On 28 January, in response to EirGrid's recent public consultation process, I announced that I had appointed an Independent Panel of experts, to be chaired by Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, to decide terms of reference for comprehensive, route-specific studies of fully underground options for both Grid Link and Grid West. The Panel will be asked to ensure that the underground studies are complete and objective, and are comparable to similar studies of overhead options for the two projects. Studies of the overhead and underground options will then be published side-by-side, in objective and comparable terms, before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation on those two projects. The two studies will take account of environmental (including visual amenity) impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors. The Independent Panel will have power to commission its own work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies presented.
On 29 January, I confirmed that the matter of electro-magnetic fields (EMF) issue will not fall under the remit of the Expert Panel. In light of the fact that responsibility for this rests with the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, Minister Phil Hogan has agreed to engage expert assistance to review and report on international developments in the scientific literature on potential health effects of EMF emanating from transmission grid infrastructure. The study will serve as an update on a report, "Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields", which was produced by my Department in 2007.
The Expert Panel has not yet met but is scheduled to do so at an early date, and it will proceed to settle on terms of reference to oversee the integrity of the process now put in place.