Sunday 15 September 2019

Chief whip is accused of trying to 'organise protests against herself' on pylons

Regina Doherty has backed civil disobedience to stop the North-South Interconnector. Photo: Tom Burke
Regina Doherty has backed civil disobedience to stop the North-South Interconnector. Photo: Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Cabinet member Regina Doherty has been accused of trying to organise a protest against her own Government after saying she would encourage civil disobedience as part of an effort to stop overground electricity lines passing through her constituency.

The TD is vehemently opposed to EirGrid's plan for a North-South Interconnector, which will see pylons erected along a route from her constituency in Meath to Co Tyrone.

Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne called for a change of policy. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne called for a change of policy. Photo: Tom Burke

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said a decision by An Bord Pleanála this week to give the 135km project the green light was "independent".

However, in a statement, his chief whip said: "We are about to enter into a stage of civil disobedience to hamper a decision made by An Bord Pleanála and I fully support the farmers and landowners in that action."

Fianna Fáil's Thomas Byrne, who shares her constituency and also opposes the overground lines, said Ms Doherty was effectively organising a protest against herself.

"I think the Government badly needs a Christmas break when a minister is suggesting supporting civil disobedience against her own Government. It would be like Phil Hogan taking charge of the water protests," he told the Irish Independent.

"Civil disobedience is not necessary here and I'm not encouraging it. All that is needed is a change of policy from the Government itself. This will bring us into line with what is happening on the continent."

Mr Byrne noted that Germany and Belgium are currently building an underground interconnector and said Ms Doherty's job is to convince her Cabinet colleagues to follow a similar route.

"My fellow Meath East TD Regina and her Government colleagues have the power to do this here too.

"So, the Government should simply change the policy and stop distractions like suggesting protests against themselves," Mr Byrne said.

But Mr Kenny said there had been "10 years of discussions and protests and negotiations about this particular development". "I made the point that we've an all-island energy market. These kinds of facilities are important for our economies, north and south. But it's not for me to adjudicate on the independence of An Bord Pleanála.

"And while I understand that this will go for a judicial review, that is also independent in the determination of its outcome," the Taoiseach said.

The EirGrid plan involved almost 300 above-ground pylons passing through parts of Meath, Monaghan, Cavan and Tyrone. The pylons will range in height from 26m to 51m. An Bord Pleanála received objections from more than 200 landowners, saying the development was a strategic necessity.

A spokesperson for Ms Doherty said she had "nothing to add" last night, but Fine Gael senator Ray Butler attempted to defend his colleague on RTÉ's 'News At One'. He said she had "always been consistent on this issue" whereas Fianna Fáil were "like the Wombles".

"When they were out of government they wanted them underground and when they were in government had no problem putting them overground.

"Regina has always had her view and she has always been adamant. She's passionate about it," Mr Butler said.

"When I went to look at the Programme for Government, there was everything from bogs to bees in a 132-page document but there wasn't one thing about the North-South Interconnector.

"We'd a lot of people banging their chests over the years, saying they were going to stop it and if they got into government in any shape or form they'd do something. They've done nothing," he said.

Irish Independent

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