I welcome the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, to the House and thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to be here. It is much appreciated.
I would like to discuss the North-South interconnector. It goes without saying that An Bord Pleanála's decision in 2016 regarding the North-South interconnector was met with a tsunami of disappointment, anger and frustration by the people affected. If EirGrid thought that was the end of the matter and people would take this decision lying down, it was very much mistaken. Two years on, the determination of the people affected is as strong as it has ever been. I have attended a number of meetings throughout the Cavan-Monaghan area and have witnessed at first hand that resolve.
Those affected received a shot in the arm by recent court decisions on both sides of the Border, one in Northern Ireland and a second in the Supreme Court. The High Court in Northern Ireland ruled that planning permission granted for a £240 million waste incinerator had been unlawfully authorised. Planning permission for the facility had been approved by a civil servant in the Department for Infrastructure in 2017. This landmark ruling would have a wide-ranging effect on the North-South Interconnector as it too was signed off on by a civil servant and not a Government Minister. At this point, I am sure the Minister will agree that all of us would like to the institutions in Northern Ireland back up and running for the benefit of all. I appeal to Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party to lead those who elected them to lead. The other shot in the arm was the Supreme Court's decision in favour of a Meath lady by the name of Maura Sheehy, a landowner affected by the proposed line. The court agreed to hear the case put forward by the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign. I understand the case is due to be heard at the end of this month.
In 2017, the Minister signed off on a procurement process for the installation of 409 pylons both North and South of the Border. At the time, we felt the Minister's decision was probably premature, to put it mildly, but I recall that he stated in his defence that it could be rescinded at any time. Given the decision by the courts, the fact that planning permission no longer exists for the facility in Northern Ireland and the Supreme Court case on the proposal in the South, the time is now ripe for the Minister to rescind his decision and ask EirGrid to withdraw from the tender process for these pylons. It would be a sensible thing to do and a good gesture on the Minister's part.
As the Minister is aware, the residents along the route, including in counties Monaghan and Cavan, remain resolutely opposed to the proposal. Both Houses of the Oireachtas have passed motions which seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Coupled with everything else that has happened over the years, this has only served to strengthen the will of the people that if this project is to go ahead, it must be undergrounded. Here we are ten years down the road and much has happened and many changes have occurred in that period. Technology moves on. I recall that when this project was introduced, we were told it would be 30 times more expensive to underground than to overground it. Most people on all sides now agree that undergrounding would not cost much more than overgrounding. At the time, EirGrid told us that from an engineering perspective, it was not possible to underground the interconnector. By its own admission, a few years on, the company now says it is possible to underground it. We have seen examples of projects similar to this in Belgium and Germany that have been undergrounded.
It is ten years on and things have changed but the one thing that has not changed and is as strong today as at any time in the past is the will of the people to ensure this project does not go ahead. From meetings I have attended and people I have spoken to, I assure the Minister that as far as the people and landowners along the route are concerned, not one single pylon will ever see the light of day. That is the message I am getting loud and clear and it is the message I would like to give to the Minister.
I congratulate the action groups in Monaghan, Meath and Cavan for their continued work. I hail the resolve of the people who are as determined today as they have ever been. I ask the Minister to instruct EirGrid to withdraw from the tender process to see where this is going because we are in a legal limbo at the moment and God knows how long it will be before we are out of it. Question marks hang over the independent report that was promised. We seek the report's publication.