and complicated by the fact that the waste was burned and now weighs 40 per cent more than it had.

Mr Dorrian told the court that a proposal to put the waste back into a shed – ‘which is barely a shed’, he said – was rejected by the Council ‘on the basis of some sort of a fire risk’.

“One wonders how wet ashes could form a fire hazard,” Mr Dorrian said.

Mr Dorrian said it was costing his client up to €6,000 per load to be removed and the land is still subjected to an unresolved probate.

“He has done his best where he has little or no resources,” Mr Dorrian said. “When the fire incident happened, he was in the US trying to raise money to salvage his business.

“So far, two loads have gone. It is unfair to suggest that he is creating obstacles when it is in his best interests to remove the waste.

“If he simply stopped doing this, he could be held in contempt, but that could only happen if he was refusing rather than being incapable. He is here, he is committed to dealing with it, but he is hampered by circumstance.”

Mr McElhinney said that Donegal County Council advised McDaid that machinery could be brought in to squeeze the waste and remove the excess weight.

Judge Éiteáin Cunningham (pictured) said the matter first came before her before the fire and at that point it was proposed to remove the waste ‘in a number of days’.

“There has been a knock-on effect now, vis-a-vis the environmental damage and the cost of removal,” Judge Cunningham said. “We are where we are, but efforts have to be made.

“It isn’t a matter for Donegal County Council to come up with solutions. The matter is an unfortunate series of events, but if it had been removed, as suggested by Donegal County Council, prior to the fire, a significant portion of the accrued costs would have been avoided.”

Judge Cunningham adjourned the matter until May 2, 2023, encouraging McDaid ‘to do what he can’ and to work with the local authority on the matter.