‘Diesel’ traces the illegal dumping of toxic waste material, commonly referred to as
‘sludge’, by diesel launderers at sites along the Irish border between Counties Louth,
Armagh and Down.
Agricultural diesel, intended for off-road agricultural use, costs about 50c less per
litre than regular car diesel. Agricultural diesel is dyed (green in the South and red
in the North) so as to distinguish it from auto diesel. Early dye removal processes
involved pouring diesel from an oil drum into an upside down traffic cone filled with
nappies which would adsorb the dye. Other methods involved cat litter and, more
In the 1980s and 1990s this border region lost many of its traditional
manufacturing industries such as shoemaking (Clarkes), tobacco (PJ Carrolls) and
brewing (Harp, McArdle and Moore), and saw the end of the railway freight trade.
The economic downturn, combined with the impact of the ‘Troubles’, has helped
this illegal industry to thrive. The issue of diesel laundering is one that nobody
wants to talk about – it is seen as a necessary evil. Diesel laundering provides cheap
fuel and creates employment and opportunities in the area. Plant closures, illegal
dump-sites and contaminated waterways are reported, but then immediately
Diesel laundering plants range in size and sophistication, laundering anywhere
between 6 and 30 million litres of fuel per year. Between 2008 and 2015, Louth
County Council spent €5 million cleaning up 596 dump sites. Apart from the
environmental impacts, it was estimated that in 2015 diesel laundering cost the
Exchequer approximately €239 million, with the total loss to the national economy
in the region of €435 million.
Ciaran Dunbar undertook a BA in Photography at the Ulster University, Belfast. Ciaran’s
parents originated from Northern Ireland but left in the 1980s to escape the Troubles.
Ciaran’s work explores issues of identity, displacement, and his relationship with his
immediate locality. Ciaran currently lives and works in Dundalk, County Louth. www.ciarandunbar.com