Protesters target key Dail seats to block pylon plan
EirGrid is ploughing ahead with project, say campaigners – despite an independent review
AN alliance of anti-pylon groups will contest a number of key by-elections to fight EirGrid's controversial plan to build a super-highway of the giant metal structures across huge swathes of the countryside, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
Earlier this year, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, was forced to temporarily shelve the pylon plans after fears of a coalition rift on the issue led to the establishment of an independent review panel headed by Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness.
However, the Pylon Alternative Alliance (PAA), which represents more than 40 rural groups across the country, say they have seen "clear evidence" that the Government and EirGrid plan to push ahead with the project, no matter what the outcome of the review.
EirGrid denied the claim, but did confirm it would be carrying out work "to identify the least constrained corridor for an overhead line route for the Grid Link Project".
PAA chairman Robert Duggan told the Sunday Independent: "The review is still ongoing, but the evidence on the ground is that this (pylon project) is going ahead regardless.
"This week we received reports that EirGrid employees were out photographing routes. It signals to all of us that this project is still happening despite the review. The physical evidence shows it is still under way – and we're expecting that they will choose a route in June."
Despite the Government's attempt to park the issue, the pylon plans will feature heavily in many parts of the country in the countdown to the local and European elections between now and May 23.
A small number of high-profile campaigners are running as 'pylon candidates', including mother-of-three Midi de Paor Walsh in Co Waterford.
Others have decided to try to fight 'from within'. Andrew Duncan, an anti-pylon group spokesman in Co Westmeath, has been added to the Fine Gael ticket. Last month vocal campaigner Kieran Hartley, the founder of Rethinkpylons.org, was unveiled as a Fianna Fail candidate for Europe in Ireland South.
However, the real battleground, according to the PAA, will be in the Dail, where the decisions regarding the Coalition's wind energy policies will be made, and not at local council level.
With this in mind, it is planning to field candidates in the forthcoming by-elections and at the next general election.
Mr Duggan said: "We see the Dail as the main focus. This project by-passed normal planning rules, county development plans and local representatives, so the only way to influence policy is where the decisions are being made."
The PAA met last Thursday night to finalise plans to finance its candidates through a series of nationwide fundraising drives, raffles, sponsorship from rural businesses and donations from members across the country.
The Government last week confirmed it will hold two by-elections on the same day as the local and European elections. These follow the recent resignation of Patrick Nulty in Dublin West and the vacancy in Longford Westmeath as a result of the death of Fine Gael TD Nicky McFadden. However, the pylon alliance, an umbrella organisation of community groups, will not contest elections in the capital.
The Government is also facing a number of other by-elections as a consequence of the EU elections and the appointment of an EU Commissioner.
The success of Brian Hayes in Dublin would mean an autumn by-election in the constituency of Dublin South West, where the Coalition currently has two Labour and one Fine Gael seats. It may also face a by-election in Wicklow if Simon Harris wins a seat in the Ireland South constituency.
Meanwhile, if Environment Minister Phil Hogan is appointed to the EU Commission a by-election will also have to be held in Carlow Kilkenny. If any minister or TD is sent to Europe instead of Mr Hogan a by-election would have to be held in their constituencies. Under current rules, a by-election must now be held within six months of a seat being vacated.
A spokesman for EirGrid this weekend denied any of its employees or contractors were involved in photographing land along any of the proposed pylon routes this week.
However, in a statement to the Sunday Independent, the spokesman confirmed the company would be carrying out a "detailed examination of overground and underground options before it proceeds to the next stage of consultation".
The statement added: "As well as work on an underground option, work will take place to identify the least constrained corridor for an overhead line route for the Grid Link Project in order to be able to make a comparison with an underground route.
"This work includes examining 35,000 submissions made to the most recent public consultation on the Grid Link Project and includes carrying out site visits to assess the corridors, taking account of new information that has come to light through the public consultation."