'There is a better way'
A BRIEFING session by EirGrid for the business community in Wexford on its planned €500 million Grid Link Project was 'hijacked' by protesters angry at what they claim is a lack of transparency and official unwillingness to engage with counter proposals to put the power lines underground.
Up to 400 protesters arrived at the Farmers Kitchen on the Rosslare Road, early on Wednesday, some bussed in from the north of the county and parts of Wicklow and Carlow which will be affected by whichever of the four routes is selected for the new power corridor which will connect Kildare to Cork, via Great Island.
'Over the last three weeks, many meetings have taken place in small communities and people are very concerned and worried about these pylons, but also very angry with our government for allowing this to happen,' said Carmel McCabe from the South East Pylon Protest group, which is most concerned about a route which would cut a swathe through the heart of County Wexford and neighbouring counties.
The group say that if selected, the 'D2' route would affect Ballywilliam, Ballygalvert, Coolnahorna, Rathnure, Glenglass, Greenan, Ballynaminnan, Monbeg, Clonjordan, BallywilliamRoe, Ballycarney, Tombrack, Ballaman, Ballyroebuck, Bolinrush, Donishall, Tombreane, Umrigar, Carnew, Ballyknocker, Ballard, Croneyhorn, Boley, Coolkenno, Lumcloon, Corragh, Ballyduff, Duffery, Coolmanagh, Barnhill, Knocklishen, Mountkelly, Mountneill, and Baltinglass.
Other possible routes are to the east and west of what is essentially a central corridor.
'The health risks of these 400kV pylons are frightening and they intend to place these up to 50 metres from the centre of houses, ' said Carmel.
'The proposed route is worryingly close to several schools and would have a devastating affect on our landscape which has already been blighted by windmills.'
Most of the small group of business people attending the breakfast briefing left before the main session got under way, the arrival of the protesters, most of whom remained within the lobby of the hotel with their banners and placards.
A voiceferous minority did, however, penetrate the inner sanctum where the briefing was taking place and thought that if they shouted loud enough their voices would be heard.
'It was hijacked.. and I regret that there was a certain element who shouted them (Eirgrid) down; there are better ways,' said one of the protest group leaders, Lucy Gahan, who lives near Ferns and teaches at Ballyroebuck School.
'But it's up to us to prove to Eigrid that there is a better way and it would have passed with barely a whimper if we hadn't been there, there were so few people at it,' she said.
'I was appealing to them today to put their money and resources into doing something worthwhile instead of fighting communities and wasting money and time ,' she said.
Lucy said she simply didn't believe that Eirgrid was telling people the full story and while the upfront costs of undergrounding the power lines would be higher than running them overground, there would be long-term benefits and almost all of the protesters' concerns would dissipate.
Eirgrid says the project will help Ireland to meet its 40 per cent renewable target by 2020, but the protesters say that the tranmission of Green power by overhead lines is not Green or renewable.
Lucy said that while the protest group was 'primarily concerned with its own route' they were not trying to foist it on another community.
'I'm a primary school teacher. How can I foist the danger on other teachers and children,' she said.
Darragh Kavanagh, one of a group of teenagers from Colaiste Bhride in Carnew who are working on a Young Social Innovators project 'on the pylons', said the protest had been well worthwhile.
'Eigrid needed to wake up and realise we're deadly serious. Questions need to be asked, especially about the health effects of the power lines,' he said.
Eirgrid, which operates the national electricity grid, is encouraging continued public feedback on the route corridor options published for the proposed new overhead power line linking Leinster and Munster, but is meeting with increasing opposition to its plans with the Wexford protest one of the largest so far.
Eirgrid says the €500 million Grid Link Project will connect Knockraha in Cork to Dunstown near Kilcullen in Kildare via Great Island and will ensure a reliable and high-quality electricity supply for homes, farms and businesses into the future.
The protest group claims the 400kV pylons are not necessary 'but Eirgrid intend to export power to the UK'.
Eirgird itself says the project will facilitate possible electricity links with either Britain or France.
It says the Grid Link 25 project is one of the most complex and ambitious projects in the history of the state.
Eirgrid representatives at the Wexford briefing did their best to make a case for the project and to allay people's concerns about any health issues connected to overhead power lines, but their were few hearts and minds willing to be changed by the cold, hard facts and figures put forward, however convincingly.
Health was a primary concern expressed by the protesters, and a 27-page public information guide about electric and magnetic fields in Ireland refers to 30 years of research by national and international health and scientific agencies, states that 'none of these agencies has concluded that exposure to EMF from poweer lines and other electrical sources is a case of any long-term adverse effects on human, plant, or animal health,' did little to allay their fears.
Other issues included the blight on houses near the one km wide corridor, whichever route is selected.
Eigrid says the maximum length an A/C power line can be located underground is 40 km.
The third public consultation on the Grid Link Project runs until November 26 and EirGrid is encouraging members of the public and interested parties to make submissions by this date.
The Stage 1 Report and all project information, including project reports and mapping, is available for review in any of the project information centres - in County Wexford from 12 noon to 6 p.m. every Wednesday at the Coach House Inn, in New Ross, at open days, or online at www.eirgridprojects.com/projects/grindlink