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Backbenchers call for independent cost study

FINE Gael and Labour Party backbenchers are in open rebellion over the electricity pylon controversy with demands for an independent assessment of the plan.

Labour Senator John Kelly's house was egged after he abstained on a Seanad vote calling for legislation to regulate the construction and location of high-voltage lines.

The State electricity grid company, EirGrid, plans to erect more than 1,500 pylons across the country.

Significantly, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has publicly criticised EirGrid's failure to deal in "plain English" with the pylon issue.

As the furore grows over the controversial plan to construct 800km of new power lines, coalition backbenchers are demanding an independent study of the costs of putting the power lines underground. The controversy has even seen Fine Gael and Sinn Fein TDs come together to attack the plans.

Mr Rabbitte signalled that he was open to the idea of cost analysis of the underground option.

Labour Party Senator John Kelly slammed the growing extremism of certain elements of the anti-pylon campaign after his house was attacked.

"Throwing eggs at the house is not going to change my position. The reality is I'm going to the wire with the people on this issue," he said.

It is believed that anti-pylon protesters are planning to picket Senator Kelly's house and that of Fine Gael TD John O'Mahony, the chairman of the Dail communications committee, and other TDs and senators.

Among the coalition backbenchers seeking the independent cost review is Fine Gael Cavan-Monaghan TD Heather Humphreys.

"Dealing with EirGrid is like trying to get an answer out of the HSE, and I don't mean it in a nice way," she said. "EirGrid has been very poor in getting their message across, they're not winning hearts and minds and are seen as being disrespectful to all sides."

Ms Humphreys said what was needed was an independent study to accurately define the real costs of going underground "that can be trusted by all sides".

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At the previous FG parliamentary party meeting, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was dismissive of the concerns of his TDs.

Last week, however, a party source said Mr Kenny's attitude had changed.

"The boss [Mr Kenny] was far more mild mannered on this occasion, he is able to see trouble coming around the corner," the source said.

Some TDs, however, were also critical of the anti-pylon protesters.

A Fine Gael TD said the campaign was being led by Fianna Fail across different counties. "Fianna Fail is trying to come back via the back door of the pylons," the TD said.

Fine Gael TD Ray Butler also criticised what he described as the attitude of "don't put it in my back garden, put it in my neighbour's back garden".

Senator Kelly predicted that Mr Rabbitte would be seen in rural Ireland as a latterday Michael Davitt if he managed to broker a solution to the escalating pylon crisis.

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