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Dublin City Council chief called to resign after letter to US developers released

Owen Keegan
Owen Keegan

Dublin’s controversial City Council chief Owen Keegan has been called on to resign after he told US developers to ignore a vote against the Poolbeg incinerator.

The Herald today revealed that Mr Keegan, who pulled the plug the Garth Brooks concerts in 2014, introduced clamping into Dublin in 1998 and got rid of the capital’s public bin service, told the company behind the Poolbeg Incinerator to disregard the rejection of the €500m project by two local authorities.

Keegan told US company Covanta that anti-government parties and independent politicians “had not helped” the Dublin Waste to Energy project after Dublin city and Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown councils voted against it last September.

Last night, several councillors called on Mr Keegan to resign. He did not return calls for comment.

READ: How Keegan triggered a €50m loss for Dublin

In a letter to the President and CEO of US-based company Covanta, Anthony Orlando, on September 10 last, Mr Keegan said a lack of political support for the incinerator should pose no threat to it going ahead.

Dublin Waste to Energy is a public-private partnership between the four Dublin local authorities and the US firm.

The correspondence came after a special city council meeting called by Mr Keegan where 50 of 52 members voted against the incinerator proceeding.

Incinerator protests

In response to concerns raised by Mr Orlando following the vote, Mr Keegan said he took the “initiative” and asked the Lord Mayor to call the special meeting.

He claimed that doing so “undoubtedly” gave him “greater control over the process and especially over the release of information”.

The letter outlined how a number of factors contributed to the no vote but he stressed the overall decision on Poolbeg did not lie with elected members.

“The decision to proceed with the project is legally a matter for the four Dublin local authority Chief Executives (CE),” he said.

“Paradoxically, the fact that it is a decision for the CEs creates a situation where elected members can respond favourably to the relatively small number of local objectors.

“I appreciate how someone unfamiliar with the Irish local government process might view the developments with some concern,” he wrote to Covanta’s Mr Orlando.

Keegan won't talk to our man 

READ: Under-fire Keegan refuses to answer questions on links to EIGHT outdoor concerts

He added that a lack of “political support should in no way lead” the company “to question the wisdom of proceeding with the development of the facility”.

Mr Keegan said another reason the vote failed to pass was because Dublin City Council was “largely dominated by anti-government parties and independent councillors”.

He described a vote against the incinerator by Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council as “unexpected and disappointing” as in the past, the DLR “have not displayed any great opposition to the project”.

Mr Keegan attributed the vote against Poolbeg to a group of councillors, including a number of Green party members, in the constituency.

He told Mr Orlando he spoke to the CEs following the two councils’ rejection of the incinerator and “am pleased to be able to advise you that we remain committed to the project notwithstanding the two unhelpful votes”.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the purpose of the letter was to brief the Covanta board of the councillors’ decision to vote against the project, and to explain the political context.

“Since taking up the position of CE of DCC in 2013, Mr Keegan has been committed to interrogating the viability of the project and conducted a detailed and informed analysis.

“He placed a great emphasis on dealing with the elected members in an open and transparent manner,” the council said last night.

“The decision by the four Dublin Local Authorities’ Chief Executives to proceed with the project was based on sound waste management, economic and environmental grounds,” they added.

Poolbeg

Independent Dublin city councillor Mannix Flynn has demanded an immediate apology and said that Mr Keegan should resign or at least “seriously consider” his position following the revelations by the Herald.

“There have been campaigns against this for years – to see it going ahead is completely undemocratic,” he said.

“Mr Keegan’s comments in this are completely out of line. He needs to apologise.

“I will personally be putting in a motion calling for his removal,” Mr Flynn said.

READ: Cancelled Brooks concerts cost GAA €5m

People Before Profit councillor Tina MacVeigh said Mr Keegan “absolutely needs to consider his position”.

“This whole process has been anti-democratic. Mr Keegan knew the will of the council and the people we represent, and he still ignored it.

“We didn’t even learn the agreement had been signed for the project to go ahead until we read it in the media.

“It brings into question the power local government really has,” she said.

Last night a DCC spokesperson said Mr Keegan will not be considering his position.

Dublin city Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan branded correspondence made by Mr Keegan as being “disingenuous” following a council vote last year against the Poolbeg incinerator.

Mr McCartan has called on Mr Keegan to “apologise or retract” his comments made in a letter to the US company behind the multi-million euro project.

The plant will see 600,000 tonnes of rubbish burned every year in a public-private partnership with Covanta.

Mr McCartan said to suggest that members of the council were engaging in a political scheme knowing that they could not stop the project was “dishonest”.

“I would see the contents in this document to be self-serving and disingenuous,” he told the Herald, “and I call for an immediate retraction.

“It is outrageous to suggest that party affiliation of political alliances have anything to do with this objection. We have been campaigning for up to 15 years to stop this,” he added.

His party colleague Ruairi McGinley, who was one of only two DCC members to vote in favour of the project, said he also drew objection to a comment by Mr Keegan which said that the “anti-government” or independent factions of the council were responsible for the lack of political support.

“I agreed that a lot of people have jumped on the political bandwagon here and have been seen to side with protesters, giving them false hope knowing that they have no power to stop the project,” he said.

“But to suggest the make-up of the council has anything to do with the outcome of a vote is a very grey area indeed. It was a totally democratic process.”

Via The Herald