Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and local TD and Minister Charlie Flanagan met with a local community group in Ratheniska on Thursday afternoon to discuss the ongoing controversy over Eirgrid’s plans to build a substation in the area.
Eirgrid began development work on the site last summer – before they had planning permission to do so and work on has since halted.
Among the residents’ main concerns are the fact that the substation will be built directly above an aquifier which supplies water to 8,000 Laois homes, schools and businesses in an area stretching from Portlaoise to Graiguecullen on the Carlow border.
Minister Flanagan, who said last June at a public meeting in Ratheniska that “such is the seriousness of the breach of trust by Eirgrid in this matter, they should pack their equipment, leave the site and never come back” repeated those views again.
“I believe that relations between Eirgrid and the community are such as it is foolhardy for Eirgrid to continue,” he said on Thursday.
“I believe the damage they have done here in terms of their breach, their behaviour, their total disregard for local concerns is such that they are unwelcome and I think it would be very difficult for this project to go ahead in the absence of goodwill.”
Minister Naughten – who has direct responsibility for the issue – visited Ratheniska this week along with his cabinet colleague Minister Flanagan to hear the concerns of the Ratheniska-Timahoe-Spink (RTS) Action Group, who are now in their ninth year of campaigning on the issue.
“I’ve expressed directly to the chief executives of both companies (Eirgrid and ESB Networks) my annoyance at what has gone on here,” said Minister Naughten when speaking to media outside the meeting, which took place in the Park-Ratheniska GAA clubhouse.
“There needs to be proper community consultation in relation to any project and abidance by the planning laws in this country.
“The project is part of a number of infrastructural projects right across this country. We have the north-south interconnector, we’ve had the grid west project. We have the project here in relation to strengthening the network.
“This is an issue that is going to go on right across the country in terms of strengthening the network as demand grows for the use of electricity as we redevelop power stations and other renewable energy projects across the country and meet the needs of a growing economy and these are always going to be challenges.
“The important thing is there is proper community engagement and there is abidance by the laws of the land in relation to planning.
“I gave a commitment inside in the Dail when the issue was raised that I would visit the site and I’m meeting with the community here today.”
“I believe the community here has been treated very badly,” added Minister Flanagan.
“I don’t believe there was any adequate local consultation. I think Eirgrid have acted in a very high-handed manner and I’m pleased that we will have the opportunity to see what recourse there is that this project does not go ahead.”
Eirgrid say that the project is a crucial part of the national infrastucture, and has the capacity to cater for 17 hi-voltage power lines. It is being developed at a cost of €110 million and has received approval from An Bord Pleanala.
The local people who met with the ministers were: Matt McDonald, Liam Wall, Joe Quigley, John Lowry, Dave Fingleton, Fanda Cooney, Brian Ramsbottom, Colm Fingleton and Noel Graham.