Kerry County Council is to prepare a report on possible planning restrictions for future windfarm developments after councillors forced a vote on the matter at the monthly meeting of the council.
The meeting also saw further pressure placed on the Healy-Rae dynasty over the family plant hire firm’s links to windfarm construction projects.
Restrictions on wind farms – including a rule that would require any new turbines to be set back a distance of at least 10 times the turbine’s height from any homes – have long been mooted as the council prepares its next county Development Plan for the county.
However, all local authorities have been prevented from introducing any new rules on windfarms pending the release of revised wind energy planning guidelines by the State.
Though the guidelines – to be issued jointly by the Department of Planning, Community and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment – have been in the pipeline since 2013, there is still no firm date for their publication.
These delays have tied the hands of county councils as they attempt to prepare new local plans and on Monday a group of Kerry councillors said enough is enough.
At the meeting council management had proposed that the authority begin preparing new rules on planning for solar energy which aren’t subject to revised State guidelines and – once finalised – would allow the council to immediately proceed to wind energy regulations once the long awaited wind farm guidelines are, eventually, released.
However, a number of councillors said they had reached the end of their tether waiting for the windfarm guidelines and pressed management to proceed with preparations for the wind-energy aspect of the new county plan.
This proposal – which would be contrary to Government instructions to local authority management – was strongly opposed by management who pressed the councillors to withdraw their request.
The three Fianna Fáil councillors who moved motions on the issue – Niall Kelleher, John Joe Culloty and Jimmy Moloney – received backing from a number of other councillors including Independent Brendan Cronin, Michael Gleeson of the Kerry Independent Alliance and Sinn Féin’s Pa Daly.
A vote was subsequently called – which passed unanimously –and as a result management will proceed to prepare a preliminary report on the further regulation of wind farm developments in the county.
This will include an examination of the ‘10-times-height’ set back proposal and the potential county wide expansion of the existing rule in north Kerry precluding permission for any further wind turbines until at least 80 per cent of those already granted permission have been built.
As they advanced their motions – and their calls for a vote – councillors were highly critical of the Government’s delay in issuing the wind- energy guidelines.
“The legislators should be ashamed at how long this is taking. People’s lives are affected by this, it’s not good enough,” said Cllr Culloty.
“If they can’t do their job then we should go ahead and do ours,” he added.
Cllr Kelleher – who agreed that Department legislators were stopping the council doing its job – said the delays revealed the Government’s “absolute disregard” for rural communities.
“If the minister comes back and knocks us down so be it,” he said “I’d be delighted if he finally answered something on this issue.”
The debate also saw angry exchanges when the Healy-Rae family’s links to windfarm construction were raised.
The first barb came from Independent Councillor Brendan Cronin.
“People argue that windfarms are good for jobs and employment. They’re good for pant hire companies too, or so we’re told,” Cllr Cronin said, referring to Healy-Rae Plant Hire’s provision of services to the developers of some windfarms.
Cllr Maura Healy-Rae said her father, Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae, had raised the guideline delays in the Dáil and agreed that turbines should not be erected near homes.
She also made reference to a recent public meeting in Gneeveguilla where locals, who are opposed to a planned windfarm, accused Danny Healy-Rae of hypocrisy over the family’s links to wind farms.
“It put shivers up the spines of people there to listen to the residents’ concerns,” said Maura Healy-Rae.
Cllr Cronin then questioned whether Cllr Healy-Rae should be involved in the debate at all as, he felt, there might be conflict of interest.
This led to a furious reaction from her brother, and fellow councillor, Johnny Healy-Rae who said he is a director of Healy-Rae Plant Hire.
He said that as there wasn’t a vote taking place (at that point in proceedings Cllr Kelleher had not called for a vote on his motion) there was no conflict of interest and that both he and his sister were fully entitled to take part in the debate.
He also insisted that while Healy-Rae plant hire have provided services to wind farm developers neither the company or family have shares or beneficial interests in wind-farms.
During what were boisterous exchanges Johnny Healy-Rae also accused Cllr Cronin – a long time political opponent of the Healy-Raes – of having a fixation on the family’s business.
“You’re the biggest worrier here. All you do every day here is worry about what Healy-Rae Plant Hire are doing,” he loudly told Cllr Cronin.
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