Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Piling on the pressure - EirGrid opponents vow to continue fight

EirGrid's North-South electricity interconnector has been given the green light by An Bord Pleanála, but campaigners opposed to the project have vowed to fight on

The proposed North-South interconnector from Tyrone to Meath will require approximately 400 pylons say campaigners opposed to the project
The proposed North-South interconnector from Tyrone to Meath will require approximately 400 pylons say campaigners opposed to the project

Graham Clifford

'The stress has turned into resilience, that's what the politicians need to understand."

So says Padraig O'Reilly of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign (NEPPC) which held a meeting in Kells last week attended by 600 concerned landowners and local representatives.

The group is fighting the planned overground North-South interconnector from Meath to Tyrone which, it claims, will require around 400 pylons. The group's anxiety was heightened before Christmas when An Board Pleanála (ABP) approved EirGrid's planning application.

"The anger, frustration and disappointment at the decision by An Board Pleanála was clear at the meeting. People have put their lives on hold because of this issue. We feel the decision by An Bord Pleanála flies in the face of natural justice, but we are resilient, we won't lie down and we are considering our next step," said O'Reilly.

The NEPPC says it wants a strengthened national electricity grid but not "at the price of people's lives and health", and not one that causes irreparable damage "to our environment, heritage and livelihoods".

The group is campaigning for the North-South interconnector to be laid underground. As such, its representatives will meet with Denis Naughten, Minister for Communication, Climate Action and Environment, in the coming fortnight to discuss their fears and to ask him to instruct EirGrid to pursue an underground option instead. The proposed line will also cut through the counties of Monaghan and Cavan.

map eirgrid.PNG

The NEPPC is also considering the option of a judicial review of ABP's decision. However, that process could cost up to €120,000, and may not ultimately be successful.

"Already people have had to dig deep. We've been to the High Court twice and made oral submissions. Local communities have spent a small fortune fighting this already," says O'Reilly.

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A spokesperson for EirGrid told the Farming Independent that it expects construction to be complete and for "the line to go live by the end of 2020".

He outlined the next steps for the project, as far as EirGrid was concerned.

"We have to wait for the planning process in Northern Ireland to run its course. A planning enquiry will convene in Armagh City next month and if the project receives planning approval (there), we will be in a position to begin construction by early 2018," he said.

Judicial review

The spokesperson said that there is the possibility of a judicial review of the process, which could delay matters by months. He said interaction with landowners is ongoing.

"We have a community liaison officer, Grainne Duffy, and agricultural liaison officer, John Boylan, based in Monaghan.

They are in regular contact with local farmers, residents and politicians, and have reported increased levels of activity since planning permission was granted in December. They will continue to speak to landowners who are directly affected and this will include details of the financial package available to them.

"We will also look to engage with local groups regarding our Community Fund, which is available for groups along the route. We will also be speaking to residents located close to the line who are entitled to compensation via our Proximity Payments scheme."

According to Regina Doherty, Government Chief Whip and TD for Meath East, EirGrid will face many challenges bringing its plan to fruition.

"With less than 20pc access on the designated route, this will be a difficult build for EirGrid," she said.

Doherty, who attended last Thursday's meeting, said that she would continue to support the campaign to see consideration for the North-South interconnector to be wholly, or partially, undergrounded.

"I fully support farmers and landowners in their actions by way of judicial review of ABP's decision, and in their preparation to make a submission at the upcoming Oral Hearing in Northern Ireland," she said.

She said she wasn't "in the business of encouraging or organising, as some media outlets have suggested recently, civil disobedience".

Fianna Fáil's Shane Cassells, Meath West TD, said: "This issue will continue to be troublesome for the Government until they start treating the people of Meath fairly."

His party colleague Thomas Byrne said this will be a political decision.

"We tabled a motion in 2013 asking that the option of undergrounding this connector be looked at as technology changed but nothing has happened," he said.

"We will be meeting with our party leader this Thursday to discuss our next step and we'll do everything we can to convince Government to act once and for all," he said.

Fintan Slye, chief executive of EirGrid, said the North-South Interconnector is "undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island.

"The project will increase capacity of the grids north and south, helping to facilitate the connection of more renewable electricity generation. This is essential to achieve sustainable energy targets set by the EU," he said.

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