Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has moved to defuse a rebellion within his party over the toxic political issues of pylons and wind farms.
Countrywide objections to EirGrid’s controversial plans to upgrade the electricity network by erecting giant 45-metre pylons across huge areas of the county has caused deep divisions within the junior government party. Labour TDs are also concerned about new draft planning guidelines by Junior Environment Minister Jan O’Sullivan on wind farms.
Last week at a turbulent party meeting, TDs and senators objected en masse to proposed guidelines by Ms O’Sullivan which despite increasing the height of wind turbines from 50 metres to 185-199 metres, the setback distance from houses remained at just 500 metres. Following heated exchanges, Mr Gilmore told the meeting: “The message has been heard. The concerns will be addressed.”
Mr Gilmore said he would talk to Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte and Jan O’Sullivan to see how the problems could be resolved.
In what is regarded as implicit criticism of Mr Rabbitte, the Tanaiste also told the meeting: “Politically you have to be seen to bring people with you and that has not happened at the moment.”
After the meeting, TDs who spoke to the Sunday Independent said Mr Gilmore had made it very clear he would be taking a hands-on approach and treating both issues, wind farms and pylons, as a personal priority.
Significantly, among those who voiced their concern were long-time loyalists of Mr Gilmore, including Emmet Stagg, Junior Minister Alan Kelly, parliamentary party chairman Jack Wall, Anne Phelan, Arthur Spring, Anne Ferris and Willie Penrose.
Party whip Mr Stagg told the meeting that while pylons were not an issue in his constituency, he was “sick and tired of Labour taking the hit for a policy defined by Fianna Fail and the Greens”.
He warned that the situation “required a political intervention and a policy change where Labour would put its own stamp on the issue”.
Former Labour minister Willie Penrose told the Sunday Independent: “The Tanaiste made it clear he was now personally involved in the issue.”
He added: “People have been nailed to the cross by taxes, water charges, cut-backs. All they have now is the peaceful enjoyment of their homes; surely that can’t be taken away.”
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