Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions (9)

Brendan Smith


9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the stage the proposed North-South interconnector is at; the status of the planning process in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28552/19]

View answer

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I have previously outlined to this Minister and his predecessors the absolute opposition of communities in Meath, Monaghan and Cavan to the proposed North-South interconnector. Those views are shared in the affected areas north of the Border too. EirGrid has not listened to the views of those communities and neither has the Department, nor the Minister's predecessors. A clear message from the communities North and South is that if this project is to proceed it needs to have buy-in from communities and local landowners. If the project is to go ahead those transmission cables need to be put underground as happens with other major projects throughout Europe. The Minister is aware that some overground transmission cables in other parts of Europe are being put underground.

The North-South interconnector is critical to improving the efficient operation of the single electricity market and increasing security of electricity supply across the island of Ireland. A resilient and well-connected energy infrastructure is vital for Ireland's economic well-being and the ability to respond to the future needs of energy consumers. In December 2016 An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the project in Ireland, while in January 2018 full planning permission was granted for the section of the line that lies in Northern Ireland. Both of the planning decisions have been subject to legal proceedings in each jurisdiction. In Ireland a Supreme Court appeal of the planning permission was dismissed on 19 February 2019.

In Northern Ireland, on 8 February 2019, the Department for Infrastructure asked the High Court to quash the planning permission given so the planning application can be re-determined under new legislation introduced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in November 2018. The planning process in Northern Ireland is a matter for the authorities there.

There are currently a number of ongoing procurements in relation to the project being undertaken and managed by ESB Networks. In June 2019 ESB Networks awarded a framework contract for the design, test and supply of steelwork for the project. However, under this framework there will be no supply of materials until the planning process in Northern Ireland is complete.

The earliest possible date for construction to commence is early 2020.

Does the Minister of State have any idea when a determination will be finalised in respect of the planning project in Northern Ireland? How can a procurement process proceed even in its initial stages if there is not planning permission?

I recently mentioned to the Minister of State's colleague that we were told some years ago that the lights would go out in Northern Ireland if the North-South interconnector did not proceed within a very short timeframe. The most recent electricity generation reports published by EirGrid and the System Operator for Northern Ireland, SONI, indicate clearly that there is a surplus of energy supply in Northern Ireland.

None of us is against the all-Ireland electricity market. We favour all-Ireland economic development. The Minister of State, however, should have been made aware by departmental officials and EirGrid, if it is reporting correctly to the Department, that communities in Meath, Monaghan, Cavan, Armagh and Tyrone are vehemently opposed to the project as proposed. Communities deserve to be listened to. Most public representatives in Meath, Monaghan and Cavan have attended numerous public meetings where hundreds of people turned up to outline their concerns and their total opposition to the EirGrid proposals as constituted.

There is a very definite need for this North-South interconnector. It is critical to ensuring that we have a safe, secure supply of electricity throughout the island of Ireland. It also supports the core objectives of European and national energy policy: sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness. The benefits associated with the project will include an increase in competitiveness by reducing costs for energy consumers through more efficient operation of the electricity system on the island of Ireland. A key barrier to the efficient operation of the single electricity market since 2007 has been the limited interconnection between the electricity systems in Ireland and Northern Ireland with only one high-capacity interconnector between the two electricity systems. They cannot operate as a single system. This limits the benefits that can be derived from the single electricity market. This project will ensure that the efficiencies in the single electricity market are fully realised to the benefit of the energy consumers.

Security of supply will be increased. The planning process has been dealt with. It has gone for judicial review and that is the process by which these projects are brought forward.

That planning permission was granted by a public servant in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, there is no political system in place there due to the intransigence of the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and Sinn Féin.

This is not a matter of opposition to the development of the all-Ireland electricity market, far from it. The landowners and people living in those communities, who are very concerned about the proposal, are not opposed to the development of the North-South interconnector. They want it developed, if it is necessary, on the basis that the transmission cables will be put underground and not overground where they will be a blight on the countryside and hinder development in the years to come for those communities, in a large part of the country, North and South.

EirGrid has continued to refuse to listen to the concerns of public representatives in those counties and to communities. People are not opposed to a North-South interconnector, provided those transmission cables are put underground, as is happening in major projects in many other countries in Europe. It is disingenuous for any Minister or any statutory agency to try to suggest that people opposed to the North-South interconnector proposal are opposed to the North-South electricity market. We welcome all-Ireland economic developments.

Neither I, nor the Minister, Deputy Bruton, would ever say anything like that and I do not think anybody has said it. The important point is that there has been a planning process. There has been a review of putting it underground and my understanding is that it would cost three times more than it costs now.

That is not true.

We are trying to create an interconnector that will provide competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability. I appreciate that people will have concerns about it but it has been through the planning process judicial review. That is an independent process. It is not carried out by Ministers or the Department. That is what the Planning Authority and An Bord Pleanála are there to do.

There is zero acceptance of these proposals.

The Deputy should resume his seat.

There is no planning permission to enter 584 holdings.

The Deputy is breaking the rules. I am surprised at him.

I am not. I am just stating the facts.

I am very surprised at Deputy Smith. I call Deputy Michael Moynihan.