Fears are growing that the proposed Apple data centre, and the more than 400 jobs it could create for County Galway, could be lost, as it remains stalled over legal and planning issues, while Apple are progressing two such centres in Denmark.
Fears for the future of the Galway centre, already acute following Apple's expressing its own concerns to State agencies over the delays, rose further this week when the US technology firm announced it is to spend DKK6 billion (€800 million ) on a second new data centre in Denmark.
"We must now be concerned for the future of the data centre at Athenry considering the advanced situation in Denmark," said Maurice O’Gorman, president of the Galway Chamber of Commerce. "This concern includes the loss of construction jobs, full time jobs, support jobs, ancillary industries, and the potential for future data centres opting to locate here."
Noel Doherty, spokesperson for Athenry For Apple group said: "Refusal to grant permission, or Apple pulling out ,would set Athenry and the surrounding area back 10 years, and send out a very bad message to other companies looking to locate in County Galway."
In February 2015, Apple announced plans to spend €1.7 billion on two new data centres - one in Ireland, and another in Denmark. Last year, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the development of the Apple data centre in Athenry, which is expected to create 300 jobs over multiple phases of construction, with 150 technical staff to be employed on an ongoing basis in the operation of the centre.
However, since this time last year a judicial review on environmental grounds has been requested by some local residents and a landowner. A hearing scheduled for June was delayed due to a lack of judges. The case is now expected to be heard in court on July 30.
While the Athenry plant is delayed, its sister Danish plant is progressing and the company this week announced plans to construct a second such centre in the Nordic kingdom.
Although there have been some objections from Athenry residents to the proposed data centre, Athenry For Apple says the vast majority of people in the town, and the surrounding area, are supportive of Apple locating there. Mr Doherty cites as evidence the march in support of the centre late last year, which drew a crowd of an estimated 2,000 people; the cross party support for the group, which includes Sinn Féin's Cllr Gabe Cronnelly and Fine Gael's Cllr Peter Feeney, among others; and the group's Facebook page, which has more than 2,800 members.
"We are very concerned people will think we do not want the centre, but nothing could be further from the truth, we need the centre in Athenry," he said. "The centre is vital for Athenry in terms of both employment in the region and the regional economy, and Apple locating in Atenry could see the county become a technology hub for the western region.
"Apple locating here is the key to development of the town over the next 10 to 15 years and would encourage greater infrastructural and amenity development in order to facilitate the new centre, and it would encourage other multi-national companies to consider locating here. Turning down Apple will make other companies think twice about looking to County Galway and send out a very bad message."
These views were echoed by Galway Chamber, which said in a statement: "The decision by Apple to choose Galway and Athenry for this facility is a clear indication to others that this is a good place to do business, strengthening our ICT cluster and boding very well for the future."