THE Government will put off making a final decision on the controversial routing of monster pylons through the countryside until after local elections this summer, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
The move is a clear signal that the Government recognises how politically damaging the issue could be, particularly to Labour, in the run-up to the make-or-break elections in May. TDs, senators and councillors were last week incensed by revelations in last weekend's Sunday Independent that, despite initial denials from EirGrid, a "second wave" of pylons is being considered for the Dublin commuter belt.
As Tuesday's deadline for public submissions approaches, the pressure is on Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte to contain rising anger and frustration from within Labour about his handling of the issue. Mr Rabbitte has laid the blame for the poor communication and consultation at the door of EirGrid, the State's energy agency, saying it must "take lessons on board".
He conceded that the process of communication and consultation around the pylons issue has not been good enough and needs to be improved.
When asked if there had been proper engagement with the public on the issue, Mr Rabbitte said: "Obviously not well enough. One has to continue to do it and there has been criticism in parliament here about the quality of the consultation and the principal agency involved is EirGrid, and it has to take those lessons on board."
In response to the minister's comments, EirGrid yesterday agreed it is vital that extensive and meaningful consultation take place on major infrastructure projects.
"We are constantly striving to improve our consultation process and will continue to do so," an EirGrid spokesman told the Sunday Independent.
Mr Rabbitte has been branded as "arrogant" and "deeply dismissive" of his party colleagues' concerns up to now and has been forced into agreeing to meet TDs, senators and councillors in the coming days to assuage their anger.
Tomorrow, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Jack Wall -- who has led his party's internal revolt to the pylon plans -- will submit his submission outlining his opposition to the project. He agreed that it is unlikely any decision will be made until after the summer elections.
He told the Sunday Independent: "If EirGrid is to do the right thing, then there is no way it can happen before the election. They need to reflect on all the views being made and to come to the right decision and that will take time."
Labour Senator Denis Landy, who organised a meeting of Labour party members and Mr Rabbitte at the party conference in Killarney last November, has said a full cost-benefit analysis must be conducted to establish the true cost of going underground.
"I am reiterating my call for the cost analysis, which looks at the full costs of going overground vis-à-vis going underground, looking at impact on tourism, health and property prices. I intend pushing this at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting when the term begins," Senator Landy said.
Under the Grid Link proposals, some 1,300 pylons will run across the country from Cork to Great Island in Wexford, to Dunstown, Kilcullen, Co Kildare on a cross-country corridor yet to be decided.
However, the Sunday Independent has confirmed further routes will link the Dunstown "hub" with the greater Dublin area and the UK.