Working in the Community, Working for the Community

Deputy Healy asks the Tanáiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore to “defer the closing date for submissions to Eirgrid”, and asked “for the suspension of the project pending the outcome of a comprehensive feasibility study carried out independently into the laying of these lines under ground and under water, in line with best international practice.”

Deputy Healy also asked that “in view of the fact that Eirgrid can not guarantee that there are no health issues involved, and in view of the fact that there are both National and International Studies that raise very serious and significant doubts and health issues in relation to these over head lines as proposed, will the Government adopt and will the Government institute the precautionary principle, a principle that has already been adopted by the EU and the World Health Organisation, and will the Government ensure that the Eirgrid proposal to erect overhead high voltage power lines is cancelled and that the transmission takes places through shielded lines under ground and under sea in accordance with best international practice.”

Seán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
I call Deputy Seamus Healy.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
Communities across the country are convulsed at EirGrid’s proposals to erect high voltage 400 kV overhead power lines. There is huge concern, frustration and anger at the Grid25 proposal across the Munster counties of Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and the Leinster counties of Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow and Kildare. Thousands of people have turned out at public meetings. I congratulate the various action groups involved and thank the legendary Sean Kelly for his leadership on this issue. This is an intolerable proposal, which is and will be resisted.

Everybody accepts that this country must have top quality electrical infrastructure. What is at issue is the manner of the delivery of that infrastructure and the proposal in this regard, namely, the erection of 750 monster pylons along a 250 km route. These pylons will be 45 metres high, ten times the height of the average bungalow, and will be erected at 330 metre intervals. EirGrid has stated that where possible these pylons will be located 50 metres from houses. Residents along the route will have to live with these pylons 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for the remainder of their lives.
This infrastructure will blight the landscape for locals and visitors alike and will destroy our tourism industry. Some of the most scenic areas in my constituency of south Tipperary are affected, including the Galtee Knockmealdown Valley, the heritage town of Cahir, the Golden Vale into Clonmel, the Valley of Slievenamon, the Suir Valley into Faugheen and Carrick-on-Suir and on into Waterford and the Comeragh Mountains and its special areas of conservation and habitats. EirGrid is involved in a divide and conquer of residents along these routes, setting them against one another. It is setting neighbours against one another by offering compensation to some and not to others who are equally or more affected. Devaluation of properties and significant health issues are other reasons for opposing this project.

Best international practice is that these high voltage power lines must be laid underground and-or under sea.

Seán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
I must ask the Deputy to put his question.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
Denmark is a good example, but only one of many, where these lines are placed underground. This is obviously technically possible and financially feasible.
The closing date for submissions to EirGrid on this proposal is 26 November. I call on the Government to defer this closing date for submissions and to suspend this project pending the outcome of a comprehensive feasibility study, carried out independently of Eirgrid—–

Seán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
The Deputy is way over time. Adhere to the Chair, please.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
—–into the laying of these lines underground and under sea.

Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
Hear, hear.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
The development and upgrade of our grid infrastructure, including interconnection with neighbouring electricity systems, is necessary to drive regional economic growth and job creation. Grid25 is EirGrid’s plan to develop and upgrade the electricity transmissions network. This project will take several years to complete and represents an investment of €3.2 billion. It involves extensive work throughout the country, including the construction of 800 km of new power lines and the upgrade of 2,000 km of existing lines, which, in effect, will double the size of the current grid.
The North-South transmission is a critical piece of infrastructure. Its absence is currently costing economies and consumers up to €30 million per annum. Without it, the system is more inefficient. The Government has made it a priority to retain the networks in State ownership as a strategic infrastructure and to ensure that they are developed and maintained in the interests of Irish citizens and consumers. It is also Government policy that infrastructure investment programmes are delivered in the most cost-efficient and timely way possible on the basis of best available knowledge and informed engagement of the impacts and costs of different engineering solutions.
Public acceptance and understanding of the need for new infrastructure is critical. A key part of developing this public confidence is that EirGrid should adhere to the highest international standards of safety, health, environmental and visual impact and technology choice. The planning process provides the framework for ensuring that necessary standards are met and provides in law and on a non-statutory basis that consultation with the public be built into that process. EirGrid must adhere to national and international standards on health, environment, biodiversity, landscape and safety as an intrinsic part of the environmental impact assessment and planning process. It is required to use the best available advice and expertise and to address and mitigate any human, environmental or landscape impact in delivering the best possible engineering solutions for our small and still isolated electricity system.
The Government does not have a role in directing EirGrid to particular sites, routes or technologies. This is a matter for EirGrid and the forward planning process.

Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
What the Tánaiste had to say when in opposition was a lot different.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
However, we do expect EirGrid, in making choices on technologies, routing and mitigation measures to take account of all relevant national and international standards, to follow best practice, to ensure value for money and to be informed by detailed consultation at local level. Structured transparent consultation and information-sharing will contribute to the delivery of proper mitigation measures, including the protection of landscapes and views and reconfiguring and rationalising existing networks.

Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
Forget all the promises made.

Pat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
Deputy Mattie McGrath’s support for cannabis went down badly in Tipperary.

Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
Deputy Rabbitte should crawl back into his burrow.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
What we have heard from the Tánaiste is the usual EirGrid spin. The only consultation, if consultation there is, is in relation to overhead power lines. EirGrid is not prepared to consult on the issue of placing these power lines underground or under sea, which, as I said earlier, is already best international practice in this regard. There are significant health issues involved. National and international agencies have pointed to very serious doubts in relation to these overhead power lines. For example, the Irish expert report on the issue published in 2007 states that there is limited scientific evidence of an association between ELF magnetic fields and childhood leukemia and, that while this does not mean ELF magnetic fields cause cancer, that possibility cannot be excluded.

Seán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
A question please, Deputy.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
The International Agency for Research on Cancer states that these magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on consistent statistical associations of high level residential magnetic fields, with the doubling of the risk of childhood leukaemia. In view of the fact that EirGrid cannot guarantee that there are no health issues involved in this, and in view of the fact that national and international studies raise serious doubts and health issues about these overhead lines, will the Government institute the precautionary principle? That principle has been adopted by the EU and the World Health Organization. Will the Government ensure that the EirGrid proposal to erect overhead high voltage power lines is cancelled and the transmission takes place through shielded lines underground and undersea, in accordance with best international practice?

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
The issue of whether the lines should be overground or underground arose previously in the case of power lines between Meath and Tyrone. In line with the commitment we gave in the programme for Government, on 5 July 2011, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources announced an international commission of experts to review and report within six months on the cost of and case for putting underground all or part of the Meath-Tyrone 400 kV power line. After considering the merits of overhead and underground options, the report notes that there is no single right solution and that technical solutions must be project specific. The report did not recommend any particular technical option, but it did recommend against putting an alternating current cable wholly underground. It provided its expert views on the feasible technology options available for consideration for the Meath-Tyrone project, including high voltage direct current technology, given the changes in technology suppliers and costs in recent years. In that context, the commission estimated that the cost of implementing the project as a HVDC underground cable option would be three times the cost of the traditional overhead line option, while noting that cost estimates are always uncertain.

A number of national and international health and scientific agencies have reviewed more than 30 years of research into electromagnetic fields, and none of these agencies has concluded that exposure to EMF from overhead power lines is a cause for long-term adverse effects. In October 2005, the World Health Organization convened an international expert panel to review the scientific literature on the biological effects of exposure to extremely low frequency fields. In March 2007, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources assembled a panel of independent scientists to review EMF and radio frequency research. The position was restated again by the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser in a report into possible health effects of exposure to electric and magnetic fields in July 2010. There is a quite a degree of both national and international reviews of the likely health effects, none of which reaches the conclusions Deputy Healy has put on record.

Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
You get the advice for which you pay.


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