Thursday 19 September 2019

'Wind energy could be IFSC of the West', claims Teahon

He learned decisiveness from Haughey, but these days Paddy Teahon is all about climate change, writes Niamh Horan

GET IT DONE: Paddy Teahon of NOW Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin
GET IT DONE: Paddy Teahon of NOW Ireland. Photo: Tony Gavin
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

'Charlie Haughey operated a good deal of the time by fear."

The whiff of sulphur is easily recalled by Paddy Teahon all these years later. "It was extraordinary. There was just this aura about him," he adds. "I remember walking down the corridor of government buildings one day, feeling a slight unease, you know that feeling when the hair is standing up on your neck? I thought 'that's odd'. And when I spun around, there he was, 10 yards behind me."

Hailed as one of Ireland's most respected civil servants, Teahon has served under six taoisigh. He played a key role in the Good Friday agreement, was instrumental in developing Temple Bar and was part of the team that helped turn the International Financial Service's Centre (IFSC) from a dream into a reality. Now chairman of the wind energy association NOW Ireland, Teahon is determined to see one project through before "I retire to the Zimmer frame" - as he puts it.

"Development of offshore wind farms in the Irish Sea could see the industry become the 'IFSC of the West'," he predicts.

He has a determination and a 'can-do' attitude which was developed under his old boss Haughey.

"The problem with talking about Charlie is that people remember the bad almost more than the good," Teahon says cautiously, but in his best days "he was the personification of decisiveness."

The kind, he feels, we need more of now. "The way Haughey operated was this: he called me down to his office one morning and - his hand gestures were very notable - so he started off the conversation saying 'this Temple Bar thing' using his left hand, which was the good hand, and leaning across the table he said to me, very quietly, 'Go and do it Paddy', you see? And I started [interjecting] saying 'well Taoiseach I think…' and suddenly his right hand came up in a firm stop sign," Paddy demonstrates. "And he leant across the desk and said, 'Just f*ck off and do it!'"

Teahon's recollection of Haughey as a determined man echoes the memory of businessman Dermot Desmond. The financier once described how he went to see Haughey "practically in tears" because vested interests involved in developing the IFSC were frustratingly divisive. The businessman recalled how Charlie attended the next meeting and told the suits around the table: "We are going to implement everything in the manifesto. There will be no dilution." Then he threatened the banks that if they didn't 'play ball' and each commit to buying a block in the IFSC, he would retaliate. It got the job done.

Teahon wants to see the same determined action help create an industry in the West. "The Government needs to form an Offshore Wind Development Committee, based on the model of the IFSC where the Department of the Taoiseach plays the lead role in bringing together representatives of government departments, State agencies and industry representatives to oversee the work that would develop the industry."

He describes the move as: 'a no-brainer' for two reasons: Firstly, he says, "we need to care about climate change and secondly it will create thousands of jobs and bring huge tax benefits Ireland.

"Just look at all the European countries doing this. Denmark is a small country, not that different to Ireland, and it has some of the biggest companies in the world in the energy space. Germany, Belgium, Sweden, France and Spain have all got in on the act too - and yet Ireland is still stuck."

He believes the plan will have a massive impact on the west coast of Ireland - helping communities that have been left behind in the economic recovery.

"Ireland needs to do positive things that affect people outside of Dublin and offshore wind is a big opportunity here. If we do it coherently, it can be good for coastal communities because the turbines will be out in the sea but you have to develop ports and service them. The Sustainable Energy Authority (SEAI) has already predicted 20,000 jobs would be created by 2040."

Dubliners will also feel the benefits, Teahon says: "The East will be first to feel the value of this. Energy prices in Ireland are likely to rise in the coming years, partly as a result of the growing electricity demand from data centres. All the big data centres that are coming into Dublin now need lots of electricity, so how in the name of God are we going to supply it going forward? Wind turbines in the Irish Sea would be cheaper to put in place [than traditional sources of electricity] because you will have just one wire going from the Irish Sea into Dublin - as opposed to trying to put wires in all over the country."

Teahon's sentiment is in step with a number of high-profile figures who have spoken out about climate change in recent weeks.

In October former president Mary Robinson pointed to a recent climate report that she says will herald the end of the fossil fuel era. Last Wednesday, Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton warned: "The decisions we make now in tackling climate change will define the next century." In the same message he promised that the Government was ready and willing to become a leader in the issue.

Yet Ireland is wildly off course in hitting its CO2 targets and is the second-worst performing EU country. Taxpayers face a bill of half a billion every year in penalties - likely to be an annual headache for decades to come as we are set to miss our targets in 2020, 2030 and 2050.

But Teahon can understand why climate change has taken a back seat until now. "Brexit regrettably has taken over, as has health and housing, but this is about getting it into [politicians'] heads that, look, we need to be doing this kind of thing for the future. Like the peace process, the IFSC and Temple Bar, it's all about the next generation to come. Whether the Government realises it or not, young people care about climate change and if the Government doesn't get serious about it voters will make it known."

He recalls what was planned in place of Temple Bar: "CIE were going to make it a bus garage. They were very advanced with it. I remember there was kind of a feeling that, 'Oh dear God this is going to be really difficult'. But it all worked out in the end."

He feels the powers that be will come through with this too, if they bear in mind that it's time for action, "not just talking". A Bob Dylan fan, he adds: "You know that famous line? 'How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see? The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind...' Dylan was more prescient than we knew."

Sunday Independent

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