Monday 4 May 2015

Enda could regret his Monty Pylon moment as storm gathers at home

Published 07/01/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

ENDA Kenny is around long enough to know that political leaders often get themselves into a whole pile of trouble based on things they say while they're 'out foreign'.

It often has a lot to with a certain 'de-mob happy' feeling which allows them to speak less guardedly. Their handlers and minders will often come back, with that metaphorical media mop and bucket, to tell the world: "What he really meant was ... "

Yesterday, in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, the Taoiseach weighed into the national controversy over plans to erect new electricity pylons carrying overhead power cables across vast scenic tracts of rural Ireland.

Mr Kenny is on a six-day business visit to the oil-rich states of the Middle East with 109 business executives from over 80 Irish firms who have good grounds to hope they will win new markets for their goods and services.

But on the specific pylon issue, Mr Kenny was in essence saying that failure to drive on with the overhead pylon scheme could cost Irish people jobs and drive up emigration.

"We haven't arrived at a situation yet where you can provide power without cables," Mr Kenny told reporters in an outburst of frankness, perhaps enhanced by being out of Ireland.

Up to recently people's awareness of this overground or underground electric cable issue -- now rapidly being shortened to one word 'Pylons' -- depended largely on where you lived.

Plans advanced by the FF-Green government for overground high-powered electric cables were vehemently opposed by some people in the Border counties of the north-east.

But now anti-pylon sentiment is growing in many more rural areas across the country. Opposition groups are emerging to State-owned power company EirGrid's plan for new electricity interconnectors to be carried on a large network of overground electricity pylons.

There are moves afoot to link these anti-pylon groups with others who are for similar reasons strident in opposing windmills. Perhaps the organisers' claim that they can ultimately mobilise half-a-million people is extravagant. We must wait and see -- but they attracted 2,000 to Vinegar Hill above Enniscorthy, despite bad weather, last Sunday afternoon.

The planned new power lines include the North-South interconnector, linking counties Meath and Tyrone, which was the original source of controversy. Since then we have learnt of many other plans, including a connection running from Kildare to Cork through Wexford, and a Roscommon and Mayo line, which might in the fullness of time prove an especially interesting issue for Mr Kenny.

The opposition groups are at all times calling for the lines to be run underground instead of on unsightly pylons. Mr Kenny's comments yesterday called to mind an old French country proverb about the cottage owner having to choose between keeping a goat and cultivating a successful cabbage patch.

"It's ironic in many ways that people say to me, 'well my children have to go away, have to emigrate.' And in many cases they emigrate to countries where these things are matter of course as providing infrastructure for development," Mr Kenny said.

It was the clearest sign yet from him that he will back the roll-out of the less costly overhead power lines as he called for 'rational, common-sense' pylon debate. Mr Kenny said that new infrastructure is the price to be paid for the Government providing the means to create jobs evenly spread across Ireland.

He admitted that the trade-off between overhead power lines and jobs may be a 'conundrum'. The overall thrust of these comments looked like a hardening government will to drive through with the pylon proposals. He even added a 'think-of-the-children' line.

"I don't think it's right for any government to say that they can deny the next generation of young people in our country the right to have a job and to live and work in their own area.

"You can't do these things without infrastructure and that means water, roads and communications and power," he insisted.

To a casual reader, Mr Kenny might appear to be implying that opponents of pylons were also opposed to an enhanced power network and economic progress. "If someone can explain to me how you can provide power for the future without cables I'd like to hear from them. Because there is a cost factor involved in this -- be it overground or underground," he said -- stressing that this row is first, last and ever about cables.

Mr Kenny is not, however, old for nothing in politics. He did also lay emphasis on the independence of the planning process and the independent agencies, not directly under the remit of Government, who will eventually adjudicate this underground/ overground war.

It is clear that this is a very real conflict which by now affects many parts of the country. And Mr Kenny would do well to walk lightly here as it could well also influence many votes in the upcoming local council and European Parliament elections now some 20 weeks away.

Irish Independent

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