Steeling Themselves

at

haulbowlinedan

From top:  Haulbowline island, Cork Harbour; Dan Boyle

What do Cork Harbour’s industrial policy and a South Wales steelworks have in common?

Slow death.

Dan Boyle writes:

The big political issue of the moment in Wales, indeed in the UK, is the imminent closure of its steel industry. The largest plant at Port Talbot employs four thousand people. There is an obvious social cost to these employees if the plant were to close suddenly.

There is also a horrible irony in seeing the country that invented the Industrial Age soon being without one of its core components.

As a Green I have some ambivalence about this situation. Steel manufacturing is far from the cleanest of industries. However every economy needs a strong manufacturing base. Green technology depends on high quality steel for everything from wind turbines to electric cars.

Port Talbot itself bears all the marks of being the industrial sacrifice area of Wales. It is as if the valleys have been kept clear so as to squeeze the country’s quota of pipes and plumes into this small piece of the Welsh coast.

Industrial policy in Ireland once saw Cork Harbour being promoted in a similar way.

Up until the 1990s the main employers were the NET/IFI fertiliser plant at Marino Point, and the Irish Steel plant on Haulbowline island.

A number of pharmaceutical plants opened during the 1970s attracted by a blind eye approach to environmental standards. Those standards did improve but the biggest pollution was still being done by the state owned and managed facilities.

It was simple brutal economics that did it for IFI and Irish Steel in the end. Sourcing materials and expanding markets proved impossible to secure.

IFI was wound down. Irish Steel endured an agonisingly slow death, being sold to an Indian asset stripper who scampered away when the five year subsidy period finished.

The legacy has been two horribly contaminated sites, Haulbowline being by far the worst. In the last two general elections both Michéal Martin and Simon Coveney produced greenprints showing what could be done with Haulbowline.

Neither has progressed any of the plans contained in those documents.

The person who has done most for Haulbowline has been John Gormley, who as the Green Minister for the Environment oversaw more hazardous materials being removed from the island, and more monitoring information being made public, than any time before or since.

I fear something similar may happen to Port Talbot. Buying time whilst kicking to touch is a certain recipe for a slew of unresolved social, economic but particularly environmental problems lingering in the region.

The filling the space responses of traditional political parties here come across as implied silent prayers – please Lord gets us over the election so we can spend the next five years not having to address this.

I’m only waiting for some politician/political party to provide a colourful brochure depicting a future Port Talbot with luxury hotel in place of the blast furnace, and a marina capable of berthing hundreds of yachts.

That’ll work. Ireland and Wales are more alike than I had realised.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD (and senator) and currently working with the Wales Green Party. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Denis Hogan

14 thoughts on “Steeling Themselves

  1. Martin

    It’s not true to say none of the plans contained in the greenprints have been progressed. The bridge to Haulbowline has already undergone a huge upgrade to enable it to take the extra traffic required to remove the slag from the East Tip on the Island. There is a commitment to have the East Tip remediated by 2018 with work expected to begin during this summer. Progress has been and will continue to be made on the cleanup of Haulbowline.

    1. Dan Boyle

      Work to begin this Summer for 2018. Why has nothing been done for the last five years? Why was remediation plan that was in placed stopped? All there has been have been press releases promising future, and ever more action (in)action

  2. Martin

    Edit – It’s not true to say none of the plans contained in the greenprints have NOT been progressed.

  3. milkt teeth

    “As a Green I have some ambivalence about this situation. Steel manufacturing is far from the cleanest of industries. However every economy needs a strong manufacturing base. Green technology depends on high quality steel for everything from wind turbines to electric cars.”

    You should probably be less ambivalent about Port Talbot shutting down then – it produces the greenest (or well the most environmentally clean, insert any colour you want as long as its silver joke here) steel in the world, and has been a key player in pushing forwards environmentally sound steel production techniques. If PT shuts then all those green technologies will suddenly become somewhat less so.

    1. classter

      ‘greenest (or well the most environmentally clean, insert any colour you want as long as its silver joke here) steel in the world’

      Source.

      That doesn’t make much sense. There are more efficient plants elsehwere & ones which use scrap ore too.

      1. milkt teeth

        Unfortunately my source is a friend. I currently live in South Wales and he was a lobbyist for Renewable UK at the point he told me. But for new steel it is the most efficient and greenest. Apparently they get orders from companies specifically for this reason. That’s why Tata have let it run for so long at such a loss for so long – they liked the qudos of running the cleanest steel plant.

        1. classter

          I’m still pretty doubful.

          Part of the reason that Tata are letting go of Port Talbot is that they have invested in more efficient plants in the Netherlands.

          But a quick google didn’t really give me anything conclusive so I need to try find something more authoritative…

          1. milkt teeth

            Yeah I tried to find something but its hard to find anything at the moment past the crisis.

            The plants in the Netherlands are more efficient for Tata because they have cheaper energy and tax breaks, not because of production methods as far as I’m aware. The energy prices and business rates seems to be a big sticking point to keeping PT open according to local press here.

  4. classter

    ‘horrible irony in seeing the country that invented the Industrial Age soon being without one of its core components.’

    Where is the irony in that exactly?

    The coming of the industrial change showed exactly what happens when technology changes. Something similar has been happening again.

  5. ollie

    “John Gormley, who …. oversaw more hazardous materials being removed from the island”
    and sent abroad for processing, therefore creating additional environmental risk not to mention a policy of dumping our unwanted waste on citizens in another County, while at the same time objecting to the construction of an incinerator.
    Sometimes the Irish Green PArty is more hypocritical than Fianna Fail, lie with dogs and get fleas?

    1. Dan Boyle

      Not what happened. The material sent to Germany was not sourced by the lab was sent by a contractor who was passing off inert material as toxic. The onsite analysis showed different contamination. The Greens released the analysis publicly and removed material. It hadn’t happened before it hasn’t happened since. The hypocrisy you speak of lies elsewhere.

  6. Truth in the News

    The site is almost at sea level and was cotaminated with radio active material
    maybe the best solution is to flood it, since the sea at this point has radio active
    waste from the English coastal nuclear sites anyways.

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