There will be no meeting between Laois County Council’s top official and substation campaigners until new information is available, or until a planning application for the controversial facility is lodged with an Bord Pleanala.
That was the outcome of a lengthy and heated debate between councillors and the County Manager, Peter Carey at last Monday’s council meeting. The Ratheniska, Timahoe and Spink Substation Group have been campaigning against Eirgrid’s proposal to build a substation in their area, which would include high power lines stretching across the county.
Five councillors backed a motion for Mr Carey to meet the group, but he said it was of no benefit until the planning application was lodged by Eirgrid to An Bord Pleanala for approval.
“The council will be given an opportunity to make a submission then, there is no benefit in further meetings with the group now. I’ve answered any questions you have asked.” Mr Carey said, adding that he had already met with the group.
“During the course of the County Development Plan I met with representatives of the group. There was numerous meetings with the planning department and workshops organised. There was ample opportunity for submissions, as there should be,” he said.
Mr Carey said the council faced a serious situation when a legal challenge was threatened against the County Development Plan.
“That could have ended up costing the people of Laois over €200,000. We engaged in legal advice and the councillors took a democratic vote on the outcome.”
He said at the time the Residents Group recognised that the council had taken the matter as far as they could.
Mr Carey said the development of the substation was now a matter for An Bord Pleanala, as Eirgrid would be making the planning application direct to them.
Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald said people in the area were frustrated and worried about the future and urged the county manager to live up to the council’s motto.
“People are so frustrated, that’s why they have asked for this meeting. They are worried about what will happen in the future. Our motto is ‘in partnership with the people’ and we should try and live up to that.”
Cllr Tom Mulhall said the residents had been left in the dark. “I don’t see why the County Manager can’t sit down with the group for half an hour.”
Cllr Willie Aird said it was a simple motion.
“I am directly asking the manager to sit down and listen to what these people have to say. We will facilitate Eirgrid and the manager comment’s on it when they give a presentation to us.”
Cllr Alan Hand proposed that the Ratheniska group should be invited to make a presentation to the council.
Mr Carey said he hoped there was no suggestion that there was no liasion or co-operation from the council.
“We have given number opportunities to meet. I don’t have any new information, but if any comes into my possession, I will make it available,” he said.
“It’s regrettable I’ve been put in this position, as if I’ve refused to meet. We’ve had countless meetings, it would be pointless have a meeting now. It’s a hugely regrettable day when the council comes in here to force me to meet with the group.”
Cllr James Deegan said the substation and cables would affect him and his family, but he said there was not that much to talk to the County Manager about. He said once an application had been made to An Bord Pleanala, there would be an oral hearing and everyone would have an opportunity to be heard.
“As the process evolves, the County Manager should and will make himself available. We should be not be wasting credits now that might be more valuable to us at a later stage.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney said there was a lot of male testostrone buzzing around the chambers.
“There is a lot of male testostrone buzzing around here today. We have spent 35-40 minutes talking about a 10 minute meeting.”
The vote was eventually taken after lunch when Cllrs James Daly and Padraig Fleming, who had both put their names to the motion were in chambers. Following another half hour debate, it was passed by 14 to five votes, with the inclusion of a clause proposed by Cllr James Deegan, that the county manager give a firm commitment to meet with the RTS group and cllrs, when relevant information became available, or when the planning application was lodged.