Debate has been raging about whether high voltage lines, such as the 440kV powerlines planned by Eirgrid as part of its Gridlink project from Cork to Wexford to Kildare, pose a risk to human health.
Communities objected vociferously to Gridlink last year. Locals wanted the 400kV powerline put underground, but Eirgrid initially dismissed the option, saying it would cost €2bn.
The second Irish Examiner/ICMSA survey on farming attitudes shows Irish farmers are strongly in favour of powerlines being placed underground regardless of cost, with 66% either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the underground option.
Support for the powerlines going underground was strongest among farmers aged below 35 (72%) but was strong among all farmers regardless of age. Support was high across all types of farmers, but livestock farmers were most likely to agree that powerlines should go underground (70%).
There was a large degree of geographic variation in terms of support for undergrounding. Support was highest among farmers interviewed at agricultural shows in Athenry in Galway (90%), at the Irish Holstein Friesian Association national open day in Leitrim (83%) and in Dungarvan, Co Waterford (81%). The lowest support for powerlines going underground was at a show in Carbery in Cork, where just 27% of farmers supported the method.
Commenting on the findings, ICMSA president John Comer said that so many farmers wanted powerlines to be underground was “predictable but decisive”.
“At the time the proposed pylon routes were announced ICMSA was very critical of the way in which Eirgrid seemed to assume that their disinclination to ‘underground’ the cables was the last word on the matter. I don’t know where Eirgrid’s decision-makers have been for the last five years but they should know that the time when we all just meekly accepted the word of so-called ‘experts’ on matters like this is long gone,” he said.
Mr Comer said what annoyed rural people was that they felt their opinion on the issue counted for nothing. “That’s what really angers people. The unmistakable impression that all the so-called ‘consultation’ was just a front.
“Everyone accepts the need for the ongoing upgrade of power supplies but we all know that Eirgrid won’t ever be seeking planning permission for a 400kV powerline through Clontarf or Clondalkin,” he said.