Construction of two incinerators in Co Meath and Co Cork moved a significant step closer today as the Environmental Protection Agency granted licences to the facilities.

The EPA said it was satisfied the incinerators would not endanger human health or harm the environment.

The Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, welcomed the announcement but Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens have been highly critical.

The announcement had not been expected for a couple of months, however, the decision itself will not come as any real surprise.

The EPA decision to grant the licences follows An Bord Pleanala's granting of planning permission.

Unless anti-incineration campaigners can convince the courts there were procedural flaws in those processes, Ireland's first incinerators will open in around two years’ time.

The €80m Co Meath incinerator at Carranstown, near Duleek, is scheduled to take up to 150,000 tonnes of commercial waste a year.

The €75m Ringaskiddy plant in Cork harbour is designed to handle about 100,000 tonnes. However controversially, a substantial amount will be hazardous industrial waste.

The EPA said it was satisfied the facilities would not endanger human health or harm the environment due to strict licensing control and monitoring.

The company, which will run the plants, Indaver Ireland, said that while it was delighted with the announcement, it had to study the critical conditions on the licences.

The Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, said appropriately regulated incineration was needed to minimise the less environmentally favourable option of landfill.

Opposition slams moves

Green Party Cork South Central TD, Dan Boyle, has reacted angrily to the decision by the EPA.

Referring to the Ringaskiddy plant, he said, the decision, 'while surprising, is all the more galling for having been postponed twice and creating the impression that refusal of the application was a serious consideration.'

Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party said he was bitterly disappointed with the decision as it would lead to the perpetuation of waste generation rather than elimination.

Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd said he did not believe the health and safety aspects of incineration had been fully dealt with in Co Meath.

He said these issues were not discussed during the An Bord Pleanála hearing. Mr O’Dowd further said he understood the EPA did not employ anyone in the medical area when its directors were considering the licences.

Labour's Eamon Gilmore said An Bord Pleanála and the EPA are giving the green light to a Government strategy of dealing with waste by incineration.

He said this was the wrong approach as policy should be centred on recycling.

Instead, Mr Gilmore claimed, the Government had committed the country to burning waste and this policy would last for a quarter of a century.