Rural groups across the country have embarked on a new fundraising drive to pay for a series of High Court challenges to controversial wind-farm and pylon projects, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Activists claim amounts of up to €50,000 are being raised by individual communities to mount up to a dozen new challenges before the end of the year.
The renewed rural revolt comes amid a growing belief among protesters that the Government and An Bord Pleanala are not defending the interests of small rural communities.
There are currently six groups challenging An Bord Pleanala decisions on various wind-farms projects in the courts.
However, one senior anti-wind farm activist said this was “just the tip of the iceberg”. He told the Sunday Independent: “There will be funds raised for a dozen challenges by the end of this year.”
Ongoing anger at the wind-farm and pylon plans was evident at the Ploughing Championships in Co Laois last week, where there ware flash-mob demonstrations at the Fine Gael and Labour stands.
Labour Senator John Whelan, who has campaigned against wind farms, said: “The angry exchanges are indicative of how tormented ordinary citizens are by this issue.”
Such is the scale of rural anger over the ongoing threat to the landscape posed by wind farms and pylons, community groups have not found it difficult to secure the funding to mount the legal challenges.
The Co Laois village of Cullenagh alone raised €40,000 in just one week to fund its own High Court challenge.
Henry Fingleton, from the anti-wind farm group, Wind Aware, told the Sunday Independent: “It was astonishing. Once we decided to go to the courts to protect Cullenagh, 20 people immediately came up with €1,000 each. Ordinary citizens do not have that money, but people do not want to see their communities being destroyed, they cannot take the risk of not challenging these decisions.”
However, Senator Whelan lamented the fact that hard- pressed rural householders are having to dig deep into their own pockets to take on the State.
He told the Sunday Independent: “Communities are being sucked dry to make barristers wealthy as they take on a State and state bodies that now appear to be the enemy. This is diverting resources away from villages that could be used to build playgrounds for children or GAA clubhouses.
“Community groups are being driven to the courts by frustration over the abject failure of the planning process and a total absence of confidence in the political process.”
Anti-wind farm and pylon groups are now actively planning to punish the Coalition by targeting government seats in the next general election.
After a recent meeting of 85 local action groups in Co Laois, a further gathering has been planned where the protesters will “design a political strategy to focus on TDs whose seats are vulnerable”.
Mr Fingleton added: “One of the key actions coming to the next election will be to put pressure on Fine Gael. Until they feel that their seats are under threat and they are going to lose votes through this, they are not going to act in our interest.”
Another anti-wind farm protester warned it would be a “major issue” in next month’s Roscommon-South Leitrim by-election.
Tensions among rural groups have been exacerbated by delays in introducing proposed new stricter planning guidelines for pylons and wind farms. Some activists have reported that there has been here has been “a headlong rush of developers to get their applications in before the new regime comes in”.
One protester told the Sunday Independent: “In recent months in Tipperary alone there have been 14 applications alone for wind farms; we will have turbines at every crossroads in the county before this is done.”
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