North-South Interconnector Bill 2016: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to regulate the North-South interconnector providing regulations for erection adjacent to dwellings and public places, rerouting of disputed interconnector parts underground following opposition during public consultations and related matters.

I am proposing the North-South Interconnector Bill 2016 in conjunction with my colleagues, Deputies Ó Caoláin and Colreavy. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure the North-South interconnector, which is a necessary piece of infrastructure, is developed. It is being held up at the moment by the Government's pig-headed attitude that it needs to be built overhead. If it continues to pursue this approach, it is not likely that the interconnector will ever be built. I suggest that it should be put underground.

I will give a bit of context. For approximately a decade, the decent and ordinary people of County Meath have been campaigning day and night - week in, week out - to try to ensure their families are kept safe, their businesses can continue to thrive and their properties do not collapse in value. EirGrid plans to build hundreds of 45 m pylons throughout the county, up through counties Cavan and Monaghan and into County Tyrone on the northern side of the Border. This has created great fear and anguish among the people of County Meath. People are worried about health, for example. There is a strong body of opinion, not least among the members of the European Commission's scientific committee, that the previous conclusion that extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields are a possible carcinogen, which was chiefly based on childhood leukaemia results, is still valid. This very strong statement puts the wind up most families that are threatened with this form of infrastructure. This Bill addresses that fear and asks the Government to carry out an independent investigation to make sure knowledge and proper research are brought to the people's attention and are in the people's hands before decisions are made. Another problem that arises when people are trapped in the curtilage of these pylons is that house prices immediately collapse.

They will not be able to move out of an area should they want to do so, because there is no value in their homes. Where that fear exists, this legislation allows for independent research to be carried out and to be provided to the host community who live along the length of the North-South interconnector.

There are also fears on the part of businesses in the local area. People in the businesses of tourism, heritage, agriculture and bloodstock fear that these pylons will pose an enormous threat to their livelihoods. This legislation simply tasks the Government with producing independent research to identify what exactly the threat is to the business community, the agricultural community, the bloodstock community, etc., and to put that information into the hands of the citizen.

We were told that it was an impossibility to put this underground as it would be too expensive. First, we were told it could not happen - it was just not feasible. Then we saw the rush to Batterstown and the east-west interconnector put paid to that mistruth. In 2007, EirGrid stated it would be 25 times the cost of putting it underground but in 2009 it said it would be seven times the cost to put it underground. Deputy Pat Rabbitte, the previous Minister, stated it would be three and a half times the cost to put it underground. In the nine years of this particular plan, the cost of putting it underground, even as arrived at by the proponents of putting it overground, is collapsing. We have spoken to experts who firmly believe the cost is far less, at perhaps some one and a half times. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister asking what the cost would be to customers of electricity in the State if it was put underground and the Minister replied that he could not say.

We want to make sure we put democracy back into the planning process. The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government created the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act which took democratic influence out of the planning process. In other words, the normal planning process in the county council would no longer apply. That forces potentially dangerous pieces of infrastructure onto communities and that should not be done in a democracy. This Bill seeks to put democracy back into the picture. If a number of people in the host community alongside the North-South interconnector feel that this is a threat to their livelihoods or their lives, they have an opportunity to organise a meeting chaired by An Bord Pleanála. If, after collecting all the independent evidence and deliberating over it, the people are against the putting overground of these 400 kV lines in their area, they have the right to vote on it. If over 50% vote against overheading, then the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála sends a letter to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister is obliged to proceed with putting it underground.

There has been a lot of political debate on this over the past nine or ten years and I see that a Fine Gael Deputy for Meath is present today. The campaign feels betrayed and aggrieved about the actions of this Government when it comes to implementing its wishes. I appeal to Deputies to stand up for the citizens they represent and make sure this legislation is implemented before the Dáil closes.

Is the Bill being opposed?

For all the very real concerns the Deputy has outlined, it is a real mystery why Sinn Féin is putting the North part of this project, in Northern Ireland, overground.

That is totally untrue. The Deputy should make honest interventions or she should not make any at all.

I cannot allow further discussion. The Bill is not opposed.

Question put and agreed to.

As this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time. The Deputy should move that Second Stage be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.