A local community group in Laois have said they are prepared to blockade the site of a proposed EirGrid substation development – and have the support of other similar groups from around the country.
The Ratheniska-Timahoe-Spink (RTS) Action Group met with Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and his cabinet colleague Minister Charlie Flanagan where they outlined their concerns – and highlighted what they describe as the “systematic failure of Eirgrid to fulfil its legal and corporate obligations” in relation to the site at Coolnabacca.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the RTS group said that Minister Naughten had his “eyes opened and was astonished by the import, nature, scope, scale and seriousness of the information being placed before him, for the first time”.
And a spokesperson for the group said that the site is “going to be blockaded by locals” if it goes ahead as “it’s the only way this will end”.”The local landowners are committed to keeping them out.”
Among their chief concerns is that the substation – which will hold close to 500 tonnes of oil – is located above an aquifer which supplies water to 8,000 Laois homes, schools and businesses.
The group are now in their ninth year campaigning on this issue and said in their press release after the meeting that the evidence presented to Minister Naughten “was merely extracts taken from a large dossier of painstakingly researched evidence compiled by the local community over the past decade”.
This meeting arose from a promise made last June in the Dáil by Minister Naughten to visit the site of Eirgrid’s “unauthorised development” and the community who alerted the authorities to Eirgrid’s illegal building activities, who started the building process before planning permission had been granted.
“Our greatest concern is that the construction of Eirgrid’s unnecessary energy hub project will destroy and pollute the very necessary and only source of clean water for not just this community but for 8,000 Laois people.
“All of the evidence of how Eirgrid have conducted themselves up to now points to this eventuality, and we just can’t allow that to happen,” say the RTS Group.
“The political fallout from this semi-state operating with such a cavalier attitude to planning law, sustainable development, professional best practice, and corporate responsibility was that all three local TDs and all Laois County Councillors were unanimous in calling for Eirgrid to cease the development.”
The local group also say that Eirgrid have “refused over and over again” to engage with them and respond to serious concerns they have raised. “A lot of the work we have put into this has been trying to find out what they should be telling us,” added the spokesperson.
“It’s hugely destructive and draining on a personal level.”
There have been 35,000 submissions made on the issue and the group have also queried why the cost of the project has gone from €80m to €110m without any explanation.
“The power these companies have is extraordinary. And energy projects are viewed as positive – if you speak out against them you are accused of being backward.”
In addition to meeting the ministers on Thursday the group have also lodged a complaint with the UN – “and you don’t get into that process unless it is evidenced”.
In a statement, EirGrid have said that they are now complying with the conditions of the planning permission.
It said once the issue came to light in Laois it ceased all work and when EirGrid and ESB networks have discharged all planning conditions they will once again begin to construct the project.
The overall timescale for the delivery of the new line between Laois and Kilkenny remains unchanged at the end of 2020.
“I believe that relations between Eirgrid and the community are such as it is foolhardy for Eirgrid to continue,” said Minister Flanagan 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.”
“The important thing is there is proper community engagement and there is abidance by the laws of the land in relation to planning,” said Minister Naughten.