It was a colourful and, at times, animated scene in Kingscourt last Thursday as pylon protestors waved their placards, one of which implored ‘bury the cables – not the people’.
Scores of members from the North East Pylon Pressure Committee (NEPPC) were in town to tell the Eirgrid liaison team that that they will never be allowed to erect pylons on their lands. Some 310 pylons are to be erected in Cavan and Meath alone as part of the North South Interconnector Project, which was permitted by An Bord Pleanála and upheld by the High Court recently.
One man - with determination written all over his face - told The Anglo-Celt he was prepared to go to Mountjoy over this issue.
Others colourfully suggested that the ‘Shell to Sea’ battle would be like a “walk in the park” compared to the opposition that will be mounted to pylons across counties Meath, Cavan, Monaghan and Tyrone.
Eirgrid contends that the North South Interconnector is the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today and will deliver benefits to domestic and commercial consumers across the country.
Members of the Eirgrid team were in Kingscourt last week in their mobile unit, with a view to answering questions and listen to concerns.
While they anticipated some opposition to their presence in the area, they were met with an onslaught of - ‘energised people power’ in the form of fired up NEPPC members.
Eirgrid informed The Anglo-Celt that they will in the coming months hand over the project to ESB Networks, who will construct the interconnector.
“In the meantime, we will be on the ground engaging with landowners and the community, ensuring they remain up-to-date on progress and timelines,” states the company.
Pat Farrelly from NEPPC pointed out that there were people present from Nobber, Kilmainhamwood, Muff, Corlea, Magheracloone, Shercock and Corduff, to protest at the line going over ground.
They insist that they are not anti-progress and recognise the need for the interconnector but they want the lines put under ground. “The day of putting lines up on poles and pylons are gone. They are taking down pylons in Sweden, France and Germany and burying the cables underground. There is too much greed around here and we won’t let this overground project go ahead,” sat Mr Farrelly.
John Boylan, EirGrid Agricultural Liaison Officer told The Anglo-Celt: “We will be taking all the points made here today back and convey it all to EirGrid.” He added: “People have real fears and people need to air those fears. We will convey all of these fears and worries that people have.”
When asked by the Celt if the team anticipated such a vehement protest, Mr Boylan replied: “I would not be totally surprised because I would be aware of the level of frustration that the people feel – definitely, people should air their views.”
Members of NEPPC stood beside the Eirgrid Mobile Unit, where the Liaison team were based for hours on last Thursday and told the team that they will never allow pylons to be erected on their lands and would never allow the lines to go over ground. Together with a number of county councillors, including Cllrs Clifford Kelly (FF) and Paddy McDonald (SF), they were adamant that the line must be buried, as is the case in countries such as Germany.
‘We do not want you on the land’
During one verbal interaction, Mr Boylan and his team listened as a NEPPC member declared: “This project will never go ahead because you won’t be able to build it – because we do not want you on the land.”
Mr Boylan explained that the ESB will be building the project and they “have a statutory right to drive on to erect structures”.
When the protestors put it to him that he was “wrong”, he replied: “That is my information anyway.”
There appears to be some lack of clarity surrounding whether the ESB Networks require planning from the county councils to go onto land to erect such pylons for a new project.
NEPPC said that the ESB can go onto land to maintain existing structures, but not for a new build.
Prepared to go to jail
When members of NEPPC were asked by The Anglo-Celt how they proposed to stop ESB workers going onto lands, they immediately mentioned ‘Shell to Sea’, and said that they will be prepared to prostrate themselves in front of ESB machinery, get arrested and go to Jail.
Mr Farrelly told the Eirgrid team in no uncertain terms: “This overhead line project will never go ahead. You can see the opposition that is here today. The only way it will go ahead is under ground – take that message back to your CEOs.”
He further warned: “The ESB has worked on the good will of the people and the farmers for the last 50 years. A stop will come to that goodwill, if they think they are going to force their way.”
Mr Farrelly’s demanding a meeting with the top brass in Eirgrid on the issue, rather than the liaison officers on the ground.
Cllr Kelly said it was his belief that planning must be sought from Cavan County Council regarding entrance to the various properties.
He added that the Government of the day can order that the cabling be put under the ground.
Government must take heed
“We have four Fine Gael Ministers in the Meath, Cavan and Monaghan area – they are in Government at the table – the four of them are doing nothing on this issue. Minister Regina Doherty has mentioned Civil Disobedience – she needs to speak out now – they are in a wonderful position,” suggested Mr Farrelly.
“The other politicians from Sinn Fein and Fianna Fáil and Independents have come on board,” he added.
Cllr Paddy McDonald (SF) said there is nothing to stop EirGrid from putting lines down underground along the roads in this country. “When the N3 was being constructed down to Maghera, they could have brought the line down that way and across into Monaghan and onto Tyrone along roads. The roadways are there and people won’t object to the lines going underground along roadways,” he suggested.
It was pointed out that the gas went underground in recent years and came from the Louth area into Mullagh and on to Cavan. “It they put this underground along the road network, the goodwill of the people will be there for them,” said Cllr Kelly.
Mr Farrelly pointed out that there is a power line underground at present from Rush to Woodlands, a total of 40 kilometers. “It was done peacefully, all along the roads.”
Kevin Smith from Muff, who was carrying a poster declaring ‘Undergrounding works – bury the cables – not the people’, told The Anglo-Celt that they found a very hard battle 20 years ago to save their heritage in the Lough an Leagh area from mast projects.
“The power is for the general good of the country. We are not against the power. We need the infrastructure – I think it is lacking badly – but go and do the thing right and put it underground,” said Mr Smith.
Aine Gogarty, a parent from Muff, told The Anglo-Celt that if these Pylons go ahead, the children in the Muff school will be sitting underneath them eight hours a day.
“It is not acceptable. The research is not there to say they are completely safe. Most of the people trying to put them up will not have to live under them and look at them all day,” she said.
Aine feels that the will of the people is not being heeded. “It has been put under ground in other areas of the country – why can’t they do it here?” she asked. Her message is clear: “They [the pylons] will never go ahead over ground – it won’t happen.”
EirGrid stance on undergrounding
“All sides acknowledge that it is impossible to put the North South Interconnector underground using standard Alternating Current (AC) technology. Instead we would have to use Direct Current (DC).
“The North South Interconnector will be of the highest strategic importance for the island of Ireland and have a power carrying capacity equivalent to 23% of the island’s peak demand.
“Our analysis found that embedding a DC circuit into the all-island network would represent a high-risk solution.
“If it failed it would have the potential to bring down the entire all-island network resulting in a widespread blackout. This is a risk that we simply cannot afford to take.
Then there is the cost. A DC underground cable option would cost many hundreds of millions of euro more than the proposed 400kV overhead line. A study commissioned by EirGrid found that it would cost €670 million more than the proposed overhead line.
“The Government’s own review estimated that an underground DC option would be three times more expensive than an overhead line.”