Taoiseach Enda Kenny is being warned by his own ministers and TDs that the escalating pylons crisis poses a major threat to the Coalition’s local and European elections campaign. Fine Gael and Labour Party TDs have told Mr Kenny they are facing the biggest rural revolt since the rod licences controversy 25 years ago.
The pylons protest is also set to go to Europe, with Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins, who is based in Mr Kenny’s home county, planning to bring campaigners before a European Parliament committee.
Mr Kenny is facing a revolt in his own backyard of Mayo on several fronts over his support of the EirGrid transmission project. A prominent Fine Gael councillor in Mayo has indicated he will resign from the party and run as an independent anti-pylon candidate, while others are considering their positions.
In an indication of the concern within Fine Gael, Government whip Paul Kehoe, a key ally of Mr Kenny’s, warned pylons “will be the biggest political issue of 2014”.
Mr Kehoe also slammed EirGrid for a series of “disastrous consultations” that has left families in despair.
More than 200 community groups have been set up across the countryside on this issue with the latest being established in Co Kerry last week.
Tourism Minister Michael Ring also intervened to warn about “protecting our sensitive landscapes” when it comes to building the grid.
“Any impact on tourism must be taken into consideration by An Bord Pleanala and by EirGrid,” he said.
Another Fine Gael minister privately warned that “rural Ireland is up in arms”. “This is set to become the most lethal political war since the rod licence dispute,” he said.
Fine Gael TD John-Paul Phelan said every intervention by the Cabinet last week “only made things worse”.
“People are being driven wild,” he said.
Another senior Fine Gael source warned Mr Kenny should “back away” from the pylons and wind-farms. “He surely hasn’t forgotten how close he came to losing his seat over the rod licence dispute in 1989,” the source said.
Ahead of the European elections, Mr Higgins has slammed the Government’s handling of the issue and is to assist local anti-pylon groups to bring their case to the European Parliament.
Fine Gael Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin has come out against placing pylons in amenity areas, and has warned of the potential for Corrib gas-style protests.
The developments come just weeks after the 17 Fine Gael representatives on Mayo County Council supported a motion asking the Government to intervene to instruct EirGrid to put the 100km Grid West line underground.
The transmission line will link Moygownagh in Co Mayo with Flagford in Co Roscommon. A planning application for it will be lodged with An Bord Pleanala in 2015.
Mr Kenny has strongly supported the project, which aims to tap in to his home county’s potential for wind energy and improve its attractiveness to new businesses.
Fine Gael councillor Seamus Weir said he was on the verge of leaving the party after 15 years and running as an independent after an anti-pylon motion, which he tabled, got no response from Government.
His concerns are that the proposed route passes through a number of populated areas and that there has been no independent evaluation of health effects of pylons.
“I feel so strong about the issue, the possibility is I will run as an independent,” he said.
Some Fine Gael councillors who spoke to the Sunday Independent said privately that Mr Kenny’s comments in the past week, in which he suggested more young people would have to emigrate if the power lines did not go ahead, had caused a lot of upset on the doorsteps.
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