Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty has put her position in jeopardy by saying she will back anti-pylon protesters in any “civil disobedience” measures taken to prevent the new north-south electricity inter-connector,.
The Fine Gael TD made the claim yesterday after opposition party anger over An Bord Pleanála’s approval of EirGrid’s plans to build the pylons on the border and her own constituency.
The long-stated plans are now set to become reality, and over the coming months EirGrid will build up to 300 pylons in Meath, Cavan, and Monaghan as part of a system that will run from Batterstown in Meath to Turleenan, Co Tyrone.
The system is said to be needed in order to improve Ireland’s electricity system and save the State money.
It was objected to by more than 200 local farmers and landowners, with many raising serious but disputed concerns over the impact the constructions will have on the health of people nearby — mirroring previous concerns raised by communities in other parts of the country.
In response to the An Bord Pleanála decision, Ms Doherty, a TD for Meath East, said she is deeply opposed to the move.
Despite her high-profile position as the Government’s de-facto rule enforcer on coalition TDs, she said she will support any anti-pylon protesters who breach the law and take part in “civil disobedience” in order to prevent the constructions from being built.
“I am deeply disappointed but not surprised by the An Bord Pleanála decision. I am particularly disappointed by the treatment by EirGrid of the people of Cavan, Meath, and Monaghan.
“We are about to enter into a phase of civil disobedience to hamper the decision made by An Bord Pleanála and I fully support the landowners and farmers in that action.
“In terms of my decision in government, I have one last chance to work to get this decision overturned and I am going to remain in government to use that chance, “ she said in a statement to RTÉ Radio’s ’Morning Ireland’ programme.
While the comments are likely to lead to a sustaining of local support in her constituency — an area which is also represented by Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne and Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín, both of whom are strongly opposed to pylons — it is expected to damage wider government attempts to insist coalition TDs are not putting parish pump politics before national needs.
They are also expected to put fresh pressure on Ms Doherty over whether she can remain as the Government’s chief whip.
Fine Gael senator Ray Butler yesterday defended Ms Doherty’s comments, saying “at least she hasn’t backed down”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny noted that while the An Bord Pleanála decision is independent, it must still undergo a judicial review.