Friday 24 November 2017

Paul Melia: Locals weren't looking for a slush fund when they chose to protest

EirGrid’s John O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
EirGrid’s John O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

THIS community fund may be welcomed by some. But the battle for hearts and minds is far from over.

Communities already feel they've been ignored in the public consultation process around these grid upgrades, and there's no guarantee a lump-sum payment will convince them of the merits of high-voltage lines.

The vast majority of affected homeowners were not voicing their opposition in the hope that the State would provide a slush-fund to make them go away. Most have genuine concerns about whether these lines are needed, if they will impact on their health and whether the erection of pylons up to 45 metres high will damage our countryside and drive tourists away.

The economic and technical arguments put forward for these projects have not been properly explained. That much has been admitted by EirGrid already, and the lack of information was further underlined by the Government ordering the company to review how it consults with communities.

Other concerns centred on the impact power lines would have on animal welfare and agriculture, biodiversity including sites and native species protected by EU law, and property values.

Saying these lines are needed to keep the lights on is not good enough. People need to be told what happens if they are not constructed.

Our politicians have questions to answer too in relation to the lack of debate around these projects until relatively recently.

Details of Grid 25, the national upgrade of our electricity network, were first announced more than five years ago. There have been few concerns raised by our elected representatives since.

There was always going to be funding in place for communities affected by almost 500km of high-voltage lines currently in planning.

However, it seems strange that details of the payments only emerged after two torrid appearances by EirGrid executives and incoming chair John O'Connor at a Dail committee before Christmas.

A cynic might argue that the timing of yesterday's announcement was a ploy to win votes in this summer's local elections. A Government spokesman has insisted this is not the case. That said, there's certainly going to be a feeling that money for hard-pressed families is being used to buy a few votes for a Coalition facing a turbulent few months on the campaign trail.

Irish Independent

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