Councillor Seamus Weir will not be reversing his decision not to run for Fine Gael in this May’s Local Elections, even with the announcement this week by the Minister for Environment, Pat Rabbitte, of a commission headed up by retired judge Catherine McGuinness to investigate the potential of undergrounding the Grid West Project.
Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser this week, Cllr Weir was adamant that this announcement was not going to make him change his mind. “No, no, no, not at all,” he responded when asked. Weir continued: “Part of me welcomes this announcement, of course it does. But also another part of me thinks this could be a bit of an election ploy. But I suppose we’ll have to take it at face value.”
The expert panel announced by Minister Rabbitte will be headed by retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness along with research professor John Fitzgerald from the ERSI, Professor Keith Bell from the University of Strathclyde, Dr Karen Foley, head of the School of Landscape Architecture in UCD, and economist Colm McCarthy.
Following the announcement, Eirgrid will have to undertake two studies, as determined by the panel which will take into account all environmental impacts, including visual amenities, technical efficiency, and cost factors. The panel will also be able to commission its own work if there are any perceived defences in the studies presented by Eirgrid. It was also announced that Eirgrid would have to come up with a range of community gain measures for overhead lines to help address the visual impact and property devaluation. The company announced on Wednesday that it would be contributing €40,000 per kilometre of overhead line.
The company also said this week that it would consider paying the residential market value of homes to property owners whose residences lie within 50 metres of pylons if they go ahead, but it would be on a exceptional basis. Eirgrid had already announced a sliding scale of once off payments for homeowners who would live between 50m and 200m of the pylons, with a payment of €30,000 for houses within 50m down to €5,000 to houses within 2,000m on a sliding scale.
Government TDs welcome the news
The announcement of the commission was welcomed by Government TDs from Mayo with Deputy Michelle Mulherin saying: “I am very pleased that retired Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness will head up the independent commission which will be manned by a number of experts in the field. This is a highly sensitive issue which has garnered considerable interest around the country. Concerns have been expressed by individuals and groups in affected communities about the inadequacy of the public consultation by Eirgrid, which has only been conducted on the basis of Eirgrid's preferred solution of overhead power lines and pylons for the delivery of electricity transmission infrastructure. In other words, all the options have not been set out as to how this infrastructure might be delivered. The independent commission will allow a step back from this highly charged situation and provide a sombre re-examination, allowing technical, scientific, and economic facts to be established and to be distinguished from unfounded fears where appropriate.”
Deputy John O’Mahony said: “I’ve been calling for this development for some time now and I’m delighted that it is going to happen. It makes sense insofar as it allows all aspects of the project to be thoroughly aired by all sides. There is a lot of genuine concern by people who have expressed opposition to the pylons and it is only right and proper that those concerns will be addressed by the commission. It allows for some time and space now and that has to be a good thing.”
Calleary calls news a political stunt
North Mayo based Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary dismissed the new ‘review’ of Eirgrid’s pylon plans in Mayo and Roscommon as “nothing more than a political stunt”. Deputy Calleary said the study, announced by the Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte yesterday, is not fully independent, does not include a health expert and does not go far enough. “All this does is push the issue down the road a few months for political gain. This is more about getting the Government parties through the local elections than listening to the serious concerns of people across Mayo and Roscommon,” said Deputy Calleary. He went on to say: “Over the past number of months, anger has been mounting about plans to construct 400kV power lines in our local communities without proper consultation and proper consideration of viable alternatives. Fine Gael and Labour are worried about how this will impact their chances in May’s local elections, and I believe this new review is a last ditch effort to save their own skin.
Calleary also questioned the make up of the panel, asking: “Why is there no health expert on the panel? This is particularly worrying considering that the Health Minister himself raised concerns about the health implications of high voltage power lines? It means that the genuine health concerns raised by many people about the Gridwest plans cannot be adequately considered.”