A controversial sponsorship deal between Meath GAA and the company behind the planned construction of up to 46 wind turbines in North Leinster has divided the Royal County.
Element Power is offering to pay €375,000 over the next five years towards the €2m upgrade of the centre of excellence at Dunganny near Trim.
However, there is strident opposition to the turbines plan throughout the county, and the offer of five years of badly needed cash to fund Gaelic games has left tensions running high.
“It has been a very divisive issue, not just within GAA circles, but in the community in general; fathers and sons are at loggerheads, brothers have fallen out over it and neighbours are not speaking. It’s a terrible thing to see,” said Michael Newman of the North Meath Windfarm Information Group (NMWIG).
Mr Newman said the €75,000-a-year deal is dividing GAA clubs on a north-versus- south basis.
“Quite a number of clubs have rejected the idea that the county board should take this money,” Mr Newman said.
The clubs closest to the proposed wind turbines are in the north of the county.
“The presence of the turbines will not affect some clubs further down south in the county in, say, Trim or Enfield, but we are of the opinion that this development of 46 turbines is only part of their overall plan,” Mr Newman claimed.
He said that because there was an original plan which earmarked 250 turbines for Meath, opponents fear that this proposal is merely the tip of the iceberg.
“What we are worried about is that we will become divided – they’ll break down the original proposal into a series of smaller wind farms,” Mr Newman added.
“We are warning clubs that their area may not be in the firing line in relation to wind farm development now, but in the future they could very well find themselves in the same position as the north Meath clubs are in today.
“They are asking the north Meath clubs to carry all the pain and put up with the consequences of this development, so that has sparked a lot of division. It could easily cause a split in Meath GAA.”
Element Power says it plans to erect the 46 turbines, each up to 169 metres high, at three sites east of Kells in clusters of eight, 13 and 25.
It’s expected to cost in the region of €240m to develop, but could provide 120MW of green power – enough for more than 100,000 homes.
Funding of €3.5m would be provided to local projects over the lifetime of the wind farms, a spokesman said.
In addition to those monies, there will be grants of up to €5,000 per household within 1km of the turbines, which can be used to pay energy bills or retrofit properties.
Element Power said the offer to the GAA was in addition to that local funding. It is being offered with “no conditions attached”.
At a meeting at the beginning of July, the Meath County Board executive recommended that the organisation should accept the deal. However, a vote on the issue was postponed to allow delegates more time to become informed on the proposal and to seek a mandate from each of the 59 Meath clubs.
The vote on the deal will now take place at the Meath board’s next meeting, scheduled for the August 11.
Clubs have been told that the management committee of the county board supports the deal.
“We have put this out to the clubs – they decide, we only represent their views really,” Meath PRO Martin O’Halloran told the Sunday Independent.
“It is out there and a decision will be made. I certainly wouldn’t want to pre-empt what mandates the delegates will receive from their clubs.
“Meath GAA has no views one way or the other on wind energy, our views are on the promotion and the development of Gaelic Games. It’s a democratic organisation, so whichever way the vote goes we will be satisfied by that,” Mr O’Halloran said.
But he admitted that in the current economic environment a lot of cash was at stake.
“It’s an awful lot of money, it would take an awful lot of collecting,” he added.
“All sponsorship is very welcome. We are very grateful to anyone who offers sponsorship to us, but it is up to the clubs to decide whether they want that or not.”
The money being offered to the GAA by Element Power is part of a commitment to spend €3.5m on local projects and initiatives, which was included in the company’s Emlagh wind farm proposal.