Following on from the special report in our December 20th issue about her life-long involvement in community life is this article about Gertie O’Driscoll’s many years of campaigning on environmental issues affecting her locality and her desire to see more amenities for the residents of Ringaskiddy and district.
Writes Leo McMahon
Gertie O’Driscoll was to the fore in the ‘total community’ campaign of opposition to the Raybestos Manhahattan asbestos dump at Ringaskiddy from 1976 to 1980 and is a veteran of the ongoing battle to prevent Indaver building a toxic waste incinerator in the locality.
Looking back, she said Ringaskiddy changed forever, from when just over 50 years ago, the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) purchased land in the locality. It was such a major move that some people residing at Barnahely Road were bought out to make way for land zoned for industry. One of the first industries to establish in Ringaskiddy was Pfizer who proved to be good employers. ‘Many locals were not entirely happy about what was happening but we had no say whatever in those days,’ she recalled.
Residents really became vocal when Raybestos Manhattan attempted to set up its asbestos dump in Ringaskiddy in the mid 1970’s and took part in what was arguably, the first ever community based environmental campaign.
The US multi-national announced its intention to build a factory at Ovens in 1975 making brake pads with the promise of hundreds of jobs at a time when Ireland was in recession and enduring the global ‘oil crisis’. The following year, the company sought planning permission for a dump for plant waste nearby.
With opposition intensifying in Ovens, Cork County Council identified a possible alternative site at Barnahely, Ringaskiddy, 20 miles away.
‘Opposition to this was immediate as voiced clearly at a public meetings of Ringaskiddy Residents’ Association (RRA)’, recalls Gertie and still a member. ‘There was a lot of anger at the time but despite all this and legal challenges, permission was granted in 1977.’
In response, RRA organized 24 hour pickets at the site who blocked access but were eventually restrained by a High Court injunction.
However, when the authorities next tried to gain access, RRA withdrew children from school, organized a mass blockade and the IDA and council withdrew.
‘Experts such as Professor Holt from Reading University told us about the risk of cancer from asbestos dust but the powers that be refused to listen,’ Gertie recalled.
An agreement to permit a temporary dump failed to endure, due mainly to a delay in production commencing at Ovens and in May, 1978, when a truck with waste accompanied by 25 Gardai arrived there was a mass blockade.
‘Some Gardai physically flung us aside as the truck was bulldozed through, people got injured and I saw a go-car with a baby inside it, flung on to bushes,’ said Gertie. ‘During the night however, bagged asbestos waste was removed by activists and left it at the front gates of the Raybestos plant in Ovens.
‘I was in the thick of it at the barricade protests along with Teddy Forde, Pat Twomey, Donal O’Connor, Breda Andrews, Dick McCarthy, Mick Linehan and Peter Crowley of the residents’ association and many others. If a truck was seen approaching, the church bell would be rung and people would go to the site.’
By that stage, said Gertie, people had lost all faith in the IDA and the council. The company eventually got its way and based on a new agreement, dumping continued. However, on April 1st. 1980, a local person observed open bags of waste inside the fence at the Barnahely site which resulted in the company being forced to cease dumping and then adhere to much stricter conditions.
Problems then also arose concerning working conditions at the Ovens plant and suddenly in October 1980, Raybestos Manhattan announced it was closing its plant in November, citing economic downturn. The dump at Barnahely also closed although it was another 30 years before all waste was removed.
18 years on, and the controversy over the proposed Indaver incinerator at Ringaskiddy goes on.
Gertie O’Driscoll, a central figure in opposition to it, recalled attending the first meeting with the company at Rochestown Park Hotel in 2001, along with Sean Forde, Braham Brennan, Audrey Hogan, Tom Aherne and others.
‘We thought we were getting a new factory but after the proposal was outlined, it was suggested we take time to digest it over tea and biscuits. Instead, we just went straight out the door but made it clear to the company many times after that we were opposed.’
‘We’ve had three oral hearings and at each, the inspector recommended it would not come to Ringaskiddy. It’s disgraceful to put any community through what we’re enduring.’
‘Incinerators, even moderate ones, emit dioxins and toxins that can be harmful and as a community, we have a fundamental right to good health and we have science on our side. I realize that this area is zoned for industry but the authorities don’t consider there is a community here,’ said Gertie who feels as strongly on the issue as she did back in 2001.
A decision at the High Court on the latest application by Indaver is awaited and whatever the outcome, it will have been at considerable cost, time and sacrifice of the people of Ringaskiddy, Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (CHASE), environmental and scientific experts, public representatives and others who have supported the local people at countless peaceful protests, meetings and hearings etc. she stated.
‘We were so lucky’, said Gertie, that CHASE was formed because it brought all communities in the harbour together on this. One of the slogans on our posters was ‘Enough is Enough’, We’ve no problem with industry as long as there is the right mix but we won’t allow Ringaskiddy to be used as a dumping ground,’ she stated. History had shown, unknown to many local people, she claimed, that radioactive waste (e,g, Chromium 6) stored at Rocky Island (now the crematorium) and polluted material from the Irish Steel plant at Haulbowline was close to their village for years.
As she nears her 80th year, Gertie pledged the battle to prevent an incinerator at Ringaskiddy will continue.
In recent decades, she has witnessed huge change in her locality, not only with the arrival of several industries but also the reclamation of the foreshore to facilitate the Port of Cork deepwater terminal and ferryport and at times, the disruption this caused was also difficult to endure with dust and noise etc.
The next major developments will be relocation of the container terminal from Tivoli to Ringaskiddy and the M28 motorway. While an improved road is welcome, she is concerned that a section of it will run just a short distance from her home with herself and some other residents along her road cut off from the village and having to put up with noise from passing trucks as it nears the entrance to Haulbowline. She has urged the planners to reconsider and take the last section of road further away from the village to behind the school.
One of the conditions in the granting of permission to the Port of Cork to relocate its container terminal to Ringaskiddy, said Gertie is that it spends €1 million (Community Gain Fund) on the village while a development contribution will come from multi-national Jannsen which is expanding. In addition, the council has obtained government funding of €100,000 towards renovation of the community centre.
Delivery of these must await Irish Water completing the Lower Harbour Main Drainage Scheme and cannot come soon enough, she said but care must be taken to ensure the money is correctly spent.
‘The whole village needs a makeover and an architect from Cork County Council drew up a gorgeous plan about three years ago but there was no funding at the time,’ said Gertie who agreed with a proposal for a linear park for off-road cycling, walking and running and more amenities.
‘When I was growing up we had three shops, Cusack’s (Post Office), Kit Twomey’s and Hannah Carroll’s. We’ve no shop or post office now and instead of three pubs we only have one, the Ferry Boat Inn which is lovely, plus the Perry Street Market Café.’
‘In recent years, we’ve become better neighbours with the industries or should I say, they’ve had to become better neighbours with us. We’ve proved that we’re not NIMBY’s (‘Not In My Back Yard’) but I think it’s fair to say our back yard is nearly full. We have suffered enough and it’s now payback time for our village with more amenities for its people,’ said Gertie, a Ringaskiddy woman to the core.
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