independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Fianna Fail refuses to endorse the Government's nominee for Eirgrid chairman

FIANNA Fail has refused to endorse the government's nominee as chairman of national grid operator EirGrid.

The party said it could not reconcile John O'Connor's role as former head of the planning appeals board with his new post - which will involve seeking planning permission from the board for hundreds of kilometres of power lines nationwide.

Fianna Fáil has four members of the committee, and cannot stop his appointment.

Clare TD Timmy Dooley told the Dail Transport and Communications committee this morning Mr O'Connor was suitably skilled for the role.

But he said communities opposed to pylons would believe they were working against a professional with a "unique knowledge" of how decisions were taken.

"We won't be in a position to support your role. That's not something we do lightly, I have no question about your suitability," Mr Dooley said.

It comes after Mr O'Connor denied having any conflict of interest due to his former role as head of the planning appeals board.

Fianna Fail has called on the government to carry out an independent assessment of plans to build more than 200kms of pylons across nine counties.

The party said that international experts should be asked to investigate if the towers, some up to 45 metres tall, could be built underground to prevent visual impact.

The development plan for the national grid, called Grid 25, involves upgrading a number of power lines across the country, some of which will involve construction of giant towers to support high-voltage lines.

This week, the Dáil will debate a Fianna Fáil private members’ motion calling for an independent assessment of the plans.

EirGrid has previously said that construction underground could treble the bill to €1.5bn for the Grid Link project running from Cork to Kildare, but the party’s energy spokesman Michael Moynihan said international experts could address costs and health and safety concerns.

 “I think everyone would be in agreement with the fact that we need to update our electricity infrastructure throughout the country,” he said. “For Ireland to remain competitive as a location for jobs investment and creation, we need to have a modern and effective electricity network.

“Last week, we heard of concerns raised by Fáilte Ireland about the erection of overhead pylons and the possible impact on tourism, especially in places like the Comeragh Mountains in Waterford.

“Many of the residents’ groups that have raised concerns about the impact of overhead pylons say there has been a lack of consultation by Eirgrid, issues have also been raised about the health and safety impact of having high voltage power lines so close to people’s homes.”

A public consultation period has been extended until the end of January on the project. Further details are at www.eirgridprojects.com/projects/gridlink

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