The hot-button issue of the proposed Grid West 400kV power line development has continued to evolve this week. At Monday’s Mayo County Council meeting, the elected members took the unusual step of adjourning the standing orders of the meeting to let one of the affected members of the community address the meeting in the middle of a debate.
John McHale from Knockmore made an impassioned plea to the members of the council to give him, his family, and other affected families assistance in their campaign to get the power lines laid undeground.
The meeting also saw county manager Peter Hynes cede to calls from the elected members that the council look to procure third party independent advice. But, he added, “If we can afford it.”
The meeting saw Fianna Fáil councillor Jimmy Maloney try to raise a similar idea earlier, but he was shot down in trying to raise the issue during the normal course of the agenda, on the grounds that he had not put forward the item as a notice of motion. Cllr Maloney had also tried to raise the idea of the affected groups getting funding for independent advice at a previous special meeting of the council.
Fine Gael councillor Seamus Weir had a motion calling on the Government to intervene and instruct Eirgrid to put the line underground, which was unanimously supported, but it was pointed out by county manager Peter Hynes that the motion was calling on the Government to change its own policy.
He also told the members that Eirgrid had told the members at the special council meeting the previous week that it was not possible for the line to go underground.
During his highly charged and emotional contribution to the meeting Mr McHale said that he knew nothing about the project until he saw a local newspaper on October 7. He said that the cables would only be 50 metres from his house, and if a line ever fell it would come straight through his roof. He went on to say, “I don’t want to be fried, I don’t want to die. I don’t care about the jobs it’ll bring to Westport, I just don’t want to die. Don’t believe Eirgrid and their professional lies.”
Cllr Michael Kilcoyne said that while he supports the local group’s concerns, it was important that they were not misled by councillors saying they would support and help them as the decision in relation to this project was not the council’s to make; it was made in by Government and An Bord Pleanála, a sentiment which was echoed by Fine Gael councillor Gerry Coyle.
New chair of Eirgrid appointed this week
Following that meeting, it was announced this week that John O’Connor had been appointed to the role of chairman or Eirgrid, having previously held the same position in An Bord Pleanála. Ballina based Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary told local radio following the news of this appointment that he could see a possible conflict of interest, as Eirgrid seeks approval for a number of projects directly from An Bord Pleanála including the Grid West project. Following the announcement of O’Connor as the new chairperson of the semi-State body, Minister for Communications and Mayo native Pat Rabbitte, in a speech to the Energy Institute in Dublin, said, “I want to see Eirgrid do everything it reasonably can to secure community acceptance. However the engagement between company and community must be reasonable and must be tempered by what constitutes the public interest. However, no Government can walk away from its responsibility to provide the country with a secure energy supply. Nor can any Government wantonly inflict unnecessary costs on energy consumers to allay concerns that are not well founded.”