A SPECIAL council meeting on the ‘foul smell from Warrenpoint Port’ is set to be held in the near future. On Monday, the local authority unanimously adopted a notice of motion – tabled and amended respectively by Crotlieve councillors Mark Gibbons (Independent) and Mickey Ruane (Sinn Féin) – that called for the arranging of a meeting on this issue and for a number of stakeholders to be invited to it.
This includes representatives from Warrenpoint Harbour Authority (WHA), Re-Gen Waste, the council’s Environmental Health Department and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). In August, WHA apologised for the unpleasant odour in the town, and confirmed that it was being caused by household rubbish being recycled by ReGen.
A protest was held at the town dock that month, and a public meeting was held in September. Cllr Gibbons’ motion voiced concern about ‘the ongoing foul smell emanating from Warrenpoint Port, the impact this is having on residents’ quality of life, and the potential risk it poses to public health’. It accepted that ‘steps are being taken to address the smell’, though added that ‘many questions and concerns still remain about how it came about and how much longer it will last’, and called on council to write formally to WHA ‘expressing these concerns and seeking clarity on what will be done to ensure this issue is swiftly resolved and will not happen again’.
Seconding the motion, Jarlath Tinnelly (Independent, Crotlieve) said that Warrenpoint residents “don’t feel that they are getting full transparency and full openness from the harbour authority”. “The people feel that their concerns are not being addressed, and they are very genuine concerns, particularly for the people down the Newry Street and Clermont Gardens area,” he added. “When they feel they are not being listened to, in that void or vacuum of information, they then see all sorts of rumours start to spread and be generated. “So we need a bit of openness, a bit of transparency, a bit of truth. “If the residents are coming to us as councillors to ask our corporate body of council to try and get those answers for them, I think that is certainly progress.”
Tierna Kelly (Alliance, Rowallane) stated that she was “very supportive of this motion”, and was aware that her party colleague, Patrick Brown MLA, had been working alongside Cllr Gibbons and Cllr Tinnelly on the matter. “This is a long-term issue, and it has been affecting residents for a very long time,” she said. “I am very happy to support the motion tonight to see this resolved, but also to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.” Declan McAteer (SDLP, Crotlieve) voiced his support for the motion, adding that “it would be an unacceptable situation if we had a recurrence of this issue going forward”.
He said that he had attended a recent meeting at the port, had visited the storage area, and had “listened carefully to what they were doing to solve the problem”. “I must say that I am satisfied at this stage that remedial measures are being rolled out and put in place, and experts in the environmental sector have been brought in as well to continue working on a long-term solution for this,” the councillor stated. “I think it is regrettable, obviously, that it has happened, and Warrenpoint residents and visitors had to suffer that periodically, but I do think that things, hopefully, are moving forward in the right way and, certainly, I support the motion going forward.” Cllr Ruane said that there has “been a serious issue regarding the harbour in the last couple of months”, and that “the harbour authority failed to communicate with the local community from the very outset”. He added that he and his party colleague, Sinéad Ennis MLA, had engaged with both WHA and Re-Gen on the matter, and called for greater transparency moving forward.
The Crotlieve representative stated that he felt that original wording of the motion – that Environmental Health work with WHA and other stakeholders to compile a comprehensive public report ‘on how this happened and how it will be resolved so it does not happen again’ – did not go far enough and was “actually a bit toothless”. He added that this is “just doing what every political representative should’ve been doing up to this date”. “A lot of people shouting about this issue have failed to do any of that, and have not done anything other than talk about it or shout about it,” said the Sinn Féin councillor. Cllr Ruane proposed an amendment that called on council to ‘invite senior officials from Warrenpoint Harbour Authority, ReGen, our own Environmental Health Department and NIEA to present to a special council meeting on this ongoing situation’, and ‘on NIEA, as the licensing authority, to complete a comprehensive public report that will be brought back to council on this matter’. Cllr Gibbons confirmed that he was happy to accept the change to his notice of motion. David Taylor (UUP, Slieve Gullion) voiced his support, and said that the issue has “obviously been having a very negative impact on the quality of life enjoyed by residents in Warrenpoint”.
Concluding the discussion, Cllr Gibbons said that he was “delighted with the support of the chamber” and thanked Cllr Ruane for the “excellent” amendment.