Rabbitte backs his EirGrid nominee
Minister still wants under fire former planning chief O'Connor for top job at State-owned firm
COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte is standing firmly by his under fire nominee to become the new chairman of EirGrid as controversy rages over his appointment.
Mr Rabbitte also warned that the cost of putting power lines underground, rather than using overground pylons, would have to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher energy bills.
John O'Connor, the incoming head of EirGrid, which plans to build 1,300 pylons across the country, caused controversy last week when he admitted he would not like to live near one.
Mr Rabbitte's nominee, who spent 11 years as head of An Bord Pleanala, also fuelled the pylon controversy by saying he understood why communities were objecting to the plan.
Following Mr O'Connor's appearance before an Oireachtas committee, Mr Rabbitte said he was not wavering on his decision.
"On the contrary, I think the people who have concerns as citizens about their environment and about the best standards that ought to apply to the delivery of big infrastructure, I think their best champion is John O'Connor.
"I think he is a rock of common sense. I think he is an honest man and I think he has a background of experience, across the public service and in planning, which are vital dimensions," Mr Rabbitte said in an interview with the Sunday Independent.
"My personal wish is that he would do the job," he added.
Mr Rabbitte dismissed the allegation of a conflict of interest from Mr O'Connor's time in the planning authority.
"I could see if I appointed the chairman of EirGrid to be chairman of Bord Pleanala. I could see the potential conflict. But I'm damned if I can see the conflict about a man who retired two years ago and who is to be the chairman of the company making the planning application," he said.
"I also have a difficulty understanding, not deputies' frustration with EirGrid, but why they would want to vent it on a man who is not in EirGrid. He had nothing to do with EirGrid."
Mr Rabbitte also hit out at Oireachtas Committee members over their public criticism of Mr O'Connor.
"Politicking has taken over. It is about forthcoming European and local elections and all the rest.
"I can't understand insulting a man about what age is he and how much is he getting in pension and all the rest, who had nothing to do with EirGrid," he said.
Mr Rabbitte also warned that laying lines underground would limit the ability to bring industry to parts of the country.
"The problem isn't just cost. One of the main purposes of the build out of the grid is to provide the basis for economic development and job creation in provincial Ireland.
"And if you go for the DC underground cable and we reopen a sugar factory in Carlow, you can't take a feed off it without incurring a cost factor that is somewhere between five times and 10 times what it would be to take a feed off the overhead line," he said.
Meanwhile, a couple who say their health has suffered from living 35 metres from a high-voltage power line met with EirGrid on Friday to discuss their options.
Paula and Mike Sheridan, from Drumree, Co Meath, have lived with a high-voltage power line across their back garden for more than 30 years. Both suffered from cancer. The state company plans to erect a second power line just 25 metres from their home but the Sheridans want them to lay both lines underground. They have asked EirGrid to investigate why the power lines were diverted from agricultural land to run so close to their homes in the first place.
ESB Networks, which erected the lines, said it has no written records on file to explain that decision.