CALNI Chairman Danny Moore wrote the below post for the Compromise After Conflict blog. It is reproduced here with their permission.
One of the most moving moments of my life came in the run up to Christmas 2009. At the time our local community was embroiled in an intense campaign to stop the Rose Energy Incinerator planning application.
On Christmas eve, my aunt, then in her late 70s (now deceased) and three of her friends, all widows, came down to our house to donate £100 each to the CALNI campaign from their pension payments. I was humbled, obviously, and asked them to reconsider, but they insisted. They acknowledged that their contributions were a drop in the ocean, but they wanted and needed to be part of the movement. They’d seen the damage that pollution from the Ulster Farm By-Products (UFBP) rendering plant had done to our community and wanted a better future for the younger generation, one without a poultry litter incinerator towering in our midst.
Our particular battle was focussed on protecting the community and Lough Neagh ecosystem from the risk of pollution for the next fifty years. The backdrop was that we lived in the shadow (or more correctly stench) of the UFBP rendering plant since the 1950s. If anything the environmental impact of the plant seemed to only get worse as time passed, until after the Millennium when it held the position of Northern Ireland’s top polluter, based on the number of complaints from the local community and various other measures.
This pollution has now stopped, not least as a consequence of resolute community action. Though as time passes and we learn more about the impact of environmental pollutants on human health I’ve no doubt that there will be a legacy of problems in our area for years to come.
As with all communities in Northern Ireland the community living around the shores of Lough Neagh in Glenavy was profoundly scarred by the troubles, beginning with a series of tit for tat terrorist acts in the early 70s. Before that the area had been relatively harmonious, but for almost 40 years the troubles drove a wedge between many people and families who had been close friends for decades before, whose parents and grand parents had worked together. This underlying fracture and change in community demographic was further compounded by the migration of thousands of people from West Belfast into Crumlin and Glenavy.
The threat of the Rose Energy Incinerator and CALNI campaign had a profound healing effect on our community. The presence of a common enemy, and working together to resist a common enemy can be a powerful unifying force. Within a few months of the start of the campaign, my Dad, who is also in his 70s came into the house as a car drove up the lane. He remarked, “that man and I were friends once, but he hasn’t been in our yard since July 1970”. As the campaign developed everyone began to pull in the same direction, John Farr the Minister and Parish Priest Fr Sean Dillon both gave their full support, as did the representatives of all the political parties, “blow-ins” including Sir George Bain and many other people who were new to the area. By Christmas 2009 Dr Peter Fitzgerald and Randox became heavily involved behind the scenes.
As can be seen from the picture at Stormont, Politicians from all the local parties (with the notable exception of the TUV) rallied around the cause and worked tirelessly on our behalf, in a seemingly endless stream of petitions, assembly questions, motions and debates, press releases, rallies and public meetings. Candidates for all the local parties (and the Conservative candidate) pledged support ahead of both the Assembly and Westminster elections. The community were hosted in Stormont a number of times at the invitation of Thomas Burns, Jeffrey Donaldson and Mitchel McLaughlin. Aside from the community issue, the use of “Incineration” anywhere in NI was itself a key manifesto issue for the SDLP and Sinn Fein. The SDLP went so far as to specifically include objection to the Rose Energy Incinerator in their election manifesto.
Few issues unite all the political parties in Northern Ireland, but this was one did, at least at a local level.
In talking with all these people, in particular the older generation, it became clear that while a common enemy had brought us together, to focus on the common enemy was to miss the point. Our group was driven by hope and the desire for a better future for the young. As is clear from the picture above, both Orange and Green, and those in between, rallied around this cause and continue to do so today. Bringing the community to Stormont that day was a tremendous moment. It gave everyone involved a sense of ownership of the campaign but more importantly, it allowed people to recognise that devolution had brought local accountability, that local communities could play a role in their own destinies, that there was hope for the future.
Many of the older people, or their parents, were involved in the original campaign to block the Glenfarm planning application in the late 1940s – a plant that was broadly opposed at the time. That application was pushed through amongst skulduggery in a Lisburn Council meeting on a night when the Glenavy Councillors had been instructed to stay at home. There was uproar, but to no avail, and almost 60 years of stench and pollution followed.
With this backdrop, the pensioners understood that we had to fight and win, because if we didn’t there would be a legacy of pollution for the next 50 years; but even then they were driven by hope, hope for a better future in the area for their grand children, hope that this time is was different and we could with, hope that this time their voices would be heard. The force that actually united everyone was that most basic of human desires, the hope that we leave the world in a better place for our children and generations to come.
The CALNI campaign and the history behind it can be a metaphor for many issues in Northern Ireland. While it is important to fully understand the past with all the wrongs, skulduggery, and suffering we can all have a common goal, a better future for our children. We can all work together.
— Best, Danny
History has a way of repeating itself. Community action didn’t stop the original application getting approved in the 1940s, and ultimately the most vociferous objection campaign ever in Northern Ireland didn’t stop Rose Energy.
This time around, Edwin Poots, the environment Minister (and ironically also a Lisburn Councillor) indicated that he was “minded to approve” the application at the end of August 2011. Understanding the history, we (the community) expected that outcome and were prepared. We took decisive action bringing Poots’ interim decision to the JR Courts within a couple of days and critically before the final paperwork could be issued. In doing this we ultimately stalled the process in the hope a new Minister would see it differently and make the right decision. Alex Atwood refused the application in December 2012, though Rose Energy may still appeal through the PAC.