THE future of the first of three massive pylon projects has been thrown into doubt after the Government's flip-flop on independent examinations of its power line plans.
A temporary delay in the planning application for the North-South Interconnector is now a possibility.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has asked for a new expert panel on putting the power lines underground to also look at the existing research conducted on the interconnector running through Meath, Cavan and Monaghan.
The expert panel, chaired by former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, was initially only going to look at the Gridlink (Cork to Kildare via Wexford) and Gridwest (Mayo to Roscommon) projects.
EirGrid has admitted the planning application it was due to lodge in three weeks' time for the North-South Interconnector could be delayed.
But Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte's officials still expect the planning application to be lodged for the power lines to go overground to proceed next month.
"As far as we are concerned, EirGrid have indicated they plan to put the application in towards the middle of February. There is no reason to say that has changed," a spokesman confirmed.
The Government wants to ensure the concerns of communities in different parts of the country are treated the same.
However, the North-South line is at a far advanced stage.
The expert panel is supposed to provide reassurance that the overhead and underground options for North-South have been investigated and the studies already conducted will also allow a similar comparison to be made by An Bord Pleanala when it comes to decide on the merits of this planning application.
EirGrid said it would engage with the expert panel but could not say at the moment what impact this would have on the planning application being lodged.
"It's not clear until we see developments. We don't know at this point," a spokesman said.
The Government is continuing to insist the North-South line is a "strategically urgent transmission reinforcement" and is of critical importance to Northern Ireland.
Mr Rabbitte is due to meet with Mrs Justice McGuinness tomorrow to discuss the remit of her panel.
He will ask the retired judge if it is possible to establish if there has been "parity of treatment" between the North-South project – in terms of the studies already undertaken – and the Gridlink and Gridwest projects, where studies are now proposed.
The decision to pass the North-South interconnector to the expert panel was taken after pressure from Fine Gael backbenchers.
Mr Kenny said he wanted the underground and overground options examined so they could be factored into the decision to be taken by An Bord Pleanala.
Mr Kenny said the public would be very reassured if a similar exercise could be undertaken in each area.
"I would hope the extension of remit for the same type of analysis can be extended to North-South," he said.
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