Sunday 22 July 2018

Huge blow to Athenry as Apple abandons €850m data centre

An artist’s impression of the Apple data centre that was originally planned for Athenry in Co Galway
An artist’s impression of the Apple data centre that was originally planned for Athenry in Co Galway

Adrian Weckler, Laura Larkin and Rachel Farrell

Apple has abandoned plans for an €850m data centre in Athenry, Co Galway, citing delays in the Irish planning process.

The company, which was facing a fresh Supreme Court and European Court appeal to a facility it announced more than three years ago, is proceeding with a second data centre in Denmark.

“Several years ago we applied to build a data centre at Athenry. Despite our best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans and we will not be able to move forward with the data centre,” said the company in a statement.

”While disappointing, this setback will not dampen our enthusiasm for future projects in Ireland as our business continues to grow.”

The move will be seen as a blow to industrial hopes in Athenry, where community groups and local businesses had hoped the Apple facility might provide a multiplier effect for business investment outside the region’s biggest population centres.

However, Apple is disassociating the data centre decision from any wider relationship considerations with Ireland over tax or other issues, citing new investments in its Cork facility, where it employs over 6,000 people.

“We’ve been operating in Ireland since 1980 and we're proud of the many contributions we make to the economy and job creation,” said the company in a statement.

“In the last two years we've spent over €550 million with local companies and, all told, our investment and innovation supports more than 25,000 jobs up and down the country. We're deeply committed to our employees and customers in Ireland and are expanding our operations in Cork, with a new facility for our talented team there.”

The data centre would have been one of the largest in Europe, with 300 temporary construction jobs and 50 permanent technical jobs for the site at Derrydonnell Woods, near Athenry.

It was designed to service Apple’s European business in online services for Apple Music, iCloud, the App Store, Messages, Maps and Siri.

These Apple services represent the fastest growing part of its business, garnering €8bn in revenue per quarter according to the company’s most recent financial results.

Apple’s decision is also being viewed with concern in business and investment organisations such as the IDA and Ibec, which have been critical of the negative effect that planning delays can have on industrial policy in the country.

But objectors charged that appropriate environmental assessments had yet to be completed and that the facility might use as much as 6pc of the national grid’s electricity output.

Last week, lawyers for two objectors, Sinead Fitzpatrick and Allan Daly, succeeded in an application to have an appeal heard in the High Court over the matter.

The appeal was against a High Court decision which had appeared to give Apple the green light to proceed with the data centre.

In granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court also warned that it may have to refer the case to the European Court of Justice on a point of law, which could bring a further lengthy delay to proceedings.

At the heart of the matter, the Supreme Court said, was whether An Bord Pleanála should be required to consider a foreseeable expansion of the data centre. The case also potential brought up “points of law”, the Supreme Court said, that may have to be decided in Europe before the matter was concluded.

Such European referrals can take years in legal delays and hearings.

The Government is set to be disappointed at the news but will point to a €150m data centre investment by Google in Dublin this week, which is set to create 160 temporary construction jobs. However, this is unlikely to comfort local businesses in the west of Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Apple’s decision to abandon its plans was “regrettable” but not very surprising given the delays.

He said the move was a “real blow to Athenry and the west”.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped people outside of Ireland realised that the “inordinate delays” in the project were not typical.

He also said that having data centres here may help to anchor tech giants more fully to Ireland.

Local councillor Ciaran Cannon described the decision as a "setback" for the Athenry area.

"I very much regret that Apple will not be pursuing its plans to construct this data centre, especially as the project would have been a source of significant investment and job creation for Galway and the West of Ireland," he said on Facebook.

"The Apple decision is a setback for Athenry but with the town now located at the intersection of the M6 and M18, and a major IDA land bank holding adjacent to the town, we can still be confident of significant industrial development in the future."

Online Editors

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