Sunday 22 July 2018

Wind farm company 'reviewing' case as Varadkar under fire for 'interfering' in Doonbeg planning process

Doonbeg Lodge, with Donald Trump (inset). Composite Image (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Doonbeg Lodge, with Donald Trump (inset). Composite Image (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Philip Ryan and Allison Bray

A company which lost out after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s controversial intervention in the planning process now says it is “reviewing” its case.

Mr Varadkar made representations to a county council after being contacted by Donald Trump.

The Taoiseach was accused of dropping a “diplomatic clanger” when he bragged about intervening against a wind farm.

Mr Varadkar recounted at a St Patrick’s Day lunch in Washington yesterday how then-businessman Mr Trump rang him in 2014, while he was tourism minister, as there was a “problem” with plans to build a massive wind turbine project near Mr Trump’s luxury Doonbeg Golf Resort in Co Clare.

Mr Varadkar told guests that he “endeavoured to do” what he could, contacted Clare County Council and enquired about the planning permission.

“And subsequently the planning permission was declined and the windfarm was never built – thus the landscape being preserved – and the president has very kindly given me credit for that, although I do think it probably would have been refused anyway,” he said.

In 2015, An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission to Clare Coastal Wind Power Ltd’s plans to erect a nine-turbine wind farm within sight of the resort due to the impact it would have on local freshwater pearl mussels. Mr Trump’s objection over the “detrimental impact on the viability” of his resort was among 43 objections lodged.

However, Clare Coastal Wind Power Ltd director Michael Clohessy said the company was now “reviewing the situation”.

“We at Clare Coastal Wind Power Ltd are disappointed at the admission by An Taoiseach that he interfered in the planning process regarding the planning application for our proposed wind farm in west Clare.

“We at all times acted with integrity and in good faith, but it now appears that we were not on a level playing field. We will be reviewing this situation over the coming days,” he said.

Opposition parties have also hit out at Mr Varadkar.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said it was “shocking”.

“It’s a straight-up admission that he’s ringing up the council and interfering. It’s deeply embarrassing,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said the comments were “extraordinary” while Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said it was “inappropriate” for the Taoiseach to meddle in planning.

Mr Varadkar’s officials tried to play down the controversy.

“As tourism minister, Leo Varadkar received a call from Donald Trump regarding a wind farm proposal near Doonbeg, which is a significant tourism asset on the west coast.

“It’s normal for ministers to seek information on planning applications when issues are raised by citizens, businesses or investors.

This matter has been mentioned publicly on many occasions by the Taoiseach. It was not a court case or judicial matter,” a spokesman said.

Clare County Council said there is no official record of Mr Varadkar’s call.

Irish Independent

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