Pressure is growing on Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte to compromise on the electricity pylons issue after fears were expressed that dozens of Labour council seats in next May’s local election could be lost if the overland pylons go ahead.
Mr Rabbitte told a packed private meeting in Killarney that he would do “everything in his power” to avoid damaging the prospects of Labour candidates in the elections.
There was standing room only at the showdown, which was attended by more than 100 mostly councillors with some TDs and senators present.
While the debate was “passionate” those in attendance said progress had been made and noted Mr Rabbitte was in “listening mode”.
The minister softened his position when he told those present that some of the proposed routes for the pylons through scenic spots of the country would not be acceptable.
“I think the minister is finally listening to concerns on the public health issues, property values, the visual amenity and the impact on tourism,” said Labour senator John Whelan who had been highly critical of the minister in the past saying he had lost confidence in him.
He said if Eirgrid proceed with a €4 billion plan to double the capacity of the national grid it will come under further consideration and scrutiny.
He said the minister said the meeting was not just consultation for the sake of it, but he was engaging with the party and would take the concerns raised into consideration between now and the conclusion of the extended period of consultation on Jan 7.
There have been a number of protests along the proposed routes against EirGrid, which insists the upgrade of the system is essential to ensure demand of supply can be met at all times.
Earlier Mr Rabbitte said the report into the Meath/Tyrone corridor had shown it was three times more expensive to bury the cables underground, but he said that report happened when the public finances were under excruciating pressure and circumstances had since changed.
He warned the demand by rural politicians to put the cables underground would mean higher electricity prices for all households.
“If it were decided to put any part of the transmission underground, and it is possible to part underground or go over ground as is the preferred option of Eirgrid, it has implications for the ESB bills, the electricity bills and energy bills of consumers,” he said.
“It will put up the cost of energy if a more expensive system of implementation is chosen and that is something as well the public and the consumers have to consider,” he warned.
He said it was now up to Eirgrid to decide. He said the issue for Government was whether the country could afford the investment required that would place them underground.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved