The Irish Department of the Environment has refused to support Office of Public Works (OPW) proposals on the use of environmentally friendly cement (using mainly GGBS or fly ash) in public building projects. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the department made its opposition clear after a meeting at which cement industry representatives vigorously opposed the proposals.
According to documents released to The Irish Times, the department had discussions with the OPW about making it a requirement that "green" cement be used in Government building projects such as new decentralisation offices.
"Green" cement is made from materials that are the byproduct of industrial processes, such as slag from the manufacture of steel or other metals or ash from coal-fired power stations. As a result it does not require as much energy to produce. One Irish manufacturer, Ecocem specialises in GGBS and ‘green’ cement, and has lobbied the Government on the use of ‘green’ cement in public building projects. Other large cement producers also have the capacity to manufacture the material.
In a letter to the OPW last September, the Department of the Environment described the plan as "very laudable" and said it would continue "to explore the potential of the initiative . . . so as to follow the aspirations of both ministers".
The following month, department officials held a meeting with the Cement Manufacturers Association (CMA) who were "vociferous in their criticism" of the project, according to a departmental official. The CMA is a lobby group for the three main manufacturers - CRH, Lagan Cement and Quinn Cement.
Following the meeting, the department sent a letter to the OPW stating it was "particularly concerned that the initiative, however well-intentioned, may prove prejudicial to the emergence of a voluntary agreed programme of action by the industry".However, senior OPW staff also claimed in documentation that the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, had agreed to the initiative in 2004 - a claim the department rejects.
In November last year, Mr Roche wrote to Minister of State at the Office of Public Works Tom Parlon to say his department would not take part in the initiative, because it would favour one manufacturer in particular. This was a reference to Ecocem. Separately, the traditional cement industry has argued the scheme would have unfairly benefited Ecocem over the traditional companies.
Mr Parlon responded by letter rejecting this and he said there were a number of suppliers of "green" cement in the State. He also indicated in his letter that the OPW would be pursuing the initiative alone. An OPW spokesman said yesterday that the specification of the use of "green" cement was now contained as a preferred option in decentralisation projects but it is not mandatory. He said the OPW now used a system where additional points were awarded to tenderers for the inclusion of more environmentally friendly building materials.
The OPW was also currently in discussions with the cement industry to see if some of its products met criteria for designation as environmentally friendly. The Department of the Environment, in a statement to The Irish Times, said that the proposals were initiated by the OPW, not by the department, and added that Mr Roche had never approved the scheme.