I welcome the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte.
Electricity Transmission Network: Motion
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to introduce legislation to regulate the construction and siting of and associated matters connected with high voltage electricity transmission lines in Ireland, in particular to make provisions for the placing of such high voltage electricity transmission lines underground where physically possible.
I welcome the Minister. We stand on the brink of a project unprecedented in scale and geographic spread in the history of the Irish energy sector. Currently, EirGrid has in various stages of planning projects including the Grid West project in Connacht, the Cork to Kildare project and, in collaboration with Northern Ireland Electricity, it is proposing to build a North-South electricity interconnector through Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. In all these projects it is proposed to construct high voltage power cables suspended from massive pylon towers, and the proposals are based on overhead lines only, with no consideration given to an underground cable alternative.
In January 2008 the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, as it was known, published the all-island electricity grid study, outlining a strategy to generate 42% of our electricity requirement from renewable resources. The report suggested this would require a major upgrade of the electricity transmission network, with an estimated combined public and private industry investment cost of approximately €10 billion. This study took two years to complete and involved spending €1 million of taxpayers' money. It is noteworthy that the option of placing the high voltage cables underground was not considered, and perhaps this is the position that officialdom in Ireland has adopted. If so, it is both high-handed and dismissive, and the same attitude has been adopted by EirGrid in its treatment of any suggestion that the proposed power lines be placed underground.
EirGrid envisages erecting approximately 4,000 new high voltage pylons over much of rural Ireland. In addition to the pylons that will form part of these massive projects, there are planned industrial scale substations, such as that planned for the Laois-Kilkenny border area. I have attended public meetings where the suggestion has been made that these projects are designed to facilitate the proposed wind farms for the midlands. We are confronted with the prospect of hundreds of turbines, pylons and power lines that will become part of the landscape and consciousness of rural Ireland for generations, outlasting any of us in the House and shaping the perception of rural Irish landscapes that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have. As we speak today we are witnessing a movement of ordinary, concerned people gathering momentum, with dozens of towns and villages across the country banding together to fight the plan.
With regard to the visual impact of projects, I have mentioned the perception of rural Ireland. It behoves us to remember that these projects will form part of the fabric of the landscape and the art and imagination of future generations, who will be affected by the physical marks we leave on the island. The scale of what is proposed makes me shudder. We will bequeath to future generations a corridor of 45 m high pylons for electricity lines through some of Ireland's most scenic areas, that is only 10 m shorter than Liberty Hall in Dublin, which stands at 148 ft. Imagine how the people of Dublin would feel if they were confronted with a long line of buildings placed at 250 m intervals in a row approximating the height of Liberty Hall? It would never be allowed but the people of rural Ireland are expected to accept such a proposal. They were never given an alternative and no underground option was considered. They were presented with a fait accompli.
People are sick of being held in contempt by decision makers in this country and people in Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim, Meath, Laois, Kilkenny, Cavan and Monaghan deserve better, as do their communities. Better politics is about finding acceptable solutions to problems affecting the lives of citizens, and politics fails when technocrats present plans which are uncritically accepted by government and all objections are silenced in the Oireachtas by the power of the party Whip.
EirGrid insists these developments are vital for prosperity and economic growth, health fears are without foundation and going underground is both too costly and technically unfeasible. With all due respect to EirGrid and its engineers, they do not get to decide what goes in this country simply because they argue that their plan is best. In this building, we, on behalf of the people who elect us, bring other considerations into the mix. We ask what price is to be put on our children's health where there is even a possibility that there may be adverse consequences. We ask what price can be put on the environment or the views of people in our communities. If the Government and politicians continue to treat the views of people with contempt, they will earn only contempt in return.
EirGrid's attitude is both dismissive and arrogant but in these Houses we are not bound to follow its example. That is why I will introduce legislation that will require the placing of high voltage energy transmission lines underground where physically possible if the Government does not do so. If a power operator suggests it is not physically possible - as opposed to technically desirable or cost-effective - to place lines underground, the burden of proof should rest on it to show that to be the case. As it stands, each route for these power lines is a 1 km wide corridor, and the planning applications for the final route will be lodged in 2015. At a proposed height of 45 m, the pylons would be ten times the size of an average bungalow, such is the visual obtrusiveness of these lines. It is in the broader public interest that these structures be placed underground.
EirGrid is a semi-State company and such companies are supposed to manage strategic assets. Such an interest does not just extend to the transmission of power and it also goes to concerns about the environment, the quality of rural life, the value of land, tourism and so on. These are strategic matters. EirGrid has refused to build the proposed high voltage network underground, indicating that it would be too risky and expensive, and it could jeopardise the entire electricity network. All of those claims are dubious.
The North East Pylon Pressure group has argued that an independent study it commissioned indicates that the combined investment in transmission costs over 40 years would be €968 million for overhead lines, which compares with a figure of €805 million for an underground system. There is a credible case for an alternative. EirGrid has argued that no line of this size and type has ever been placed underground and labelled such an action a high-risk experiment that could result in failure and waste many hundreds of millions of euro while jeopardising security of supply to the north-east region and the electricity system throughout Ireland. Nevertheless, EirGrid has no qualms about splashing tax euro on teams of barristers at €3,000 per day and a panel of experts and consultants. It also had a €600,000 advertising campaign last year.
We must also consider the cost for landowners. Over 60 studies have been carried out in the past 50 years to assess the impact of overhead power lines on the value of residential property in close proximity. The most common effects identified and cited in court cases in the United States are claims of a reduction in market price, properties being slower to sell and a decrease in sales volume. Factors such as unsightliness and noise pollution were often identified as negative influences on property values. A study carried out in Britain in 2007 indicated that the value of detached properties at a distance of less than 100 m from overhead transmission lines was 38% lower than comparable properties, and the effective devaluation has been seen up to 2.5 km from such lines. A rigorous and comprehensive study in Canada over 20 years ago indicated that per acre values for more than 1,000 agricultural properties were 16% to 29% lower for properties with easements for transmission lines than similar properties without easements.
Above-ground cables have a longer construction time and the cost for overhead lines and implementation time for overhead transmission is increasing all the time. EirGrid, in its draft transmission plan for 2007 to 2011 and published in October 2007, highlighted the time from design to construction of an underground cable project is four years, compared with 7.25 years for a 400 kV overhead line. That estimate is being exceeded in many cases, resulting in ten to 15 year delays because of landowner and public opposition.
Underground line construction saves significant time and cost. The use of underground transmission is increasing rapidly worldwide.
There are approximately 5,500 km of high voltage underground cable in Europe. In the past ten years there has been a 73% rise in underground cabling. Denmark, for example, now has 19.43% of all of its transmission lines underground. In France 25% of all high-tension lines must now be placed underground. Even in this country we see from EirGrid statistics that 5% of such lines are underground. Importantly, EirGrid has already announced that it proposes to build a 30 km underground cable from Rush in Dublin to Batterstown in Meath. One could ask why it does not take more of that kind of approach. Other options have worked. NorNed is a 580 km long HVDC submarine power cable between Feda in Norway and the seaport of Eemshaven in the Netherlands, which interconnects the electricity grids of both countries. It is the longest submarine power cable in the world. A submarine power cable is being constructed in Shetland in Scotland. I would be happy to discuss the Scottish project further. The point is that it can be done and now the grid operators must be compelled to do it.
The precise legitimacy of health concerns is disputed. If there is any doubt then we must follow the precautionary principle. My main focus is on the quality of life of people and communities in rural areas. Even if there is a differential in the cost of placing lines underground as opposed to the allegedly cheaper overground option, the cost will be borne by the communities - landowners who see a decrease in the value of their land and in the longer term by the country as a whole as tourism is affected. No doubt the Minister has been in countries, as I have, where there are massive metal monstrosities and it does not feel like one is in the countryside anymore. How can we claim we are in favour of a cleaner, greener country and talk about this country's unique selling point being its green grass, rural life and countryside if at the same time we attack the countryside because we are penny wise and pound foolish and we refuse to invest in our physical landscape? It is vital that there would be a rethink on the proposal. I am of the firm view that environmental, social and even health concerns demand of us an approach which minimises the impact of grid modernisation, which I do not oppose in itself, but what I do oppose is an approach that asserts that overhead power lines are the only option.
The legislation I propose to introduce if the Government does not do so would compel EirGrid or any other operator proposing to develop high voltage power transmission lines to bury them underground, unless they could show that it is physically impossible to do so. That would be a measured response to the proposed plans for the future development of our electricity grid. It is already in the gift of An Bord Pleanála to require that lines be placed underground in certain circumstances. It takes these decisions on the back of powers from European legislation that will require environmental impact assessments to be done over a certain level of voltage. It is clear that there is already the power to require that certain lines be placed underground. What I propose is an extension of the principle to require that such lines must be placed underground unless it is a physical impossibility. I propose that because it is in the public interest and there has not been adequate consultation by EirGrid and the Government to date with the communities that will be most affected. I dislike and am concerned about a situation where it would appear to be a case of divide and conquer, where those who might allow the pylons to be anchored on their land will be offered a certain level of compensation but there will be nothing for those over whose property the lines would fly extremely close. I hope such a divide and conquer approach will be resisted by communities, as is already evident in some cases.
If we are to learn any lesson from the widespread public exasperation with politics we must learn that advice from the technocrats in Departments, semi-State bodies or the European Union must always be tempered by consideration of the best interests of the people we represent. Politics is reputedly the art of the possible. In this case is possible to modernise our electricity network while at the same time not bequeathing future generations a ruined landscape and a divided community.
I welcome the Minister. I also welcome the debate because it is a topic worthy of discussion. I second Senator Rónán Mullen's motion as it is an area that needs more debate. We must go beyond the status quo whereby we are told that placing electricity lines underground is just too expensive. That seems a simple approach and the Senator has explained it well. We must consider the benefits and bear in mind the concept of "future proofing", namely, not to just consider the short-term costs but also the longer-term implications. People have real concerns which the Senator has clearly indicated. Senator David Cullinane was joined by up to 2,000 people who protested at the weekend against the proposed EirGrid network of pylons near the Comeragh Mountains.
While it is more expensive to put cabling underground, the costs have reduced considerably. Some argue that it is now only two to three times more expensive to put electricity cabling underground compared with overhead pylons. A recent UK report found that underground cabling was 4.5 to 5.7 times more expensive than traditional overhead pylons. That compares with the claim of being ten to 20 times more expensive made by the national grid company. The reduction in costs is massive since pylons were first erected. Some argue that the life cost of undergrounding cabling results in less loss of electricity over a number of years. When that is taken into account the sums change even more.
There is also the argument that underground cables would be even cheaper if extra factors were taken into account such as the effect on tourism. The visual impact of pylons above ground is significant. In addition, there is a decrease in property values and community disruption as well as the negative effect on health and wildlife from pylons and overhead cabling. The aesthetic argument against pylons is strong. The environment looks better without massive electricity pylons. Electromagnetic radiation is emitted from pylons and that is significantly diminished when cables are underground. Some studies have linked cancer, in particular leukaemia and other diseases to electromagnetic radiation emitted by pylons. The case is based on studies that have not been proven but it is clear that there are concerns. It is questionable whether anyone would buy a house located beside an electricity pylon.
Some European countries have moved to fully underground power while others like Germany are moving in that direction. We must put the option on the table and consider the benefits the policy would bring. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the matter. I expect he will base his decision on cost rather than on other factors and if that is the case, we must give serious consideration to how we can overcome the potential negative effects in the long term.
Last year I flew to Vienna and drove from there to Bratislava. I was astounded by the large number of pylons along the route, but they were grouped together in one area instead of being spread out and therefore they did not impinge on many people. However, if we have long lines of pylons and cabling the effect on people will be multiplied. I am not convinced of the need for what is being planned.
I know there are benefits and I am sure the Minister will make the argument that if we are going to export the electricity then the State as a whole will benefit from that. However, Senator Rónán Mullen has made a very strong case and I believe others will make a similarly strong case about the need to ensure that this issue is given very serious consideration before any decision is reached. In that context, I welcome this debate and look forward to hearing the Minister's views on the matter.
I welcome the Minister. I am generally in favour of the motion, but I have serious reservations regarding its practicality. The motion calls on the Government to introduce legislation to "regulate the construction, siting and associated matters connected with high voltage electricity transmission lines in Ireland, in particular to make provisions for the placing of such high voltage electricity transmission lines underground where physically possible". It is the words "where physically possible" that could have serious financial consequences for every household in the country. Who is going to pay for putting these lines underground? It is the consumer who will pay. Do Senators really think the cost of putting these cables underground will not be passed on to the end user? No matter where we build our power stations there will be a requirement for power lines for transmission. Perhaps we should build all new power stations beside the end user, thus reducing the requirement for a lattice of power lines all over the island. The problem is that we have a very scattered population on this island. We have major population centres in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway, Derry and Limerick, with associated large industrial users of energy. The rest of the population is scattered over towns, villages and isolated settlements in rural areas which also need electricity to function and survive. Every one of those towns, villages and settlements get their electricity through a cable. A 400 kV high voltage cable can transport three times as much electricity as a 220 kV cable. Thus, by moving to bigger cables, we can reduce the number of 220 kV and 110 kV cables in the network. A total of 2,000 km of cables are to be upgraded and older cables can be removed from many places.
We all know of the need to move away from our near 90% dependence on imported fossil fuels to meet our energy requirements. This will be achieved by developing our renewable energy capabilities. However, even with our slow but steady move towards renewable energy, we will still have to transport any electricity produced to the end user over high voltage cables. This has to be done in a safe and cost effective way. It is estimated to cost up to three times as much to put a high voltage cable underground as opposed to over ground. In addition, the time it takes to find and repair faults on underground cables is far greater than for those which are over ground. In 1998, for example, four insulated 110 kV high voltage underground cables feeding central Aukland in New Zealand failed. A total of 20 city blocks lost their power for five weeks, while 60,000 to 70,000 people who worked in the area had to work from home or move to offices in the suburbs. Mobile generators had to be deployed in the city to supply essential services. This is what can happen when underground cables fail. We have seen massive power outages in California and other parts of north America due to a lack of investment in modern electricity grids. If we do not upgrade our national grid we will condemn the country to generations of economic stagnation. That is why Eirgrid is investing €3.2 billion in upgrading and strengthening the system. To date it has spent almost €800 million which is providing much needed jobs. Eirgrid has a duty of care to carry out this work in a safe manner which it is endeavouring to do. When Eirgrid is planning new routes, it examines how best to carry out the work and examines the feasibility of putting cables underground. The company often changes the direction of planned routes to avoid populated areas. However, because of the scattered nature of our population in rural areas, it is not possible to avoid every house. We demand a modern national electricity grid which can supply power to the whole island and to our nearest neighbours in England, Scotland and Wales, or when necessary, obtain electricity from them but at the same time we are saying put the cables underground and let the customers pay. No one wants high voltage electricity cables close by but we must look at the bigger picture. County Clare has some of the largest high voltage cables and pylons in the State where the 915 MW coal-fired Moneypoint power station feeds into the national grid. Many people all over the country were very happy when that power station was built. There are two separate 400 kV cables that cross County Clare, one running north of Ennis and the other running south of the town. Cables then continue across the country up to the outskirts of the capital. If one was to take a helicopter and follow both routes, one will see that very little, if any, of the cables run underground. Most of the industrial estates in the counties the lines pass over are fed by that power supply. No one wants to wake up some morning to find that a construction crew has arrived in a nearby field to erect a large pylon but equally no-one wants to wake up to find that a large industrial employer down the road has closed down because of the high cost of electricity. Furthermore, we do not want to see a situation where foreign direct investors are scared away from Ireland because of the high cost of electricity here due to the Government's insistence on high voltage cables being laid underground. After potential investors speak to the IDA about setting up in business here, their next port of call is the energy providers. The first question they ask is how much power will cost and the second is whether a secure and constant supply can be guaranteed. If the answer to the latter question is no, the investors move on to our competitors in Europe. As I said, I welcome the thrust of the motion, but it would be a massive economic challenge if the Government was to insist on all high voltage electricity cables being placed underground where physically possible.
On the matter of health concerns, it is important to bring some balance to the debate. In March 2007 the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources assembled a panel of independent scientists to review research on electromagnetic fields and radio frequencies in the context of electricity transmission. The panel concluded that no adverse health effects have been established below the limits suggested by international guidelines. This position was restated by the office of the chief scientific advisor in a report into possible health effects from exposure to electromagnetic fields in July 2010. That report states that "it is simply not possible for the level of energies associated with power lines to cause cancer". In 1998 the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, ICNIRP, issued guidelines for exposure to electromagnetic fields from power lines. These guidelines have been in force throughout the European Union since 1999 and Eirgrid fully complies with them.
I thank Senator Rónán Mullen for tabling the motion. I also thank the Minister for being here because it is important to have a full debate on this issue. I am not going to go into the technology or health issues, about which I am not an expert. However, I will give the Minister my observations on what is happening on the ground, in an effort to be helpful. While the Government can be criticised for some aspects of this, one of the positive aspects of its policy statement was the acknowledgement of the need for community engagement. That is stated clearly in the policy statement issued in July when the Minister asked Eirgrid to recommence these projects and again in the response to the motion before us today. However, the blatant fact of the matter is that there has been zero community engagement and zero community acceptance on the ground. That is a fact and the reality of the situation. The Government must grapple with that reality.
People have been burned by Eirgrid in County Meath, literally, with the disgraceful collapse of the planning application in 2010. What happened there was absolutely outrageous. Eirgrid withdrew its planning application, presumably at massive cost to the taxpayer but also at massive cost to the communities, objectors and voluntary groups which had fund raised for years. It cost them a six figure sum. While there was a small settlement with Eirgrid, it still left them with substantial debts. The view is that Eirgrid came into the area, took over and did not try to engage with the public. Admittedly, it held formal meetings in places like Navan and so forth, which allowed it to tick the boxes on community engagement. The company can tick boxes for community engagement in the context of a Bord Pleanála application but it is not happening on the ground.
The controversy over the project in County Meath has been ongoing for six years. In that time I have noted that the technology keeps changing and the cost keeps coming down. However, that information is never forthcoming from Eirgrid on a voluntary basis. The data are never offered up by the company but come from other sources, including, in fairness, the study commissioned by the Department. That document moved the debate on quite considerably when it was published in January 2012. Other studies were carried out before that one, including the Tepco report for the previous Government and there is a growing acceptance that at least some of the transmission cables can be put underground. Denmark provides a good example in that regard. Since the Meath project started, Denmark has changed its policy and is now moving towards putting all transmission cables underground, not just the 400 kV ones. I do not know why we cannot take a lead from that and at least investigate it further to determine whether it can be done and what the real cost will be.
There is an enormous amount of fear in communities. The principal of a school which will be in the shadow of a pylon, for example, is worried that pupils will stop attending the school once the pylon is erected.
The public does not accept the policy on the siting of pylons. I recently attended a public meeting on wind farms at which some were for them and some against. Opinion is divided on wind farms, but not when it comes to pylons. There is 99% opposition along the route of this project. People are not willing to engage with EirGrid. While I recognise that we cannot allow power supplies to be disrupted, it is a fact this project was first proposed publicly in 2007 in County Meath, yet nothing has happened since because the planning application collapsed. Meanwhile, the lights are still on and there has been no risk to electricity supply. In 2007, the major selling point of the project was that it would allow for the export of wind power from northern and western areas to England. However, all the wind farm projects have said they will use their own power lines and underground them. EirGrid, privately, will admit that wind energy is not the significant aspect of this project, which is about keeping the grid together and the lights on. I am sceptical about this as it is over six years since it was first proposed, yet there has been no apparent extra threat to our power supply.
Twelve years ago, controversy arose over a smaller transmission line going across Cork Harbour. An independent mediator was appointed at the time and the project was suspended. This is what we are proposing. It would be sensible for the Minister to appoint a mediator whom the public can trust to determine this matter. Up to now, the public has felt it cannot trust EirGrid because the information has had to be dragged out of it. I accept that EirGrid employees are public servants and claim they are doing their job in the public interest. Someone needs to arbitrate in this case, however, and it cannot just be An Bord Pleanála. I am not criticising the incoming EirGrid chairman, Mr. O’Connor. He is probably the man for any other job in the public sector - an excellent candidate. The problem with his appointment to EirGrid is that there is a perception that he is just going to ram projects through the planning process or give advice based on his previous expertise. I am not suggesting there would be any wrongdoing. However, the public perception is that the purpose of his appointment is to ram pylon projects down people’s throats, and EirGrid is not on their side. Those in EirGrid are doing a job for the State as public servants. I do not feel comfortable criticising the company, but it does not have the public’s support for this project. The Minister has acknowledged time and again that this project needs public acceptance. However, it has absolutely zero support.
I welcome this motion because this is an important issue in the public domain. I thank the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, for coming to the House to take it.
It is important to acknowledge that EirGrid’s mandate is to be the statutory agency charged with delivering a safe, secure and affordable electricity supply across Ireland. Yesterday, I was struck by a report in RTE’s business news that energy costs for the average business are due to increase fourfold in the next few years. At current rates of energy price increases, fuel poverty is the most significant issue facing the average low-income family. If anyone doubts this, he or she can contact the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul confraternity for confirmation. Fuel poverty is one of the single largest emerging issues. We all agree that reducing the risks to the delivery of a cost-effective and efficient electricity supply is a priority. The motion, however, suggests there is only one solution - namely, undergrounding all electricity transmission cables.
I was struck by the findings of an independent report in the United Kngdom, endorsed by the Institute of Engineering Technology, on electricity transmission costings. It acknowledged that there were fresh calls for undergrounding given that new studies had found that the cost of so doing was considerably less than had previously been estimated. It did warn, nevertheless, that there were arguments against undergrounding, many of which are environmental. Undergrounding could damage the environment by disturbing soil, and it was unclear how the composition of the plastic cables sheathing the wires affected soil quality. There were also issues around the cost not just of constructing the lines, which was acknowledged to be greater, but also of compensation to landowners when lands have to be dug up, as well as the impact on agriculture and crops and the rural environment. When underground cables go wrong, they are less accessible and significantly more costly and time-consuming to repair and replace.
Much of this is an urban-rural debate, because many of the negatives have a far greater impact on rural areas than they would on urban areas. It is important to acknowledge some of the arguments made on the health front. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, overground electromagnetic cables were rolled out across Wicklow. There was a similar campaign to stop that project, as there was much concern about the health impacts of pylons. We need to acknowledge that while there is much concern among the public, the evidence suggests this is not the issue with which people should be concerned. While there are issues with regard to the effect of pylons on the physical environment, it is important to lay to rest the fears people have about the health impact of pylons. A significant amount of research has put these concerns to bed. In October 2005 the World Health Organization convened an international expert panel to review the scientific literature on the biological effects of exposure to extremely low-frequency fields, ELFs, and assess any health risks. The group published its findings in June 2007, concluding there were no substantive health issues related to ELFs at the levels at which they are encountered by the public. In July 2010 the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government concluded it is simply not possible for the levels of energy associated with power lines to cause cancer. Most of the scientific peer-reviewed studies that the Department is aware of have concluded that ELFs have no detrimental effect on animal health, milk production, fertility, animal behaviour or carcass quality. This is not an issue.
Several points were made on both sides of the House about whether the consultation process was effective. Will the Minister take on board that there is a lack of confidence in the consultation process? By the way, that process is by no means over for many of the proposals for the electricity grid. Will the Minister take these concerns back to EirGrid? If there is a lack of public trust in EirGrid, I am sure the Minister, more than anyone else, would wish to rectify that matter.
It is important to consider the international aspects of this matter. There are concerns about ensuring Ireland has a cost-effective energy transmission network. There is much to be gained from the potential this country has for wind energy export. However, it has been made clear that our current transmission infrastructure is not fit for purpose for today, let alone for tomorrow. We must acknowledge that we must build a grid system that will be able to deliver renewable energy, particularly from our offshore wind resources, and realise our export potential in this regard.
Above all, we must be very conscious of the importance of security of supply. The motion is overly prescriptive in setting out how we must deliver this for the country. I have no difficulty with re-examining EirGrid's mandate and in asking what we want EirGrid to deliver for the country, but I am very much of the view that we cannot say, for example, that it must place lines underground wherever physically possible. That would be far too prescriptive and tie our hands in delivering what the country needs, namely a safe, secure, efficient and sustainable electrical energy resource.
I thank Senators Rónán Mullen and Feargal Quinn for proposing this very important motion.
We did not inherit this world from our parents. We borrowed it from our children. One day we will return it. It should be every bit as bountiful as it was when we found it. That is what sustainability means and sustainability is what the world needs now, which gives Ireland a momentous opportunity, maybe the defining opportunity of our time, because the rewards it can bring us are all breathtaking.
That is an excerpt from the "Origin Green" film commissioned by Bord Bia in conjunction with Saoirse Ronan. If Members have not seen this stunning film which depicts our stunning countryside, they should watch it and then imagine the 560 km of this stunning countryside dotted with 1,540 ugly, 45 m high pylons. These pylons were invented in 1912, almost 100 years ago. Can we not think of something better? It is not about us but about future generations.
Bord Bia is one of our better State boards. Pathways for Growth and Food Harvest 2020 are one of our great success stories. We are heading for a turnover of €12 billion in agricultural exports. I would love to have the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, here to ask him whether he has engaged in consultation with EirGrid. Numerous studies have highlighted the negative impact of overhead lines on agriculture, blood stock in particular. It is will known that these animals will react negatively in the vicinity of such lines.
Does anybody know an American who will come here to see pylons? We all know how important tourism is now and for the future. Ireland's scenery has been a cornerstone of international tourism marketing campaigns for decades. A 2007 Fáilte Ireland visitor attitudes survey showed that 80% of overseas holidaymakers to Ireland rated scenery as an important reason for their trips, followed by the natural, unspoiled environment, at 74%. What can we say to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar? Has he made a submission to EirGrid? It certainly will not help tourism.
To follow Senator Thomas Byrne's earlier contribution, I will give the Minister some words from our local group in south Kildare on how people are feeling about EirGrid and the public consultation process taking place. They believe EirGrid has been incredibly weak in its communication in the public consultation process. They are very stressed and worried about filling in the public consultation form and asked if the Minister could speak to EirGrid about possibly extending the time to the end of January 2014 in order that they could create their answers. Many ordinary people are just starting to mobilise.
Senators Aideen Hayden and Tony Mulcahy both made wonderful contributions. I am involved in industry and the cost of power is so relevant. I have never suffered a brownout; neither have we since County Meath began this journey seven years ago. However, I would still mention human beings, the citizens of this country. The Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte lives in the city. I would love to give him a present of a home in south Kildare. He and his wife would be very happy living on two or three acres.
He would have to declare it.
Then let me erect a 45 m high pylon in his vegetable garden.
I would still risk it.
I am certain the Minister would not risk it. I heard Senator Aideen Hayden's words on health, that the WHO states there is no risk; however, the scientific committee on emerging and newly identified health risks, SCENIHR, in Europe states there may be a risk. Even if there is the tiniest risk, how can we risk putting one of these pylons near somebody's home? We have all met people who have pylons on their property. At one of the public meetings recently in Narraghmore a farmer who has only a small farm had a pylon placed there 20 years ago. He has never been able to sell his farm. All of the land around the pylon is completely sterile and his land is worthless.
When EirGrid made its cost estimate on this project, did it go into external costs such as those for landscapes, land use and property values? I have mentioned the cost to agriculture, our amazing equine industry, tourism, vegetation, wildlife and birds. Senator Thomas Byrne is out there. I am in south Kildare - I am originally from Tipperary - and I cannot find one citizen who is in favour of this. I know about the business side, but we must find a different way. Technology is moving fast, as Senator Thomas Byrne has said. Can we not wait a little longer and find a compromise? Can we put some of the pylons underground? There must be a better way than shoving up these ugly, revolting pylons, taking the risks and ruining the landscape and our beautiful countryside for future generations.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:
“commends the Government for–-
- its commitment to delivering on energy policy priorities, including ongoing investment in energy infrastructure, ambitious targets for renewable energy, a substantive increase in energy efficiency and the continued opening up of gas and electricity markets to competition, with resultant benefits for business and domestic consumers;
- its commitment to the major investments in critical transmission and distribution infrastructure by the State energy companies which are designed to ensure security of energy supply, enhance the delivery of renewable energy and underpin economic growth; and
- its commitment to ensure infrastructure investment programmes are delivered in the most cost-efficient and timely way possible, on the basis of the best available knowledge and informed engagement on the impacts and costs of different engineering solutions, in the national interest, particularly in the current economic circumstances;
notes the policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission and other energy infrastructure approved by the Government on 17 July 2012 and acknowledges that--
- the planning process and legislation provides the framework for ensuring necessary standards are met in energy infrastructure roll-out and that comprehensive statutory and non-statutory consultation is built into the process;
- early, transparent engagement and consultation with local communities and stakeholders is key to building public confidence;
- the Government does not direct EirGrid to particular sites or routes or technologies but the Government does expect EirGrid, in making choices on such matters, to take account of all relevant national and international standards, to follow best practice and ensure value for money and to be informed by detailed consultation at local level;
- co-operation with local authorities has the potential for delivering landscape, biodiversity and civic amenity benefits and delivering long-lasting benefits to communities is an important way of achieving public acceptability for infrastructure; and
- the Government fully supports a community gain approach in the delivery of energy infrastructure and underlines the appropriateness of building community gain considerations into budgeting and planning stages of major infrastructure projects”.
I welcome the discussion because it is badly needed. We do not have enough discussion and research. There has been discussion in the past 20 years about placing underground poles and lights, including in the city. It was very costly to do this and that was always an argument against it. As spokesperson on the environment, one would like to see everything underground. In Ireland we say out of sight is out of mind. Underground might not be the best place, but we do not have that information because the definitive research has not been undertaken. Anything I have read has given arguments on both sides.
Many Members have spoken about the risks. The WHO states there are no health risks. We should consider all of the risks overground, including to machinery and people passing by. To evaluate appropriate regulation in Ireland we should compare it with regulation elsewhere in Europe to determine best practice. If we were starting now, we would not do what we did, but we are not starting now and do not want the lights to go off in the morning. We are where we are and must start from there.
We must also take the economic effects on the country into consideration. Ireland's health and safety compliance levels regarding electricity transmission infrastructure provided by EirGrid are at a low threshold compared to elsewhere in Europe.
However, in many EU states the safe distance to high voltage overhead lines is set eight times further away from dwellings than in Ireland. However, we have had these regulations from the 1920s onwards.
The case for underground cables has been made. I know many pressure groups, voluntary groups and community groups are agitating. They have to be complimented pm taking the part of the community and informing politicians also. On the other hand, as legislators, we have to be informed from both sides, from the community groups but also in regard to what is feasible and in regard to examining the entire situation and assessing the benefits in terms of costs and overall safety.
EirGrid, as our independent electricity transmission operator, has a mix of overhead lines and some underground cables; therefore, this is not a new science or technology, and it has over 100 transmission stations. I commend EirGrid for its recent development of energy infrastructure and its investment of €240 million in the west, something that was undoubtedly needed. There can be no doubt grid renewal is critical to meeting Ireland's electricity needs. The Minister is charged with that, as are legislators, in order to ensure we meet our energy needs. Whatever means this electricity is generated by, be it by wind or otherwise, it has to be transmitted through a 21st century modern and sustainable grid.
This raises the question of what constitutes a 21st century sustainable and modern grid. The T-pylon design is being accepted throughout England as opposed to the massive old pylons. If we look to the position of the European Union, under the TEN-E programme the Union is encouraging member states to actively consider the development of co-linear projects combining multiple sources of electricity cables, fibre-optic, rail, road and canals in a single corridor. If we look at Ireland and ask what we have here that we could utilise, the canal system is in place, although it is not going in the right direction for the new Grid 3 proposal. However, there are many possibilities. This is the reasoning employed by Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, which are moving rapidly towards grid renewal. Their development has been reliant on the introduction of underground cable, although Denmark is not in the situation in which Ireland finds itself, either economically or in terms of an over-reliance on overground cables, which we have.
For Ireland to approach legislating on this issue, we must take into account the technical and affordability issues, including feasibility. Environmental issues are of particular interest, which is why I said that if we were starting from here, we would put everything underground. Having said that, there are problems with undergrounding and not every area is suitable for it. While we know it will cost more, we do not know how much more as the study has not been done on this. We have the two sides of the debate but comprehensive multidisciplinary research must be done. If we tell people the lights are going to go off and that they must pay a few extra bob, they will say they do not want that. Does the Minister believe enough research has been done? I ask for a multidisciplinary research group to be set up to analyse the factors and consequences, and to try to put this issue to bed, if one likes, through science and research rather than just hearsay. This analysis must include commercial experience, international best practice, EU regulations, relevant technical expertise and representation from EirGrid. A suitable objective and independent forum like this has never been in place, as far as I know. Rather than people going into community halls, shouting over and back, it is good for people to come together to have a learning experience, but who is to give that learning experience? We have to measure our cloth according to our means. We and the Minister are charged, as legislators, with ensuring the lights do not go off.
I welcome the Minister. I recall, in my student days, that the Minister for Transport and Power, as the title then was, the late Mr. Erskine Childers, who was later President, said at a meeting in college that the drawings he got of the ESB headquarters were a lot different to how it actually turned out. There is a cautionary note as to what advice is fed into the political system from the engineering professions.
As Senator Thomas Byrne said, this debate has been dominated very strongly by producers and consumers and the public at large feel they can be trampled over. The motion covers that issue well. It asks for legislation in regard to the planning of high voltage electricity transmission lines. I wonder whether we are still using the 1927 Act, which dealt with putting small poles on individual farms. These pylons seem to be almost small factories located hundreds of feet up in the air. They have a bad effect on the environment and they certainly annoy people, as the public meetings to which Senator Cáit Keane and others have referred would indicate.
On the other hand, we got the first gas pipeline from Dublin to Cork built below budget and ahead of time, and without much in the way of agitation. This is one of the factors we have to build in, namely, the fact the underground pipelines Bord Gáis has laid have a greater level of acceptability. The question then becomes about the difference in cost, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister's research indicates. Proceeding by agreement with landowners is better than the kind of controversies which have been generated by the overhead cables, in particular in places like Meath.
Senator Rónán Mullen questioned why the route from Rush to Batterstown can be built underground and the one from Moy in Tyrone to Batterstown is overground. Are there different economics in the two projects? I know one route is much longer.
Pylons devalue housing, which is another point that has been made. On another point, how are we now situated in regard to the rights of way decision made just recently in the case of Lissadell? Do farmers have stronger rights now if people wish to put structures over their land? I know there is compensation for the locating of pylons, but let us say Sligo County Council had an unpleasant surprise in regard to property rights and we do not want the Minister to experience something similar. We need to sort out that issue. The planning application withdrawal by EirGrid was a major flaw in public decision making and much time was wasted on the inquiry.
Will technology change? It may well do. The Government amendment refers in several places to renewables. Are renewables viable in the light of the substantial decline in gas prices in the United States? We might say that is due to fracking and we do not like it, but it has certainly changed relative energy prices. We have the views of people who say we can bring that low cost gas into the Shannon Estuary and it would undercut the renewables and give us much better value. In addition, it could plug into the existing network, as Senator Tony Mulcahy said, which is geared around Moneypoint, and the Ballylongford depot is not 1 million miles away.
I note the National Competitiveness Council's 2008 review of the main infrastructure issues for enterprise states that the price we are paying for renewables offshore was guaranteed at €220 per MW hour for wave and tidal energy and €140 per MW hour for offshore wind, which compared to the then wholesale price of €73 per MW hour. Some of the things which are possible in engineering terms may not make much sense in economic terms unless one attaches a really high premium to security. Where is the emergency? I know we have fears the lights will go out and so on, and that we need to have these standby systems.
If we design a new distribution system around wind farms, which of themselves are not economically viable, we will lose both on the economy and the environment.
The motion is important. There should be proper and full planning procedures for these networks. I had doubts when an earlier Government introduced strategic infrastructure legislation to jump over the planning system. "Infrastructure" just means that it is large; "strategic" means that the Government thinks it is important. It does not mean that it should not operate under the legal system. If the motion allows us to insert this into the planning system and, as Senators have said, with mediation, it could be a way to proceed. As Senator Thomas Byrne said, the issue is causing annoyance. The Minister might assert that it is unnecessary annoyance, that the cost of placing infrastructure underground has been understated and the costs of overground pylons have been seriously inflated by people on this side of the argument, but it is very useful that a House of Parliament is discussing all of these issues to see where the balance lies on environmental and economic factors. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte's return to the House to again discuss an issue raised on the Adjournment some weeks ago. I commend Senator Rónán Mullen for the pragmatic wording of the motion which should be supported.
As I said previously, I have no objection in principle to the Grid Link project for the south-east or other EirGrid projects across the island. It is necessary to enhance the supply and expansion of the electricity grid in the south east and across the State. In its stage 1 report EirGrid states the project in the south east will help to secure a future electricity supply for homes, businesses, farms, factories and communities in Leinster and Munster that will provide a platform for economic growth and job creation in the south and east of Ireland and will help Ireland to meet its 40% renewable electricity target, with none of which, of course, we could disagree. However, I cannot support EirGrid's determination to use only overground pylons and wires for the entire routes and to rule out the underground option. One of the Government Senators said there was only one option being put by the campaigning groups and those opposed to the siting over ground of pylons, but EirGrid and the Government are sticking to the overground option only and are not open to the possibility of some underground options
I welcome the establishment of the community based groups about which Members have spoken, that have been set up to help to inform communities and voice the many genuine and serious concerns about the project. Many of the groups are working on a voluntary basis and holding workshops and meetings to discuss the many concerns about the routes chosen and other issues. We should commend them for doing this. It appears that in spite of the clearly expressed opposition of thousand of families who live close to the proposed routes of the power lines and pylons, EirGrid remains committed to the overhead approach to the project. Communities along the route are absolutely opposed to the installation of unsightly pylons and rightly fear for the health of all exposed to high voltage power conduits.
Senator Sean D. Barrett spoke about the planning process. It is essential that we recognise the reality of the outworking of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, on which, to my knowledge, the Minister abstained, while my party opposed and voted against it. This legislation facilitates the forcing through of such projects, regardless of the expressed wishes of communities. Real fears and absolute opposition to the overground approach have been voiced along the entire route through County Waterford and other counties. As I said, large public meetings have been held in many centres. We need to respond to the concerns of the communities, families and citizens affected by the EirGrid proposal. I recommend that the Minister and his Fine Gael colleagues in government revisit the planning and development Act to ensure delivery in this regard. In reality the Act should be repealed. While this is not the responsibility of EirGrid, it is the responsibility of the Government. We need to look at the planning process used to facilitate the progression of projects such as this.
The following concerns have been articulated about infrastructural projects: there is a devaluation of residential property and farmland; there is an impact on future agricultural development, the landscape, the architectural and built heritage; there is the visual impact of pylon towers; there is an impact on lakes, watercourses and their environs; there is an impact on areas of primary and secondary heritage, biodiversity, trees and hedgerows, archeology, wildlife and habitats, the rural and agricultural economy, while there is a potential health impact on humans and animals.
Senators on both sides of the House have referred to a number of studies. Recent studies have shown that serious medical problems can potentially be caused by high voltage power lines of the type used by the ESB and EirGrid. A report compiled by a research team in Bristol University in England found that the electrical charge created by overhead power lines resulted in ill health for people living and-or working close by. According to the findings, they are exposed to three times the average daily dose of damaging chemicals in their lungs that come from car and industrial emissions. Those campaigning for putting the power lines underground say that even though the majority of scientific and medical research has been inconclusive - it is important that everybody, no matter on what side of the debate he or she is, accepts this - nonetheless it is not acceptable that there should be a possible threat to public health when there is a solution available. To my knowledge, the solution is to place the cable underground. Insulated cables laid underground - the Minister may assert this is the most costly option initially - solve the problem of electricity leakage which is the primary cause of the health risk associated with overhead power lines. EirGrid and the Minister need to acknowledge there is a problem and they should look at the alternatives rather than forcing through overhead pylons.
We need to protect the landscape and our tourism product. During the Adjournment debate I mentioned the importance of tourism to the south east; it is seen as a key economic driver for the region and is supported by all of the local councils. The south east is an area steeped in natural history and heritage, with scenic landscapes, mountains, rivers and various heritage sites. Mention was made of the successful rally held on the Comeragh Mountains last week which was attended by public representatives from the Minister's party, as well as the Fine Gael Party. The Comeragh Mountains landscape would be severely compromised by the presence of an overground pylon supported power line infrastructure along the route under consideration. I do not believe future generations will forgive us easily if we allow our unique landscape to be eroded and blighted by the erection of unsightly high voltage powe lines up to 45 m high.
It is important to remind ourselves of what is being proposed by EirGrid. It is proposed to put in place pylons carrying 400 kV of power, that are 45 m high and which can be as close as 50 m to a residential dwelling. It is right and appropriate that we respond to the genuine concerns expressed by communities. I was not at all impressed by the Minister's press statement yesterday, in which he seems to dismiss the very real concerns expressed. He should take the opportunity today to accept that there are concerns and outline what steps he will take to address them and meet the concerns of those in the community who have real fears about the project.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte. We now have an opportunity to debate this important issue of transmission lines and the more developed counter motion from the Government which speaks about transmission and distribution infrastructure and the need to ensure the provision of developed infrastructure. One must confess that transmission and distribution electricity infrastructure is not the sort of topic that tends to set the world alight initially, yet, of course, it is a hugely contentious problem if we do not have the adequate infrastructure in place to secure the level of economic and social development we want to achieve.
The recent water problems in Dublin and other areas have shown the effect and consequence that years and decades of under investment has on vital infrastructure and how it impacts on business and domestic households. We need to ensure we have an adequate energy infrastructure just as much as we need to ensure twe have an adequate water infrastructure. An inadequate infrastructure for energy and water poses an obstacle to job creation and the economic development of regions, particularly in regions that were badly served in the past and are a significant distance from urban centres. There will be serious consequences if we do not roll out a modern energy infrastructure. We are likely to hold back economic recovery. We are also likely to prevent and hamper the development of job creation.
With regard to energy, there is the added impetus due to the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, particularly imported fuels. There needs to be a major investment in infrastructure if we are to meet the international target of a 20% reduction by 2020.
For some years I have worked with Friends of the Earth Ireland on climate change legislation and I am glad that the Government is committed to introducing legislation on climate change. The previous Government had committed to doing so but failed. In 2007 I introduced a Private Members' Climate Protection Bill in the House which sought binding climate control targets to be implemented by this and future Governments. It is great that we will finally see legislation put in place that has been agreed to after extensive consultation and will set targets.
We must be mindful of the practicalities necessary to reach the energy targets. We must ensure that we have the infrastructure in place that will use our natural resources to generate an adequate amount of energy, particularly wind energy which Ireland has, potentially, in abundance. I support the Government's amendment. I also commend the Government for its ambitious plans to deliver on energy policy priorities. I particularly commend it for delivering an investment in the energy infrastructure that was needed in many regions in order to move forward.
The Minister has not spoken yet, but I am sure that he will speak about EirGrid's ambitious development plan called Grid25. The plan was noted in the amendment which states:
the Government does not direct EirGrid to particular sites or routes or technologies but the Government does expect EirGrid, in making choices on such matters, to take account of all relevant national and international standards, to follow best practice and ensure value for money and to be informed by detailed consultation at local level.
I shall focus on the consultation issue in the time allocated. As I said, the EirGrid investment is very ambitious and amounts to €3.2 billion. It will involve 800 km of new power lines and the upgrade of 2,000 km of existing lines. In other words, the current grid will double. It is a very ambitious project but it is necessary in order to ensure adequate economic development takes place. It will also ensure we are not hampered when it comes to job creation policies, particularly for regions outside of urban centres.
What process will be employed to carry out such an ambitious and necessary expansion? This where consultation becomes important, particularly in the context of the motion. It was written in the spirit of a need to ensure consultation, although consultation was not mentioned. I think that was an omission because consultation is very important and there is proof of that in local areas all around Ireland.
We have in place a process that allows for the necessary consultations to be carried out at a local level. The planning process is a framework that will ensure all of this major work is done with extensive consultation. We have seen this already in some of the plans that EirGrid has rolled out. For example, the Grid West project is worth €240 million and provides a link between Mayo and either Roscommon or Galway. The investment will result in significant job creation in the region.
Last October EirGrid announced the details of an emerging preferred route corridor. It has held a series of open days which engaged over 1,200 people. EirGrid will continue to engage with the public to find the best route. Clearly, the proposed route for the transmission line and the route corridor are contentious issues in certain areas. At the same time we need to see a process put in place that enables consultation at local level and allows for the infrastructure to be developed as needs be. All of that must be done in a consensual manner and with local communities, as far as possible.
Another example is the new Grid Link project that proposes a €500 million investment in the south and east regions to reinforce the transmission network linking Leinster and Munster. The project is necessary in order to ensure we meet energy demands in the south east. Over the years, even at a time of boom, many people rightly complained about inadequate energy facilities and supplies in different parts of Ireland. We must bear that in mind when examining the matter. I have plenty more to say, but I am almost out of time.
Colleagues will be aware that Grid Link has already held 33 public information open days, 12 open days in the project area and over 2,500 stakeholders were involved. The framework is in place for extensive consultations and many local communities and different stakeholders have been involved at various stages of the process.
I wanted to say a little more on the health and safety issues that Senator David Cullinane and others raised, but I am running out of time.
I am glad that the Government has given a strong commitment to developing natural resources, particularly wind energy, which is also important at an international level. We have all seen the horrific tragedy that took place in the Philippines recently. Therefore, we cannot deny the impact that greedy consumption in the developed world has had on developing countries and climate change internationally. That is the context in which infrastructure development is being carried out here. The investment will also enable us to meet our carbon reduction commitments and we will have greater independence by relying more on natural resources and less on fossil fuels.
I thank the Senator.
I welcome the Minister. I am sorry that it was not possible to harmonise the two views. The motion tabled by Senator Rónán Mullen seems fairly innocuous. I do not mean innocuous in the sense that the motion is unimportant. It does not damage the Government bar one exception, namely, the phrase "where physically possible." There might be some negotiation on that wording because it states a particular restriction. The first part of his motion seems reasonable and states:
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to introduce legislation to regulate the construction and siting of and associated matters connected with high voltage electricity transmission lines in Ireland.
Who could possibly disagree with those words?
We are in the lucky position that exploration is only beginning here. We have the very controversial Corrib gas field where everything has been sold, as far as I can see, to Shell Oil. The Barryroe site now looks rather exciting and there are a number of other locations. We may, in fact, be in quite an advantageous position with regard to energy production.
It is also a very welcome sign that we are talking about energy in terms of European wide electricity co-operation. I well remember the days when the Provos took particular delight in blowing up the electricity interconnector operating between the Republic and Northern Ireland. It reached the point where their acts prevented developments taking place.
Energy issues must be seen in context. It is my understanding that wind farms are being developed, but they were strongly opposed for a variety of reasons. It was partly aesthetic, partly concerns about health and partly concerns about noise. It was claimed that children or people with Alzheimer's disease were greatly disturbed by the noise generated by wind farms and all of the rest. I understand that it is partly intended that the new network of pylons will allow for the export of energy. Can the Minister confirm such a development?
I do not think we should damage our environment in order to create the possibility of exporting energy. Tourism, for example, is one of the most important income generators in this country, but we are going to destroy a whole series of beauty spots.
Senator David Cullinane mentioned the planning Act and the fact that things had returned to the old days when county councils could ram anything through without availing of the planning process. I am not sure that this completely applies, but I am very concerned at a recent trend that seems to have developed among higher public officials. A former city manager has been appointed as head of Irish Water. Now the chairman of An Bord Pleanála has moved in to take charge of EirGrid. I have no doubt that he is a man of impeccable character and all of the rest.
I do not know the person at all. I am not in any sense wishing to impugn his character but it looks so bad. We are always told perception is everything. When the chairman of the planning authority goes into a situation where there are really serious planning issues, that stinks, frankly. I think he is unwise to have accepted that job. It is not that he could be, in any sense, corrupt-----
The Senator should be careful not to refer to people who are outside the House who can be easily identified.
I understand that. As a matter of principle, for people in these situations in other countries there often is a cordon sanitaire of a couple of years in order that they cannot get involved in these things. That is useful and appropriate because with the best will in the world, there are contacts. That is more important than anything else and people read the signs. I am just flagging that, as I think there is a concern here. May I say to my very good friend, Senator Professor Dr. Ivana Bacik, that she is a little lonely on the Labour Party benches because at least three of her colleagues appear to have been told to take a powder. I refer to Senators John Whelan, John Kelly and Denis Landy who spoke passionately on this side of the debate about the windmills and pylons. It is extraordinary that the people who spoke so passionately in this House and on the electric wireless, television and at public meetings are not present. One wonders why. Perhaps with the help of God and a tooth brush they will not turn up for the vote either and we might just about-----
If they did, they might vote for the motion.
If they voted for it or if they just disappeared-----
Will the Senator, please, keep to the motion?
On a point of order, I hate to interrupt Senator David Norris's very eloquent flow, but I am concerned about his use of the term "electric wireless". I am not sure it is an accurate term. We need to be accurate when debating electricity.
I do not think that is a point of order.
With regard to health and so on, Ireland as a country has not implemented any measures on basic restrictions for the general public for electromagnetic field exposure, as outlined by the EU recommendations as far back as 1999. Not only that but I was amused by one very charming e-mail I received which pointed out to me that bats, bees, cows and human beings appear to have an aversion to pylons. They do not like them. There may very well be good reasons for this. It is not just the devaluation of property which in this economic circumstance is difficult, it is also the sheer number of them. I understand there may be up to 4,000 of them. As the Minister is shaking his head, perhaps he will be able to tell me the number. One of my informants say there are 4,000 at 45 m.
With regard to health, the situation regarding cancer is unclear. I am not inclined to think that the major cancers are caused by this kind of radiation. However, the study by the National Radiological Protection Board in the United Kingdom published under the name of Dr. Alastair McKinlay stated the leukaemia risk was at least double what might be expected normally in these circumstances. That is stated as a scientifically objective fact. He goes on to state one has to be much more careful about-----
I will have to call time.
There is a greater charge for putting it underground. I know it is considerable. It is estimated at about three times the cost of putting it overground, but it is dropping all the time. There are also other advantages. One will not lose on tourism. Putting things underground leads to fewer outages, less maintenance which is also a very good reason for putting them underground. I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence. Like the former speaker, my friend Senator Ivana Bacik, I would also have had lots more to say, but it shows what an interesting and useful debate this is. I compliment my colleagues, Senators Rónán Mullen and Feargal Quinn, for tabling it.
I welcome the Minister back to the House. We could almost make him an honorary member for the day.
I might just need it.
I should have thanked Senator Mark Daly for allowing me to precede him in the roll.
The Senator is most welcome. This matter is of huge concern. I wish to raise two issues. There are three proposed routes. Please forgive my lack of knowledge in engineering when it comes to this issue. Much of the expense in putting the lines underground has to do with acquisition of land in terms of compensating farmers for disruption, finding ways around private property and dealing with public roads. I note that the Waterford element of the route, to a large degree, skirts the motorway which is in public ownership. We have done all the land deals. Perhaps the Minister would inform me as to the issues with putting the underground cables on the grass margin between the fence and the motorway.
If one is travelling from Naas to Waterford, I suggest one would not take a convoluted route across land but would use the motorway. Given that we own the motorway and that the land deals have already been done at huge cost to the taxpayer, what are the engineering difficulties, apart from disruption to traffic, in laying the cables on the motorway to Waterford, thereby not causing distress to the people involved?
I note that the route skirts across to Cork. There is also a motorway to Cork. A saving could be made by not using the link road between Waterford and Cork which may be in need of upgrading, an issue I must raise with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I suggest he might use the motorway that splits and goes to Cork city which I use every week. That is one of the challenges the Minister's Department might examine with their colleagues in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to see whether it is possible, if we want to get to Waterford, to use the grass margin which I believe would be substantial enough to allow for laying the required ducting on both sides. What are the engineering obstacles to this? I am aware that somebody from EirGrid said it was not possible to put it underground. In Canada they managed to put it underground. It cost more. A huge element of that has to do with the delay involved in land acquisition. Perhaps the Minister might address that issue. As the health issues have been raised I will not raise them.
In regard to the issue of the public consultation and whether that has been wholesome, I am not in favour of the current process. We have outlined our issues in this regard. It costs €500 million which is a huge amount of money. We are calling for the suspension of the issue. Perhaps the Minister might address the idea of laying the ducting along the motorway and the impediments to that approach.
I agree with Senator Feargal Quinn that we need more debate on this issue. As Senator Rónán Mullen said, the genesis of this plan by EirGrid to deliver a safe and secure energy supply to the country goes back to 2008. This is the first time that I have been involved in debating the issue in the Oireachtas. I was in the House a couple of weeks ago to take an Adjournment debate that was prompted by protests locally. This is the first debate on the issue. From that point of view I could not welcome the debate more.
People are greatly motivated by the protests and so on. They are not dissimilar to the protests we have seen at the time of the masts in respect of the telecommunications issue. Very similar charges were made at that time about the dangers of fall-out from masts.
Now I cannot cope with the correspondence I receive about mobile phones and broadband quality in parts of the country and so on. We have moved on to a new issue. We had a similar situation in the case of roads. People remember the extraordinary conflict there was about which route a road would take, through whose land it would run and what the compensation would be. That is the nature of things. We have also seen protests coming up to elections. Tensions are heightened and we have to deal with that matter. In a democracy there is always one election or another on the way.
I do not disagree much with Senator Thomas Byrne's summary of the position on the North-South interconnector. I agree with him and Senator Sean D. Barrett that the withdrawal of the planning application in 2010 and what caused that withdrawal did not reflect EirGrid's finest hour. I am concerned about this, but I am also concerned about the time we are losing. The cost of the part of the interconnector meshing the two systems, North and South, is approximately €25 million per annum. For those who have recently come to the debate on energy, the issue is quite complex. We now have an all-island market. We do not have an all-island market in gas, but we do have an all-island market in electricity and the delay in this project is problematic. It is a concern, particularly from the point of view of Northern Ireland.
Everyone who adverts to my decision to nominate John O'Connor as chairman of EirGrid starts off by saying he is a man of the highest integrity, whose probity and reputation cannot be challenged, but they then go on to say he is unsuitable for the job. We are immensely fortunate to have got a man who can bring to the matter the dimension of his experience in planning and the concerns of citizens with whom he dealt for 11 years in a quasi-judicial capacity as chairman of An Bord Pleanála. We are fortunate that this man is available to bring that dimension of knowledge and experience to the leadership of the EirGrid board. I reassure Senator David Norris with regard to the cordon sanitaire that ought to be around him for a couple of years, or that would be around him in other countries. Mr. O'Connor has been gone from the job for the past couple of years and I do not want to go further on that point.
I prepared a speech to deliver here, but I will not have the time to deliver it in the time allowed. I presume it will be available to Members on the website.
The Minister has approximately 15 minutes remaining.
I will do my best to get over the hurdles in that time.
I wish to set out the reasons we and the economy need EirGrid's Grid25 infrastructure programme and the steps that are being taken to engage
local communities in the roll-out of the programme. I am more than anxious to learn from the contributions of parliamentary colleagues how best to guarantee the country a safe, secure and affordable electricity supply. However, I cannot accede to the request that I set aside the planning process and go back to the bad old days when Ministers arbitrarily made such decisions. I am certain that is not what was in Senator Rónán Mullen's mind or is not what he intended when he drafted the motion. Effectively, it seeks to remove decision-making from the planning process before it has even engaged with the issues involved. Instead, the House is asked to decide now where and how power lines are to be built. Clearly, I cannot accept the motion, as it stands. Accordingly, I have offered an amendment which has been proposed by my colleague Senator Cáit Keane. That is not to say I do not welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and to have a meeting of minds, as recommended by Senator Cáit Keane, if possible.
The motion tabled by Senator Rónán Mullen does not adequately acknowledge existing Government policy, the planning process and the legislation, which together provide a framework for ensuring comprehensive statutory and non-statutory consultation is built into the process for rolling out energy infrastructure and that all necessary standards for health, safety and environmental protection are met. I am particularly concerned about the criticisms I have heard about the quality of the engagement and consultation that has been detailed by some Senators. After the experience of what happened - I take little exception to Senator Thomas Byrne's contribution in that regard - I thought we had learned the lesson. The extensive consultation process put in place was designed to learn from that experience. I am very concerned that Members are saying that it is not working as intended. A lot of money and time are being spent on consultation and offices are being opened along the putative routes or corridors. If this can be dismissed as bogus consultation, that is a great disappointment to me. I am not sure it is fair to EirGrid which has entered into the consultation process with the intention of learning from the experience of the Meath-Tyrone jigsaw piece.
It is, of course, a truism that energy is the lifeblood of the economy and our society. Electricity and gas demand, for business and households, must be met safely and securely on a continuous basis 365 days a year. Energy policy has a pivotal role to play in creating the conditions for economic recovery and job creation. Building major infrastructure today is becoming more challenging, yet most people understand we cannot attract investment and provide jobs without a modern energy system. Water and energy supplies are at the top of the priority list for those thinking of investing in Ireland. Our ability to rebuild the economy, attract and retain foreign investment, sustain Irish enterprise, create jobs and growth, deliver regional development and ensure the well-being of the people all depend on this. Ireland has undergone a considerable transformation in its energy policy in recent years, driven by ambitious targets for renewable energy, a substantial increase in energy efficiency and the continued opening up of gas and electricity markets to competition, with resultant benefits for business and domestic consumers.
Development of the high voltage electricity grid, as planned in EirGrid's Grid25 strategy, is critical to our long-term economic recovery. Grid25 is a major initiative that will put in place a safe, secure and affordable electricity supply throughout Ireland. It will take several years to complete and represents an investment of €3.2 billion. It involves extensive work throughout the country, including building 800 km of new power lines and upgrading 2,000 km of existing lines, double the size of today's grid. Some colleagues have said we should bide our time because technology is changing and becoming cheaper. The problem with energy projects is that we are talking about a ten to 15 year lifespan. We do not want to find ourselves in the circumstances in which the neighbouring island has found itself, where it has a real fear about security of energy supply in the immediate years ahead.
Grid25 will reduce our dependency on imported fossil fuels by putting in place the infrastructure to enable us to use our own natural resources, help us to create less carbon waste and enable us to reach our 40% targets for the generation of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. I could engage at length with Senator Sean D. Barrett on this issue, but we are part of a committee of nations, the European Union, and have mandatory targets to reach. Most agree that the decarbonisation of our electricity system is a good idea. The Government wants to be able to give a strong and consistent message to Irish businesses and multinationals and citizens that Ireland's electricity networks are robust, modern and safe. Grid25 must be a practical illustration of our collective and continuing commitment to large-scale investment in electricity infrastructure.
The national investment programme in the electricity transmission and distribution grids will provide capacity to facilitate regional economic development alongside the development of renewable energy sources. It will allow for long-term growth in the demand for electricity and ensure efficient operation of the all-island single electricity market. Our ability to rebuild the economy, deliver regional development and so much else is dependent on significant energy infrastructure. Ireland needs to deliver a world-class electricity transmission system in all regions which meets the needs of Ireland in the 21st century. The network investment programmes by the State energy companies in recent years have given us energy networks that have met the challenges of severe weather episodes and record peak demands. Ireland's energy networks compare most favourably with those of other countries in terms of safety and resilience. Continuing the steady level of development and renewal of the networks is essential to ensure that Ireland's energy system is fit for purpose, safe and secure, and ready to meet increased demand as economic conditions improve.
EirGrid was established as a statutory agency to deliver a safe, secure and affordable electricity supply. I stress that the Government does not and should not direct EirGrid to particular sites, routes or technologies, as we made clear in our document, Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure of July last year. Senator Thomas Byrne has read that document but, having listened attentively, I must say with the greatest respect that other colleagues have not read it. Gone are the days of Aristotle, who could be an expert on every area. One cannot be an expert in everything today. It is too complex a world. However, that is the cornerstone document in approaching this issue.
On what seems to be the core issue of overgrounding versus undergrounding, experts assert that there is no single right solution that applies to every development and that technical solutions must instead be project-specific. EirGrid has confirmed that its planning applications must include a published formal assessment of the available alternatives for each project for consideration by An Bord Pleanála. It has been asserted by several Members of the House that EirGrid will not do so and that EirGrid has a closed mind or that I have a closed mind, and I refer them to that paragraph in stating that is not the case. Conventional overhead line is still the most common solution adopted both worldwide and in Europe, and it still offers significantly lower investment costs than any underground alternative. More than 95% of high voltage transmission lines in Europe are overhead lines, and construction of 400 kV lines is continuing in all EU countries.
Every Member of the House has brought to this debate the real concerns of people out there, with which I entirely empathise and understand, but we also have a habit of assimilating all the canards nd regurgitating them here as if they were facts. Many of the canards are precisely that; they are baseless, just as the charges against telephone masts were baseless. For example, I will take up this claim that undergrounding is now the norm in Europe. I have a list giving the number of kilometres of 400 kV overhead lines and the number of kilometres of 400 kV lines that go underground in each country in Europe. The percentages of wiring that is underground are as follows: Austria, 1.94%; Belgium, zero percent; France, 0.1%; Germany, 0.34%; Great Britain, 1.91%; the Netherlands, 1.43%; Spain, 0.28%; Switzerland, 0.45%; and so on. One can single out Denmark, as one can single out Norway when we are discussing all that oil I have given away to the multinationals while not paying attention to the fact they have not yet found any oil. However, according to Fintan O'Toole and the rest of those sitting on the ditch, I should impose a Norwegian-style fiscal regime.
Would the Minister tell us if he knew?
Similarly, Denmark is not typical of anything. It may be admirable in many respects, but that is another story. The Danes are not coming out of a bailout programme either.
The Minister was going well until he blamed the bailout.
However, I note that cost data can change and cost estimates are always uncertain, which emphasises the need for the project-specific solutions to which I referred.
While the case for proceeding urgently with energy infrastructure is critical to the national interest, many are concerned about the impact that new transmission lines and other energy infrastructure can have on the landscape, on the environment and on local communities. It is therefore essential that Grid25 and other energy infrastructure be taken forward on the basis of the best available knowledge and informed engagement about the impacts and costs of different engineering solutions.
I am, of course, conscious that public acceptance of new infrastructure is a major challenge. Social acceptance and understanding of our need for this infrastructure are both critical. I fully expect EirGrid will always undertake and communicate well informed, objective and authoritative analysis, thoroughgoing impact assessment and pre-planning consultation in arriving at optimal routes, technology choice, design and costings, and that is the expectation of the Government.
In addition to extensive statutory and non-statutory public consultation, EirGrid must adhere to national and international standards on health, environment, biodiversity, landscape and safety as an intrinsic part of the planning process. Compliance, together with appropriate impact mitigation measures, is central to the environmental impact assessments that form the basis of planning applications to An Bord Pleanála. This includes compliance with electromagnetic frequency exposure limits set in the guidelines published by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection and associated EU recommendations, and national and EU legislation on the environment, habitats and biodiversity. Somebody wants me to produce a scientist who says, "No - never - in no circumstances will such a thing happen." One knows well one would be waiting until the cows came home before that happened. It does not happen in the real world. Senator Sean D. Barrett made the point about the Rush to Woodland connector. The east-west interconnector is an undersea cable; it is a different technology. It would not make any sense for the transmission lines to come up overhead when they come off the seabed. While the conflict Senator Thomas Byrne described was going on with regard to the Meath-Tyrone line, I was receiving deputations from Rush about undergrounding.
Only Rush; not from Meath people. There was not a word in Meath about it.
No doubt they herald their fears genuinely, but we will have to put it overground or underground, or else we are going back to the cave. People ought to make up their minds on that issue.
I take the opportunity to underline again the need for early and ongoing engagement and consultation with local communities. This is essential for building public confidence. The consultation process, as well as the planning and consent process, needs to ensure timely, sustainable and acceptable outcomes for all stakeholders.
Grid25 and other essential energy infrastructure will have positive impacts for local communities. Senator Thomas Byrne dealt with the question of community gain which is hugely important. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is involved in discussions with me with regard to the issuing of new planning guidelines. We emphasise the appropriateness, for both State companies and other energy project developers, of examining appropriate means of building community gain considerations into their project budgeting and planning. We fully support a community gain approach in the delivery of energy infrastructure.
Before closing, it would be useful to indicate what the International Energy Agency, in its country review of Ireland in 2012, stated:
Delays in building the necessary [grid connections and transmission] infrastructure are likely to result in wind curtailment, in unnecessarily increased balancing challenges and costs, and also in a potential non-compliance of the national renewable energy targets for the electricity sector. The planning, consenting and local consultation process will need to ensure that it is able to take fast and reliable decisions for all stakeholders. Only through better planning and coordination, including the local planning authorities and local communities, will Ireland ensure that it meet its ambitions and targets. The planning, consenting and local consultation process will need to ensure that it is able to take fast and reliable decisions for all stakeholders. Only through better planning and co-ordination, including with the local planning authorities and local communities, will Ireland ensure that it will meet its ambitions and targets.
No Government can walk away from its responsibility to provide the country with a secure energy supply, nor can any Government inflict unnecessary costs on energy consumers to allay concerns if they are not well founded. I reaffirm that it is Government policy and in the national interest, not least in these still precarious economic circumstances, that infrastructure investment programmes are delivered in the most cost-efficient and timely way possible, as well as on the basis of the best available knowledge and informed engagement on the impacts and costs of different engineering solutions. I am happy that the pre-application process has started and that consultation and engagement on the issues are well under way. It would show very little confidence in the planning system if we thought these issues should be decided on before they had been properly ventilated, let alone considered and decided upon by the appropriate bodies. Of course, the consultation phase produced arguments, but that is what it is designed to do. Next comes the phase when these arguments will be examined and tested.
The proposition that the Minister of the day should drive a coach and four through the planning consultation process under way and seek to pre-empt the outcome thereof is something that this House should reflect on. The Seanad, as part of the Oireachtas, put the planning laws in place after some less than edifying experiences in the past. I greatly doubt that the Members of this Seanad are advocating that the Minister of the day should be empowered to dispense with the law and give directions himself.
As stated, the pre-application process has started and consultation and engagement on the issues are under way. I would, however, be very slow to commit in advance to a course that would inevitably involve imposing hugely significant additional costs on the electricity consumers of Ireland for decades to come. I certainly could not commit the Government to such an imposition, unless and until the argument for doing so was comprehensively established. Let us await the outcome in the context of whatever decision will be made. I urge this House to be equally methodical and painstaking in its deliberations and not to rush to judgment before all the evidence is in.
I commend Senator Rónán Mullen for tabling the motion. This is an issue which affects people in communities throughout the country. The Minister and the Labour Party have moved a million miles from the position they held on wind turbines and overhead power lines, particularly in my constituency in County Donegal, when they were in opposition.
It never happened. I have never previously engaged with this debate during my 30 years in politics. As it never happened, the Senator should, please, confine himself to the facts.
That is a matter for the Senator to consider.
The facts are that the Labour Party did engage in the debate and there is evidence that it did so in my constituency when power lines were being erected there in 2001 and 2002.
On the general issue to which the motion relates, there is a need to protect local interests and communities. Whether it is a farmer who is developing a project or, as in this instance, a company such as EirGrid or a multinational, the genuine views of local communities are not being dealt with in an independent, transparent manner. That is what is at issue. The Minister referred to the town of Rush which my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, represents. The Senator has informed me that the one Member of the Oireachtas who raised major concerns about that matter at the time and who wrote to all of his constituents to alert them to the fact that there were real concerns about overhead power lines and that the then Government should insist on the use of underground power lines is the Minister for Health. Is it the case that when one is a Government Minister, the concerns of constituents become a distant memory? Should people's concerns to the effect that EirGrid or some multinational company is going to rape the country's potential for generating wind energy be brushed aside?
The request contained in the motion is reasonable. The Minister's Department issued a policy direction in July on the suspension of the granting of planning permission for any wind energy project pending consultation. I welcomed that direction because it advocated a good course of action. The same line should be followed in this instance and the process should be suspended until mediation takes place or new legislation is introduced. The latter would reflect the spirit of the July press statement issued by the Minister's Department. That press statement and the motion brought forward by Senator Rónán Mullen are not a million miles apart. It would be very wrong for anyone to state this is not the case.
The motion is constructive and should be supported. Regardless of whether we are in government or opposition, as legislators, we should always listen to the views of the people, even if they relate to the impact the erection of massive turbines might have on tourism or the value of private property or the health implications involved such as children contracting leukaemia or some other disease. We must stand back and give the process some breathing space. It must not be the case that, irrespective of the outcome of the consultation process, the application will proceed on the basis of cost. If there is an extra cost involved in running the lines underground, EirGrid will obviously opt for the most financially attractive option.
I thank all those who contributed to this very important debate. I also thank the Minister for coming to the House to take it. As he indicated, this is the first opportunity he has had to debate this issue. I would have liked it if the Minister for Finance had come before the House last evening to respond to the Adjournment matter I had raised in respect of credit unions. It has been difficult to get the relevant line Ministers to come before the House and take responsibility for matters relating to their portfolios.
I compliment the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, on the passion he displayed during his contribution. On the Government's general approach, I wish to paraphrase an old political saying and say to the Minister, "Let me tell you why we don't trust you." I have no difficulty with him defending his honour and he is right to do so if he never made any false promise. However, I am somewhat bemused because I recall him making one statement to the media to the effect that he would not find it shocking or surprising that people would make promises during election campaigns and then turn their backs on them in the aftermath. I will not go so far as to say he endorsed that process, but he certainly did not seem to be terribly offended by it. That is what has offended many people here.
That is a Vincent Browne twist and I suspect the Senator knows it.
I will accept an argument from anyone who defends himself or herself from a Vincent Browne twist.
Is that a dance move?
The Minister is surrounded by people who said one thing when they were seeking votes and who have done quite another since they entered office. One of those individuals was mentioned earlier. People do not trust the Government because they are aware of what has happened to individuals such as 65 year old Teresa Treacy who was jailed for contempt when she refused to obey an order to allow EirGrid and the ESB to carry out work on her land near Tullamore. She was seeking to protect the trees on her land. I am not stating people should act in contempt of court, but they are concerned that companies such as EirGrid and the ESB have no difficulty in riding roughshod over their rights. The Minister said it would display very little confidence in the planning system if these issues were decided on before being properly ventilated and considered. That is why I feel vindicated in tabling the motion. If the Minister had read its precise terms, he would be aware that as regards doing what he suggests - namely, returning to the bad old days when Ministers made arbitrary decisions - it certainly does not recommend that matters be referred to Ministers for arbitrary determination. It recommends that, unless it is physically impossible, there be a requirement that high voltage electricity transmission lines be placed underground. I did not engage in any scaremongering about health and acknowledge the fact that there are disputes in this regard.
I did so on the basis that I do not believe those who say one can only determine the costs by reference to the short-term costs of the alternative approaches. I have pointed out that this will damage land values and tourism and diminish the quality of rural and community life. It is short-term thinking of a kind we have seen far too often. The Minister may be correct to a point that EirGrid has held consultation days. Senator Ivana Bacik mentioned open days, but open days are no substitute for an open mind. People fear these sessions have been not so much consultation as an expensive public relations exercise. There is a hell of a difference. The EirGrid project as it stands is ill-conceived and it will be damaging to rural communities.
While the Minister is correct to defend the ability of Mr. O'Connor, it is legitimate to say that we do not have a problem with the probity of an individual but take issue with the appropriateness of making an appointment in that regard. People have a troubling sense that EirGrid's chief aim is to force through controversial planning proposals, which suggests there will be determination bordering on ruthlessness rather than consultation. That is why people are massing in their thousands in our communities. I spoke at a recent meeting in Trim attended by more than 1,000 people, who were disgusted at the way they were given a completely different message once the parties who had made certain promises were elected to government. That is why people do not trust the authorities, big organisations or politics in this country. They have legitimate grounds for concern and, much as I respect the Minister's mastery of his brief, I do not think he has done enough to allay these concerns.
Under Standing Order 62(3)(b), I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Harte, Jimmy.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Keeffe, Susan.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Crown, John.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Brien, Mary Ann.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Power, Averil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Harte, Jimmy.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Keeffe, Susan.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Crown, John.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Power, Averil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.