That Seanad Éireann:
- that the North-South interconnector is a vital piece of infrastructure in ensuring a safe and sustainable source of energy for both Ireland and Northern Ireland;
- that communities across counties Cavan, Monaghan, Meath, Tyrone and Armagh are very concerned about the present proposals for the North-South interconnector;
- that the recent decision of An Bord Pleanála to approve planning permission for the overhead pylon project did not consider an alternative underground option, which was not put forward by EirGrid;
- the negative impacts an overground interconnector will have on the landscape of these areas, particularly on their more scenic and ecologically sensitive locations;
- the potential detrimental consequences for the tourism sector in these areas;
- that the present plans for the North-South interconnector will have adverse effects on the livelihoods and farming practices of farming households along its route; and
- that some 2,550 homes will potentially be impacted on by the proposed overhead line;
- the continued failure to address the concerns raised by local residents;
- the need and requirement that the communities' concerns must be addressed;
- that considerable technological advances have occurred since the most recent analysis of undergrounding was conducted in 2009, such that the cost and technical feasibility of undergrounding the North-South interconnector have changed greatly;
- that EirGrid has recognised that undergrounding the project is feasible; and
- that A Programme for a Partnership Government committed to and affirmed the need for "much better engagement with citizens and communities about the energy policy decisions that affect them" and committed to "effective community consultation on energy infrastructure developments"; and
calls on the Government to commission immediately an independent report incorporating international industry expertise to:
- examine the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the North-South interconnector, taking into account the most recent developments in technology and experience gained from existing projects abroad;
- evaluate the potential impacts of both undergrounding and overgrounding the North-South interconnector on surrounding areas, considering such aspects as its impact on local tourism, health, the landscape, agriculture, heritage, etc;
- analyse the real costs to date, and estimated future costs, of the current proposed overhead pylon project;
- ensure that no further work is done on the North-South interconnector until this analysis and a full community consultation are completed; and
- implement its commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government in relation to better engagement and community consultation about the energy policy decisions that affect them.
I welcome the opportunity to bring the motion before the Seanad on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party. The construction of the North-South interconnector has been a serious issue for the people of counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath since it was first mooted back in 2007-08. As a result of the recent decision by An Bord Pleanála to award planning permission for the project, that is, the construction of 299 pylons between 25 m and 51 m in height, Fianna Fáil has felt compelled to bring the motion before the House and I hope all parties will support it.
As the Minister will appreciate, the North-South interconnector project has caused great stress and annoyance to the people who live along the route in counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath, as well as in counties Tyrone and Armagh. I pass on my compliments to the communities that have banded together in total opposition to the project for the strong campaign they have waged since the first opposition was expressed to EirGrid's proposal to install the pylons. The campaign has been managed by two groups, namely, the Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee and the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign, which have conducted themselves in a very professional and sensible manner. The resolve of the people against the project is as strong today as it was when the project was first mooted, if not stronger.
As a party, Fianna Fáil supports the upgrading of the national grid, thereby ensuring security of electricity supply in order to boost capacity for future economic growth. That said, it is concerned about the installation of pylons by EirGrid throughout the countryside near residential areas and in areas of scenic beauty. In its application to An Bord Pleanála, EirGrid only made a submission on an overground line. It did not consider the merits of the possibility of undergrounding the power line. This is blatant discrimination against the people who will be affected by the North-South interconnector. Why has the Government not listened to and investigated their concerns?
When similar concerns were raised over Grid West and Grid East, analysis of undergrounding options was undertaken. The people of counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath are asking why their concerns are not being treated in an equal fashion. They deserve nothing less. In 2007-2008, when this project was first mooted, we were told that the cost of undergrounding the project would be somewhere between 20 to 30 times the cost of overgrounding and that it was not possible from either an engineering or technical perspective to underground these cables. Things have changed dramatically in the intervening period. By April 2015, EirGrid publicly admitted for the first time that it was possible to put these cables underground and at a much reduced cost than was first mooted. Furthermore, recent international experience has disproved claims that underground lines are not feasible for the development of projects such as this. This can be seen in the ALEGrO project, a project that runs between Germany and Belgium, which is approximately 90 km in length and which can carry 1,000 MW. The ALEGrO project will achieve these aims without infringing on the landscape along its routes. Not a single mountain vista or rolling hill will be tainted as a result of steel pylons being erected. No local resident will face land devaluations, health issues or reduced quality of life because of its construction.
We are asking for the Government to conduct an independent analysis of the possibility of undergrounding the North-South interconnector. This analysis must also assess and detail the impact that constructing the North-South interconnector will have on local communities. What would the impact be on the devaluation of property, local heritage sites and tourism? What would the impact be on farming land and agricultural production? What would the ramifications be for the health of local residents? These are the type of questions we are hearing from families in the counties through which the North-South interconnector is to pass. They have not been answered by the Government to date. Instead, it prefers to allow EirGrid to proceed over the will of local people, ignoring the concerns they so rightly raise. It is incumbent upon elected representatives of both Houses to give a voice to the people whom we serve and to give careful consideration of how decisions taken by us impact on their daily lives. It is very disappointing that the concerns of the people have so far been ignored by the Government. All we are looking for here is an independent expert review of the project and for the advances in technology that have occurred since it was first mooted to be taken into account. I ask Fine Gael Members present to fully support this motion. They have nothing to fear from it. Someone said once that it is never too late to do the right thing. I appeal to the Fine Gael Members to put their shoulders to the wheel, speak up for the people they represent and fully support this motion this afternoon. With the support of the Members of the House, I hope this motion will address the general fears expressed by the people of counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath. I commend the motion to the House.