North-South Interconnector Review Group Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to establish a review group to examine the route of the electricity interconnection between the State and Northern Ireland of the project known as the North-South Interconnector, to define the review group's terms of reference and to require it to submit a report to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications as regards the placement of high voltage power cables on the route of the North-South Interconnector in the State, and to provide for related matters.

The Government seeks to construct 409 pylons, each up to 51 m high and carrying 400,000 V, through counties Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone. These will be set just a minimum distance of approximately 13 m from people's homes. Opposition to this project of 140 km of pylons has raged since 2008. There are significant fears among the communities along the curtilage of the North-South interconnector about health, cancers and childhood leukaemia. There are also significant fears that the value of people's homes will be wiped out. Businesses, farms, tourism, agriculture and even the horse industry are extremely alarmed by the Government's proposal.

Technology has moved on significantly since this particular project was mooted back in 2008. The technology for this project is now out of date, having been superseded by technology that can do the same job underground. Now, around Europe we are seeing similar projects being built, such as that between Germany and Belgium. The Government said this could never be done here in Ireland, yet a project is commencing to build a similar underground line in County Kildare. At a recent meeting of an Oireachtas committee, the chief executive officer of EirGrid, Mr. Mark Foley, stated that 50 km was the maximum for the undergrounding of an AC line. In contrast, four years ago, the then CEO of EirGrid, speaking before An Bord Pleanála, said that 10 km was the maximum distance a line could go underground. I have not even mentioned DC technology, which is also developing fast.

The North East Pylon Pressure, NEPP, Monaghan campaign, and Safe Electricity Armagh and Tyrone, SEAT, campaign in the North have been incredibly well run. They have held dozens of public meetings, many of which attracted thousands of people. However, they have been cursed by members of political parties who have stood with them shoulder to shoulder at these public meetings voicing exactly the same concerns as the campaigns have voiced. They have also stood outside the Dáil gates having their photographs taken with these campaigners, but when they get elected to the Dáil they go underground and lose their voices of opposition to this project. When in opposition, the current Fianna Fáil Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, stated a party cannot say one thing in opposition and then do another thing in government. The Minister of State and many other Deputies in Cavan, Monaghan, Meath East and Meath West have become the thing they said they hated.

Fianna Fáil has promised a watery review in the last few weeks. It amounts to nothing more than a desktop exercise with regard to the existing information and the input from EirGrid. Interestingly, the Green Party leader and Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has said he believes the controversial North-South electricity interconnector must go ahead as planned, despite the Taoiseach ordering a review to be held. I have been an elected representative for ten years and one can get very cynical in this place for sure. Many times I have seen people hold investigations and reviews, knowing the results before any part of the review has been completed. We seem to be falling into exactly the same situation here.

What is left? We are running against the clock on this issue. There is a significant chance that the construction phase of this project could start towards the end of this year or start of next year. Right now, the only bulwark against this is the judicial review under way in the North of Ireland. I will add one point that the Government may not have taken into consideration. All the landowners along the curtilage of the North-South interconnector route have said they will not let EirGrid on to their land under any circumstances. I have no doubt the Government is now edging towards significant conflict with the people living in that area.

In the North of Ireland I do not believe enough is being done to stop this project. There are serious questions to be asked of Sinn Féin and the level of effort it has put into this issue in the North. I have no doubt that some of the party's Deputies in the South are fully against this project, but there seems to be a dual approach. There is no evidence that the energy needed to stop this has been expended in the North.

This is my second Bill on this issue and it seeks to do two things. First, it seeks to include the cost to the value of homes, farms, businesses and enterprises in the full cost of this project. Second, it aims to stop the Government manipulating the terms of reference. If the Bill is passed, the Government must carry out the review to its full extent. I have no doubt in my mind that if this Bill is passed, the project will be found uneconomical and wrong, and it will be stopped. I urge the political parties in the Dáil to support the Bill.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

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

Question put and agreed to.