North South Interconnector granted full planning permission in the North

The campaign to have the North South Interconnector built underground took a step backwards today after it was announced that the Minister for Infrastructure in Stormont, Nichola Mallon MLA, today granted full planning permission for the interconnector in the North.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport Darren O’Rourke TD, reaffirmed his party's position that the only viable option for the North-South Interconnector to proceed is to put it underground.

“This project has been on the books for nearly 20 years now, and the local opposition to the pylons and high voltage lines proposed for counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan is enormous.

“Sinn Féin have been steadfast in our position on the North-South Interconnector. We want to see the project proceed, but for it to be put underground.

“We understand the communities concerns and believe undergrounding this project is the right approach.

“This way the two electricity grids on our island can be connected in a way that delivers benefits for the entire island, whilst also having the consent of communities along the route.

“Fine Gael’s Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, previously said her preference was that this project would be undergrounded as much as possible and not cause undue distress for individuals and communities impacted.

“Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne TD, who is now also a government minister, previously committed to an independent review of the interconnector if Fianna Fáil got into government.

“So I’m calling on the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs in Meath to reaffirm their positions following this significant decision in the north.

“People deserve to know if they will stick to their word.

“Undergrounding the North-South Interconnector is the only viable option now, as local residents, farmers and community groups are united in their opposition to the 300 pylons and high voltage power lines that would cut right through their communities.”

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon confirmed on Monday she has now granted full planning permission for the project.

“Following the quashing of the previous decision, I have carefully reconsidered the proposal and the up-to-date environmental information and have concluded that planning permission should be granted for the development which remains of strategic importance for our island economy,” she said.

“I have also taken into account the report by the Planning Appeals Commission that included a full consideration of the planning issues and endorsed the significant strategic importance of the development for Northern Ireland and its compliance with planning policy.

SONI, the electricity System Operator for Northern Ireland, welcomed the decision which it said will be a “catalyst” for the region’s response to climate change, reduce consumer costs and provide a secure long-term electricity supply.

SONI managing director Jo Aston said the interconnector is “undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today”.

“The project is, without question, a key enabler for economic growth as Northern Ireland emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

“It will create local construction jobs through its delivery programme; will help reduce the cost of electricity and will provide a route to market for renewable energy at a time when the green-collar sector needs it most.

“The North-South Interconnector is the safeguard Northern Ireland needs against any changes to surplus or deficit of power generation; providing local business and foreign investors certainty that Northern Ireland offers them a clean, efficient and reliable electricity supply.”

“This vital project has been in the planning system for more than a decade, including extensive consultation and two public inquiries, neither our economy, nor our climate can wait any longer.”

Commenting on today’s decision from the Infrastructure Minister, EirGrid CEO Mark Foley said:

“We welcome this positive decision from Minister Mallon. The North South Interconnector is undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today and will deliver very real benefits to domestic and commercial consumers, helping to unlock a green economic recovery.

“As we move beyond the immediate Covid-9 crisis to a new reality, it is critical that government does all that it can to unlock the potential of the green recovery and a green jobs revolution. This project will create local construction jobs through its delivery programme; will help reduce the cost of electricity and will provide a route to market for renewable energy at a time when the green collar sector needs it most.”

"The Interconnector is essential for ensuring local businesses have the power they need to expand and to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with investors seeking an efficient, green and secure electricity supply.

“Coupled with the extensive change needed to deal with the climate emergency, it is vital that Ireland’s electricity system plays its role in meeting these challenges. In this context, the North South Interconnector continues to underpin EirGrid’s vision for a clean energy system for Ireland.

"This vital project has been in the planning system for more than a decade, including extensive consultation neither our economy nor our climate can wait any longer. Let’s get it done, together.”

The North East Pylon Project Campaign's Padraig O'Reilly said NI's approval of the North-South Interconnector would be "another false dawn of hope for establishment," and that approval should not be equated with consent or progress.

"When the dust settles the reality will need to dawn on those who have mismanaged this project for over 15 years that the approval is of little value when public opposition remains unchanged. All that the approval does is to confirm to the public that their rights and their constructive recommendations for an acceptable alternative are deemed irrelevant.

"This approval changes nothing on the ground. Approval for the ROI section was given in 2016. There has been no progress on the project in the intervening four years."

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