An anti-pollution group in Limerick has criticised a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a "virtual" oral hearing into its own decision to grant an emissions licence to Irish Cement to burn alternative fuels at its factory in Mungret in Limerick.

The EPA has announced it will hold a virtual hearing on 2 December next, dealing with objections to the project from 16 individuals and groups, including the Limerick Against Pollution LAP group, the Limerick Metropolitan council, Limerick city and county council, a number of local TDs and the University of Limerick.

Irish Cement wants to change its production process from burning fossil fuels to burn alternative industrial fuels like solvents and used tyres in its giant kiln at the plant.

The company has insisted the process is safe and is already being done at its plant in Platin in Co Meath, and is extensively used as a recycling measure by cement factories in Germany and Switzerland.

But local residents in the Mungret area, which is a large residential suburb of Limerick city, where a number of schools are located, are concerned about emissions from the plant, and that the burning of alternative fuels could be damaging to their health.

LAP spokesperson Claire Keating said they had appealed to the EPA to hold off on scheduling an oral hearing, as they feel it will deny concerned individuals and families and others, the opportunity to attend and observe the proceedings in an open forum.

She said their request was ignored and the EPA is now holding the hearing online, pushing the process forward during Covid-19 restrictions and denying citizens the right to open public participation guaranteed in European Law under the Aarhus Convention. 

The convention gives citizens' rights to access environmental information held by public authorities, and public participation in environmental decision making.

She said a significant part of their support group are senior citizens and many do not have the technological access to participate in a virtual event.

"Many people do not have access to Zoom or other virtual platforms, so their capacity to participate is limited, and those opposed are therefore losing a valuable opportunity for public participation," she said.

Local Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell has welcomed the decision by the EPA to grant an oral hearing, which has been deferred from last May due to Covid-19.

"It's regrettable that this oral hearing cannot be conducted in the regular way attended by local residents affected, but the restrictions means this is not possible.

"I continue to hold major concerns and reservations with this recommendation to grant an emissions licence by the EPA. I would encourage as many as possible to observe the public hearing online so that the genuine and legitimate fears of local residents in the Mungret, Raheen, and Dooradoyle areas can be heard again," he said.