Fears are growing that landowners could be forced to pay to pick up the bill for cleaning up waste dumped by fuel laundering gangs.
And with the removal of each cube of ‘sludge’ costing between £600 and £700 – and the criminal fuel trade rife in areas like South Armagh – that could mean innocent landowners and ratepayers slapped with demands for thousands.
Concerns have been raised by elected representatives that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency may be about to withdraw from reassurances over the removal of toxic waste from private lands.
Newry and Armagh Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has written to DOE Minister Mark Durkan seeking a full explanation as to the rationale behind his Department’s decision to “abandon previously made agreements to financially support district councils in the removal of this toxic residue”.
He said: “First and foremost I, like all right-minded people, condemn the criminal gangs involved in fuel laundering scams.
“However, for Minister Durkan to attempt to simply have the Department of the Environment wash its hands of this issue at the expense of local farmers, is wrong and unacceptable.
“Landowners should not be held responsible and have to pay for the criminal acts of others against the environment, community and economy.
“It is bad enough the diesel gangsters compromising them and their land, but for them now to be abandoned by the Department of the Environment and forced to potentially face bills of thousands of pounds is further insult.”
Newry and Mourne Councillor Terry Hearty explained that it cost between £600 and £700 for the removal of each cube.
“Local farmers and landowners have their lands used as dumping grounds by those involved in this poisonous activity,” he explained.
“These gangs care nothing about our local communities or the health and wellbeing of our local people. Now the DOE and councils want to add further insult to injury by hitting innocent landowners with bills of thousands of pounds to remove toxic waste.”
Armagh City and District Councillor Darren NcNally said diesel laundering was causing serious environmental and health problems, putting at risk legitimate business and jobs, and imposing significant financial costs on local councils and the taxpayer.
And he added: “Effectively penalising innocent landowners will not stop this. Until an effective and sustainable solution is agreed and implemented, penalties against these criminal gangs and those who distribute the illegal fuel need to be increased.
“More resources should be provided to the Garda and PSNI and the Irish government and Executive should urgently review how they can maximise co-operation between policing, customs, justice and environmental agencies.”
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