A PEOPLE'S revolt against a controversial €3.2bn power project that will dot 4,000 new high-voltage pylons over much of rural Ireland is gathering momentum with dozens of towns and villages across the country banding together to fight the plan.
Top jump jockey Ruby Walsh has added his voice to oppose the Eirgrid "Grid 25" strategy – the biggest electricity infrastructure project in decades.
Mr Walsh told the Sunday Independent he is supporting his neighbours in the Calverstown, Narraghmore and Crookstown areas of Kilcullen, Co Kildare – a possible "corridor" for some 1,100 kilometres of power lines that will criss-cross the countryside.
"There's a time to stand up and be counted on behalf of your neighbours. It doesn't affect me but I can see the anxiety in the locality. People have to band together on this one. If you don't support your neighbour in times of need then the next time it will be you – and you will be on your own," he said.
The national hunt hero says putting cables underground is the best solution – for the environment and to eliminate fears over health.
"I don't know much about this technically but it just seems to me that for a little more expense all these worries could be eliminated by going underground. It just makes more sense," Mr Walsh added.
Last week nearly 500 people gathered in Piltown, Co Kilkenny, to voice their protest to the plan. The rural village is on the pathway of two of six potential routes of 45-metre high pylons across Munster and Leinster. The €500m Grid Link Project will connect substations in Knockraha in Cork to Dunstown near Kilcullen in Kildare, via Great Island in Wexford.
And there are similar projects in other parts of the country. Grid West covers Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim. The Meath-Tyrone project also impacts Cavan, Monaghan and Armagh, while there is another significant project joining Laois and Kilkenny. Plans for pylons linking Meath with the counties of Cavan and Monaghan have been the subject of intense opposition for years.
Eirgrid insist the developments are vital for prosperity and economic growth – that health fears are without foundation and that going underground is both too costly and technically unfeasible.
A spokesman told the Sunday Independent that a stable, high-quality electricity route is an "absolute requirement" to attract international inward investment.
But mother-of-two Sara Conlon, from Piltown, said people are just waking up to the potential impact of the project.
"I would have most concerns about the health issue. There is research that says the electro-magnetic fields (EMF) that is given off by power lines damages health. I have two young children. It is their generation that has most to lose," she told the Sunday Independent.
She is also worried about the impact on the landscape.
"One of the routes is through a valley which I can see from my house. I have a view of Kilkenny and Waterford and I can see the Galtees in Tipperary. That view will be blighted by these pylons."
The All-Ireland grid project now looks set to become a key political issue – especially in the run up to next year's local and European elections.
As Piltown mounts its campaign, other action groups are setting up all over the country.
An alliance of groups in the south-east is staging a protest march at 1pm on Saturday, November 9, at the Mahon Falls in the Comeragh Mountains in Co Waterford – a picturesque area that could be affected by the project.
The march will be led by cycling legend Sean Kelly.
Another community organisation, RTS Substation Action Group, represents people from Ratheniska, Co Laois, where this year's ploughing championships took place, as well as nearby Timahoe and Spink.
They are campaigning against a new and bigger electricity sub-station that will replace an existing facility.
Residents from the village and surrounding areas have already sent over 1,200 letters to the planning department of Laois County Council objecting to the proposed substation. The next key date for them is an oral planning hearing to take place in the Killeshin Hotel, Portlaoise, Co Laois, starting on Monday, November 4. Like many of the army of community groups, RTS is using the power of social networking – especially Facebook – to galvanise opposition.
"Eirgrid will have no qualms about splashing our tax euros on teams of barristers at €3k a day and a panel of experts and consultants.
Colm Fingleton from Ratheniska claimed Eirgrid is creating the new infrastructure to "export wind energy to France" and that the local benefits cited by Eirgrid are a red herring. "This plan was hatched up in the madness of the Celtic Tiger. Since then demand for electricity has gone down between 15 and 20 per cent. The current infrastructure is fit for purpose," Mr Fingleton said.
North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP), which is further down the line in opposing plans for 400 pylons in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, is now gathering together other groups from across Ireland for a "Monster National Wake-Up meeting" in Trim on the evening of November 5.
Padraig O'Reilly of NEPP told the Sunday Independent: "This meeting started as a gathering about the North-South Interconnector which we have opposed for five or six years now, but in the meantime all the other projects have been rolled out around the country. We have been inundated with calls for help from dozens of small communities in the pathways of the Grid West project in Connacht and the Cork-to-Kildare project.
"Taking on a semi-State agency with all their money and power is tough but it can be done if people band together," he said.
Mr O'Reilly accused Eirgrid of "setting neighbour against neighbour".
"The thing about having six or seven proposed routes is that one community will be battling against another community. The only solution is for all the groups to band together and force the Government and Eirgrid to go underground."
Landowners receive compensation for having a pylon on their land. The going rate is rumoured to be about €20,000 per pylon, though Eirgrid has refused to discuss payments.
However, individual homeowners on the pathway of overhead lines get nothing.
A 12-week consultation process started in September and ends on November 26 for the Cork-to-Kildare project. Eirgrid said it is doing everything it can to ensure that people are being informed.