Row erupts over Rabbitte backing for rural pylon blitz
COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte is at the centre of a fresh dispute with his own party members over his support for plans to blitz rural Ireland with monster electricity pylons.
The chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Jack Wall, and a number of other leading party figures are demanding Mr Rabbitte independently evaluate the cost of putting the controversial routes underground.
At a stormy private meeting at the party's national conference at the weekend, Mr Rabbitte was confronted by more than 100 angry TDs, senators and councillors who called on him to subject the various power line routes to an independent cost-benefit analysis.
Several sources at the "standing room only" meeting claimed Mr Rabbitte agreed to act on the request. However, these claims were denied by his spokesman.
"The minister had a private meeting with councillors, but didn't make any commitments. He has nothing further to add," the spokesman said.
Several sources have told the Irish Independent that Mr Rabbitte agreed that such a process would be necessary at some stage in order to quell the political controversy.
Mr Rabbitte told delegates the issue had the potential to seriously damage the prospects of Labour candidates in the local elections. He said he would "do everything in his power" to avoid such a prospect.
The calls for the independent study were led by Mr Wall, Carlow Kilkenny TD Ann Phelan and senators John Kelly, Denis Landy and John Whelan.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Wall said: "I called on him to do the analysis, to get Eirgrid to do it, and the minister did say at the meeting it would have to be looked at."
He added: "I would prefer that to happen after the extended public consultation process concludes on January 7. It is the logical next step and it has to happen."
Mr Rabbitte has agreed to meet with councillors after Christmas. Mr Kelly said Mr Rabbitte was "beginning to see sense, but still has some way to go". He said Mr Rabbitte was set to authorise an independent cost-benefit analysis, with each route being costed.
Mr Kelly said only once the studies were complete could a true sense of what needed to happen become clear. He said a mix of over ground and underground lines would ultimately be the outcome.
He said the major driving concern was the potential loss of value to people's homes, saying it could be as high as 40pc.
Ms Phelan said her problem was the lack of clarity around Eirgrid's figures. "Eirgrid say cost is the problem, but their cost figures are coming down all the time. We must get clarity on the site-specific issues in each case and that's why such an analysis is important."
At the meeting, Mr Rabbitte accepted it would be unacceptable for some of Ireland's most scenic spots to be blighted by these pylons, sources have said.
Mr Rabbitte's handling of the controversy has alarmed many at the head of the party. "Pat is worried that his message isn't getting across. But the problem is that his message is getting across. There is concern about how the issue has been handled," a party figure conceded.