I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 to 158, inclusive, together.
I very much regret that Apple will not be proceeding with its plans to construct a data centre in Athenry, especially as the project would have been a source of significant investment and job creation for Galway and the West of Ireland.
As with all of its clients, the IDA works with Apple to support job creation and investment in Ireland. Given the size of the investment involved, and the subsequent issues encountered by the company throughout the planning process, IDA Ireland was in regular contact with its management throughout this time. The Agency, however, had no role in the independent planning process and court challenges in respect of it.
I want to emphasise that the Government, together with IDA Ireland, did everything it could to support this investment. This included high-level engagement with the company, both at home and abroad. The Taoiseach, for example, met with the firm’s senior management in the USA in November 2017, where he made it clear that the project had the support of our Government and the local community in Athenry.
Ultimately, in spite of these efforts, Apple has taken a commercial decision not to proceed, making it clear that the delays that beset this project caused them to reconsider their plans. As I have made clear, these delays have underlined our need to make the State’s planning and legal processes more efficient. The Government has therefore already been working, over the last number of months, to make improvements to those processes. This will ensure that we are better placed to take advantage of future investment opportunities, whether from data centre providers or other sectors.
The Government has, for example, published legislative proposals to designate data centres as "strategic infrastructure" for planning purposes. This will ensure that future data centre-related planning applications can move more swiftly through the planning process. I am hopeful that these legislative changes can be enacted by the end of the current Dáil session.
The Government also agreed, in October 2017, to the implementation of a strengthened policy framework to support the continued development of data centres. This framework includes a number of actions which, once fully implemented, will help Ireland attract and sustain such investments in the future.
Part of this work is the development of a National Policy Statement on the role of data centres in Ireland’s overall enterprise strategy. This will set out their potential to Ireland’s economic development, especially in regional locations, whilst taking account of wider challenges in energy and renewable energy policy. The importance of data centres to Ireland is recognised as well in Project Ireland 2040, which makes clear that the promotion of Ireland as a sustainable international destination for information and communications technology infrastructure is a key national objective.
The IDA, meanwhile, is already working hard to win new data centre investments for Ireland. Last year the Agency appointed Jacobs Engineering, supported by AOS Planning, to identify potential strategic land banks in Ireland that would be particularly suitable for the development of data centres. Evaluation of sites that are compatible with the complex requirements of data centre investments is well advanced. As this study is for internal IDA Ireland purposes it is not intended for publication.
It is the case as well, despite the disappointing decision made by Apple, that Ireland is still a highly attractive destination for data centre projects. There are nearly 30 major data centres located in Ireland that are operated by some of the world’s leading technology companies and I am confident that this number will increase in the future. Ireland’s strengths for this type of investment, including our climate, energy supply and business environment, remain well-known to other potential investors.