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White accused of pandering to ‘Dublin 4 set’

Labour ministers Alex White and Alan Kelly have clashed over the future of wind turbines in rural areas, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Mr Kelly’s Department of the Environment drafted a set of rules aimed at alleviating the concerns of rural communities who fear they will become “pin cushions” for high-powered wind turbines.

However, sources in the department accused Mr White, the Energy Minister, of “dragging his heels” on the new policy due to his fear it will negatively affect climate change commitments.

Mr White has also been accused of “pandering” to South Dublin voters for his own political gain and blocking the introduction of the new guidelines.

In a scathing attack on his own party colleague, Labour senator John Whelan said Mr White was willing to “sacrifice rural Ireland” in return for shoring up Green Party votes in his constituency.

Mr Whelan claimed the Labour minister has stopped the much-anticipated guidelines being signed off by Cabinet to “assuage the climate change sensibilities of the south county Dublin set and the D4 green vote”.

“Just like his predecessors, it is clear that the wind energy lobby has the arm, leg and ear of the minister who is willing to sacrifice rural Ireland and desecrate the landscape with thousands of industrial turbines to assuage the climate change sensibilities of the south county Dublin set and the D4 green vote,” Mr Whelan told the Sunday Independent.

However, Mr White’s spokesman said there is “no question” of the minister trying to block the guidelines but said there is room for change in the policy to ensure Government commitments on renewable energy are met.

“The guidelines can’t impede on the renewable energy policy because then we fall down on our global warming commitments and we could potentially incur very large fines,” he said

He added: “There is a need for everybody to rise above constituency politics on this issue whether you are for or against wind energy, because it’s a far bigger issues”.

The comment come as anti-wind turbine protesters plan to descend on the Ploughing Championship this week to demonstrate outside the Labour Party’s tent when Tanaiste Joan Burton visits the event.

The Government promised to introduce new planning rules for the growing wind farm sectors after, at times heated, protests from rural communities who fear the countryside will become a “pin cushion” for high-powered wind turbines.

However, despite months of promises, the Coalition has yet to introduce new regulations which protesters hope will increase the ‘set back’ distance between wind turbines and homes.

Protesters insist companies should be prohibited from building massive wind turbines – some far higher than the Spire on O’Connell Street in Dublin – anywhere near homes.

Current rules allow companies build turbines up to 160m in height within 500m of private dwellings.

The Government’s new policy was drafted by Minister Kelly after months of consultation with community groups and politicians.

However, a Department of the Environment source said Mr White, whose department is responsible for the State’s energy policy, has sought to delay its publication due to concerns over the impact they will have on climate change commitments.

Speaking at an energy conference on Friday, Mr White said global warming is the “biggest single issue facing humanity today”.

He said the transition to greener forms of energy requires “human goodwill, effort and ingenuity”.

Mr Whelan said after months of “pussy footing and promises”, the wind energy lobby had prevailed and blocked the introduction of new guidelines.