10 July 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

EirGrid’s decision to formally withdraw the planning application for their cross-Border electricity interconnector development following the exposure of a major flaw in documentation marks an ignominious moment in the history to date of this project and the manner in which its presentation to the public and to the relevant planning authorities has been handled.

The strong lobby of community interests across Co Monaghan and the other counties which are affected by the proposal have greeted the news in triumphant terms. In the words of Mid-Monaghan Co Council member Owen Bannigan, who played a pivotal role in the discrepancy in the planning documentation submitted by EirGrid coming to light, it is “a victory for the people.” If victory it is, it is not a decisive one. Although an embarrassing setback has now befallen the project, one that will surely have lodged a most unfavourable impression in the minds of the An Bord Pleanala inspectorate, EirGrid’s intention to press on with the development has been in no way diminished.

This is clear from their latest public statement in which they declare their ongoing commitment to a project they aver is “vital for the north-east region”. Although the anti-pylons lobby can congratulate themselves on inflicting a degree of damage on the credibility of their opponents – although most of that has been freely self-inflicted – they will have to gird themselves for a renewal of the battle in a few months’ time.

But surely the hiatus created by the latest twist in the pylons saga is a prime opportunity for the whole approach being taken towards the realisation of this project to be fundamentally re-examined. EirGrid have pursued their objective to date with only desultory attention to any form of genuine public consultation, or serious address of the option of underground cabling which the opponents of the interconnector in its present form have advanced as a credible alternative means of delivery. Despite the current setback – one that would not arise in the most rudimentary planning application submitted by a private individual, and if it did would be detected and corrected at the very outset of its processing – EirGrid will remain confident that the crucial importance they impute to their objective will see it steer an ultimately successful course through any resumed An Bord Pleanala oral hearing, regardless of whatever legitimate public objections might have to be swept aside in the process.

Were EirGrid not to learn a lesson from the travesty into which an important and expensive public hearing process has been plunged, and take a much more conciliatory and collaborative approach to any renewed application that they might make, their credibility will be cast into even greater disrepute.

And were such a renewed approach to ultimately prove successful and result in approval for a project that has evoked such principled opposition in the affected parts of the Co Monaghan community, it would be a sorry day indeed for the Irish planning process.

Before we are faced with a scenario of “deja vu all over again”, it is time for Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan to intervene and compel EirGrid to conduct a root-and-branch revision of their application that takes into account the solid objections raised to their current plan on health, environmental and aesthetic grounds. The Minister must also ensure that justice is done with regard to the legal expenses incurred by those individuals and community organisations who have gone to a great deal of time and trouble to engage in the oral hearing process in a sincere and meaningful way, and stand to be considerably out of pocket as a result of acting in defence of their own personal and collective interests.

Co Mayor Jackie Crowe’s call this week for EirGrid to be compelled to come forward with a fresh proposal which incorporates the undergrounding option has great merit. It would strike a note of conciliation with the communities whose lives stand to be fundamentally affected by the realisation of the project. And it would provide some reassurance to those who engaged with the oral hearing in opposition to EirGrid that their arguments were not expended on deaf ears.

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