Council pass divisive pylon compensation fund; Opponents say Community Gain Fund will ‘divide’ the county
Mayo County Council has passed a divisive community gain fund which aims to compensate areas affected by energy and environmental infrastructure such as pylons for the controversial Eirgrid project, and wind turbines.
A heated April monthly meeting of the council yesterday (Monday) heard lengthy and passionate debate on the matter with opponents of the fund saying it will set communities against each other.
In the end the fund, with some amendments, was passed 24-6 but there were strong objections from two councillors in particular, Cllr Gerry Murray (Sinn Féin) and Cllr Seamus Weir (Independent), both of whom said the passing of the fund would ‘divide’ communities across the county in half.
The passing of the fund sees the council seek a contribution from Eirgrid of €5,000 a kilometre annually for 400kV high voltage electricity lines and €10,000 per megawatt annually on wind turbines erected in the county. However it will be An Bord Pleánala who will have the final say on what the contribution should be.
The fund also seeks a community contribution of €1 per tonne of waste in any incinerators installed in Mayo and €2,500 annually for every telecommunications mast.
Launching a counter proposal that the matter be ‘suspended indefinitely’ as it will ‘cause conflict with communities and objectors’, Cllr Seamus Weir urged the council not to approve the fund.
“This council does not realise the magnitude of this. I’m begging ye to hold back yet and support communities. This community fund will divide communities and divide Mayo. It’s really treacherous,” said Cllr Weir, who left Fine Gael in January over the Eirgrid pylons issue.
Cllr Gerry Murray said it was not compensation that communities in his home-base of east Mayo wanted, but a new process.
“You cannot go into a community with a blueprint development in one hand and a cheque book in the other,” he said.
He said he had serious concerns over the Eirgrid issue, having met with them in Ballaghaderreen in February where he said he was assured that both Knock airport and the Aviation Association of Ireland had no issue with pylons in proximity to the airport, only for the AAI to say they only had preliminary communication with Eirgrid and Knock to say they have serious issues over aviation safety. He said Eirgrid’s official response after this was not the original ‘ringing endorsement’ but that they were ‘in discussions’ with Knock and the AAI.
He described the fund as ‘the most conceited and absurd piece of legislation to come before us’. The meeting in Kilmeena became very heated with Cllr Murray engaging in a shouting match with Cllr Michael Kilcoyne and Cllr Weir doing likewise with Cllr Gerry Coyle.
Cllr Kilcoyne said it ‘has to be dealt with’ on the day and Cllr Peter Flynn, who proposed the motion, said it would be ‘grossly irresponsible’ of the council not to decide on the matter.
Cllr Kilcoyne said this debate was not about the rights and wrongs of pylons, saying it was only deciding what the community gain fund would be if such infrastructure was approved by An Bord Pleánala.
Cllr Michael Holmes took up this point, saying that the council cannot control whether pylons get the go ahead or not but they can try to maximise the benefit to the communities, saying that passing the fund would mean it is ‘better to have some gain with the pain than no gain with the same pain’.
County Manager, Peter Hynes, said that advertisements in some of the local press that Mayo would generate 6,700 megawatts of wind energy was ‘scaremongering of the worst type’, that only a fraction of this could be ‘realistically generated’. After Cllr Weir questioned this and said it was in the council’s own development plan that they could generate this amount, Mr Hynes said ‘that suggestion is just ridiculous’ and also lashed out at a criticism by Cllr Weir that the council executive was trying to drive the fund through.
Mr Hynes said the figures in the fund were ‘a reasonable balance between competing interests’ of developers ‘who would rather pay nothing if they could’ and ‘community interests who would like to seek a fortune which we could all do with’.
The following councillors voted for the fund: Cllrs Cyril Burke, Michael Burke, Tom Connolly, Gerry Coyle, John Cribbin, Peter Flynn, Henry Kenny, Eugene Lavin, Eugene McCormack, Joe Mellett, Jarlath Munnelly, Patsy O’Brien, John O’Hara, Austin Francis O’Malley, John O’Malley and Eddie Staunton (Fine Gael); Cllr Rose Conway Walsh (Sinn Féin); Cllrs Richard Finn, Michael Holmes and Michael Kilcoyne (Independents); Cllrs Blackie Gavin, Al McDonnell, Micheál McNamara and Damien Ryan (all Fianna Fáil).
The following councillors voted against the fund: Cllrs Margaret Adams, Jimmy Maloney, Annie May Reape (all Fianna Fáil); Cllrs Gerry Ginty and Seamus Weir (Independents) and Cllr Gerry Murray (Sinn Féin). Cllr Frank Durcan (Independent) was absent.
Tributes were paid at the meeting to outgoing Cathoirleach Cllr John O’Malley, who hosted the meeting in his home parish. Report and pictures next week.
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