Cabinet tension over Enda's pylon 'U-turn'
Rabbitte 'left hanging out to dry' by softened approach
Taoiseach Enda Kenny's softening position on the controversial EirGrid pylon project has sparked further tensions with Labour amid concerns that the move has left embattled Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte "hanging out to dry".
Mr Kenny was last week challenged by the Fine Gael TD John Deasy to "show leadership on this critical infrastructural issue" at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.
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"No one knows where we stand on this, where are we going; right now we're no-where," Mr Deasy told the Taoiseach.
Mr Kenny's cautious response, where he said he was receiving conflicting advice on the matter and awaiting a memo in two or three weeks, was interpreted by his TDs as representing a "significant u-turn".
Mr Kenny had been subjected to a storm of criticism when he claimed in Qatar that scrapping the pylon plan would result in increased levels of emigration.
However, the Sunday Independent has learned that Fine Gael backbenchers -- who fear an angry backlash in their constituencies -- were jubilant by Mr Kenny's apparent u-turn on the issue.
Carlow Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan told the Sunday Independent: "This is a significant change in positioning, the Taoiseach has clearly listened to public concern."
Another Fine Gael source noted: "It was a remarkable sight, it's not often you see Enda backtracking like this; when it comes to the pylons all Kenny wants is a fig-leaf to bury the u-turn."
Fine Gael TD Pat Deering said Mr Kenny was "very conciliatory". He added: "It is the major political issue in rural Ireland and my concern is the party will be affected."
But behind the scenes, senior Labour figures were seething over the apparent change in Mr Kenny's stance.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte refused to comment on Mr Kenny's softened approach.
"I am not in the FG parliamentary party so you cannot ask me to comment on what goes on in there," he said.
"The Taoiseach has not contacted me on the matter; the policy is continuing as outlined in the Dail."
One senior Labour source told the Sunday Independent: "Pat must be gobsmacked by this, he's been left hanging out to dry on this one now that Enda's spoken to the people. Rabbitte would be wise to watch his back."
Another top-level Labour figure said: "Rabbitte's been ambushed by Enda, he has taken the flak and now at the first sign of the local elections Enda has disappeared."
Mr Rabbitte also indicated that the consultation process will continue well beyond the end-of-January deadline for the initial report.
He added: "I have met the board of EirGrid and I have asked that we have an initial report as swiftly as possible on the main themes of the 35,000 submissions, but the final response is likely to take considerably longer."
Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent can reveal that anti-pylon groups are moving closer to nominating candidates to run in the May local elections.
The umbrella Pylon Alternative Alliance (PAA) group, which officially formed last week, said they will hold key discussions on potential candidates over the coming weeks.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, PAA chairperson Robert Duggan said nominating contenders is a "significant agenda item".
Mr Duggan said the network of regional groups opposed to the EirGrid plan -- which extends to 10,000 householders and landowners across eight counties -- has significant voting power.
"If we get enough support, if we get people that are willing to nail their colours to the mast in opposition to this, that will help define our position on this," Mr Duggan said.
"We will consider it when we establish the need for it in the next while. It's such an extensive network that we feel our voting power will be significant."
The group comprises two representatives from eight counties who would be affected by the EirGrid projects. The counties are Cork, Carlow, Kilkenny, Kildare, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow.
The PAA describe themselves as having a similar structure to the GAA, and that while not all the independent community groups have yet joined, they extend an "open invitation" to all affected by Grid Link.