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Taoiseach faces anti-pylon fury on home turf

Eirgrid is now coming under pressure to publish an expert report on how it dealt with widespread public concern over plans to roll out a €500m pylon project across 10 counties.

And the pylons issue could mean trouble for Enda Kenny in his home base of Mayo at the next general election as groups vehemently opposed to pylons consider the prospect of running a Dail candidate against the Taoiseach.

The State agency has been heavily criticised by communities and politicians for “railroading” through contentious plans to erect high voltage power lines to upgrade Ireland’s electricity network.

They were also accused of a “heavy handed and cavalier” attitude toward local communities.

As a result of the complaints, the then Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, last January, ordered EirGrid to conduct a review of its interaction with the public.

The Sunday Independent understands that an external report on EirGrid’s public consultation processes was completed over the summer, but the State agency still hasn’t published it.

Anti-pylon groups have accused EirGrid of ploughing ahead with plans for the North-South Interconnector even though it still faces questions over its engagement with local communities.

The project, bitterly opposed by communities, involves erecting pylons across Meath, Cavan and Monaghan to link the national electricity grid with that of Northern Ireland.

EirGrid is in the process of re-submitting its planning application for the project to An Bord Pleanala.

A spokesman for North East Pylon Pressure (NEPP) accused EirGrid of going ahead “regardless of public concerns and regardless of direct feedback from public consultation reviews.”

“EirGrid continues to treat affected communities with disdain,” the spokesman said.

Criticism of EirGrid’s public consultation process came to a climax in January, when Mr Rabbitte finally acknowledged “significant public concerns” over the agency’s engagement with the public.

Mr Rabbitte instructed EirGrid chairman John O’Connor to improve “community engagement processes and procedures”.

EirGrid hired the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) in March to review the “strengths and weaknesses”, “gaps” and potential for improvement in its public consultation processes.

The “overall review” was expected to be finished by June.

Mr Rabbitte also appointed an independent expert to consider “undergrounding” options for pylon projects in the West (Grid West) and the South (Grid Link).

The North South interconnector was excluded because the underground option had already been examined for that project.

A spokesperson for EirGrid said the review will be finalised in the coming weeks and will then be published, including the recommendations from CLArb.

“The purpose of our review is to learn from our experiences and [the] public feedback to date.

“We also wanted to understand the wider European and International experiences of consultation and engagement in infrastructure development,” the spokesman said.

The anti-pylon movement is expected to return to the political agenda in advance of the general election, when the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, could have to fight off an Independent anti-pylon and wind-farm protest candidate.

The Sunday Independent has learned that anti-wind farm and pylon protesters in Mayo are planning to build on the success of the turf-cutting Independent Michael Fitzmaurice in the neighbouring constituency of Roscommon South-Leitrim.

In an indication of ongoing public anger in Mayo over wind farms and pylons, more than 100 protesters demonstrated outside the Taoiseach’s office last week over fears that Mayo will be turned into a “giant industrial wind farm and pylon zone”.

The anti-pylon protesters are now planning to enter discussions with strong rural Independents such as the newly elected TD Michael Fitzmaurice to form a political alliance.

Fine Gael is already certain to lose one seat in Mayo, due to constituency changes, but a strong Independent candidate means the Taoiseach could experience the major embarrassment of losing two seats in his own constituency.

The chairman of the Moy Valley Protection Group, Eddie Farrell, told the Sunday Independent: “It’s up to Enda Kenny to decide whether we will run a candidate or not.”

He added: “If he sorts out the wind farms there will be no candidate, if he doesn’t then there most assuredly will be.”

“Everyone saw the success of Michael Fitzmaurice in Roscommon. Mayo is not so different.

“There is a real protest vote particularly when you have a Taoiseach who has so singularly failed to deliver for the constituency,” he claimed.