The scale of the illegal dumping uncovered in the Faughan Valley in Co Londonderry is astonishing, running to hundreds of thousands of tons. It is equalled only by the level of deception used to cover the tracks of those responsible for at least the last four years. While the issue may have been of only passing interest to other media outlets, we feel this is a staggering breach of trust to the public who expect that appropriate waste is being recycled in the designated manner.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood has moved swiftly to appoint an independent outsider to examine how this illegal activity went on undetected since at least 2009. Quite rightly the probe will look at how waste disposal is monitored, what information was available to his department and if action could have been taken earlier. But there is also an element of buck passing by the department with a spokesman keen to point out that local councils also have a duty of diligence in this matter.
It must be hoped that this is not another of those occasions, familiar to anyone who studies how government departments react to criticism, where the lines of responsibility are blurred and we are left with assurances that such events can never happen again, or at least, until the next time.
The cost of cleaning up this huge dumping mess will be enormous and hard-pressed taxpayers and ratepayers will again have to pick up the bill. They should expect the authorities to come clean on what went wrong.
Householders will see a certain irony in the warnings they receive from local authorities over what materials can or cannot be put in their recycling bins, yet obviously those same authorities were blind to where the materials were ending up. In theory recycling is a good thing, but if we are to be truly green in an environmental sense then the whole project must be taken seriously at every level.
That evidently did not happen in this instance.