Wednesday 22 November 2017

Plan for 'monster rally' underlines 70 per cent opposition to pylon plan: poll

SHANE DORAN and John Drennan

AN overwhelming 70 per cent of voters want the State to abandon controversial plans to erect giant pylons across the countryside and instead put the project underground, a new Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown reveals.

This is despite the fact that the underground option will likely be more expensive.

The poll findings will heap further pressure on Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, who has faced a major cross-party revolt on the issue from backbench TDs ahead of the local elections.

And they will provide more ammunition to anti-pylon groups who have vowed to block EirGrid's €3.2bn plan to upgrade the State's electricity infrastructure by constructing a 'super-highway' of 45-metre pylons through some of our most scenic areas.

Just 11 per cent of those polled in our survey are in favour of the power lines being built overground. A further 11 per cent said "it depends" on where the pylons would be located. EirGrid's chairman John O'Connor came under fire earlier this year when he admitted during questioning at the Public Accounts Committee that he wouldn't like to live near one the giant pylons.

And, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of householders agree, with some 83 per cent of those surveyed saying they would not like to live near the giant metal structures.

Just eight per cent said they would be "happy" to live close to a pylon, while nine per cent either didn't know or had "no opinion" on the matter.

Opposition to the over-ground pylons is high across all age groups, and among Fianna Fail supporters (80 per cent) and, adding to Mr Rabbitte's difficulties, Labour supporters (78 per cent). It is also high among members of the farming community (73 per cent), in spite of promises that farmers and rural residents living near the pylons will be paid compensation.

Three-quarters of people living in Munster want the power lines to be put underground, backed by a similar number of Leinster residents (73 per cent).

The vast majority (80 per cent) of people agreed the pylons would have a negative effect on the value of their homes. The same number of those polled also agreed that the massive metal structures would damage scenic areas of the country.

And despite the findings of a recent EU report which failed to uncover evidence of a major health threat to humans from high-voltage power lines, 74 per cent of those polled either "strongly agree" (47 per cent) or "somewhat agree" (27 per cent) that there are possible health concerns associated with pylons.

EirGrid and Minister Rabbitte have borne the brunt of a massive public backlash over the plans to erect almost 500km of high-voltage power lines over-ground.

The Government recently announced an expert group to help decide if undergrounding was technically feasible and affordable, but it won't report back until later in the year.

Some 35,000 submissions alone were made for one project, Grid Link, which runs from Cork to Kildare via Wexford.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent has learnt that a 'monster' rally of all anti-pylon and anti-wind farm groups is planned for Tuesday, April 15 in the capital.

The rally was originally planned to take place on March 5. However, one organiser told the Sunday Independent: "We decided on a change of tactics, April 15 is the week the Dail goes into recess and we intend to show the politicians we haven't gone away you know."

Another source added: "Everyone is coming together for this. It will be a monster rally, we want to send them off with a flea in their ear a month before the locals.

"The schools are also closed that week, it will allow parents from Donegal to Mayo to Waterford to come up."

Mr Rabbitte is now coming under severe pressure from both Fine Gael and his own party to resolve the issue.

The Sunday Independent has learnt that, at a private briefing of Labour TDs and senators by anti-wind-farm protest groups, "serious concerns were raised by the groups over how they could have confidence in the Government's plans while this situation exists".

Mr Rabbitte is also facing renewed pressure to resolve the position of the chairman of Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEAI), Brendan Halligan, who is also on the board of the private wind energy company Mainstream.

The CEO of Mainstream, Eddie O'Connor, has claimed in response to earlier concerns that "none of the services offered by SEAI have been availed of by Mainstream. If they were, Brendan would have to absent himself from any decision-making forum at SEAI because there would be a conflict of interest".

However, in a scathing attack on the floor of the Seanad, Labour Senator John Whelan recently warned that Mr Halligan's other position as "a consultant for the wind industry'' who "works for the biggest wind-farm developer in the country, Mainstream energy'' meant his position on the board of SEAI is "untenable''.

Labour's communications spokesperson in the Seanad added: "I thought we had left that kind of politics, policy making and strategy behind us or have we replaced the FF Galway tent with a new tepee of cosy cronies."

One Government source told the Sunday Independent: "Poor Pat. He thought he'd put the pylons to bed, now he finds he's under attack on three fronts.

"This really is the story that won't go away."

Sunday Independent

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