The future of Apple’s planned €850m data centre in Athenry remains in doubt after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted the tech giant’s boss, Tim Cook, failed to give him “a definite commitment” the development will go ahead.
Speaking in San Francisco on the final day of a three-day trade mission to the US, Mr Varadkar confirmed that while he “impressed” on Mr Cook the importance of the site to Ireland, Apple has yet to decide if it still wants to base the site in this country.
Earlier this week, the High Court effectively cleared the way for the multimillion-euro development by rejecting objections to the planned site, which had delayed building for two years.
Despite the legal objections being rejected, Apple has made it clear it has other options and may instead further extend an existing data centre in Denmark.
The situation was underlined by Mr Cook on Thursday, when he told Mr Varadkar that Apple is “considering” what to do next.
It has led to fresh concern over whether the development will still take place.
Despite seeking to calm fears last night, Mr Varadkar told reporters in San Francisco that he has not been given a “definite commitment” by Apple that the Athenry site will go ahead.
“We didn’t get a start date or a definite commitment, or anything like that,” said Mr Varadkar.
“Certainly from our point of view we really impressed on them [Apple] very strongly how much the Government is behind this project, and we will do anything that is within our power to facilitate it,” he said.
Speaking about the same issue in Dublin, Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister Frances Fitzgerald said while she believes Mr Varadkar and Mr Cook had “a very good meeting, a very open discussion”, it is “clear” issues remain over the data centre site.
Noting the frustration from Apple over the two years of delays, Ms Fitzgerald said that “it’s been a very difficult situation for them in terms of the timeframe” and that the Government is continuing to examine ways to speed up planning permission for key developments.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty mirrored the view at a separate event, repeating the fact that new exemption rules could be introduced to fast-track key developments if they are believed to be in Ireland’s “strategic” interests.
“I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons about strategic investment in this country, but I would be very hopeful Apple would consider to go ahead with the facility in Athenry,” she said.
“In fairness, if what I’m reading is that he’s not ruling it out, I think what they said is that it doesn’t form part of their immediate plans, then we need to get it back on track because it’s something that’s very important to us as a country.”
While there is growing political concern over Apple’s failure to specifically commit to continuing to move forward with the Apple site, a number of Cabinet members have privately said they believe the multi-national will ultimately develop the location.
They said Apple is likely to be simply making a point that they could relocate to the Danish data centre, and that while the Athenry site has been delayed, it is still likely to be developed.
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