Apple knew of Irish planning changes before Varadkar meeting

Tech giant had been informed ‘publicly and privately’ of Government’s intentions

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Apple chief executive Tim Cook at Apple’s headquarters in California last week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Apple chief executive Tim Cook at Apple’s headquarters in California last week.

 

Apple was aware of proposed changes to Ireland’s planning laws that would see data centres treated a strategic infrastructure before a crucial meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week, Mr Varadkar’s spokesman has said.

Doubts about Apple’s commitment to building a data centre in Athenry, Co Galway, emerged last week when Mr Varadkar met Apple chief executive Tim Cook during a trade mission to California.

Mr Cook did not give a definite commitment to Mr Varadkar that the project would actually proceed.

It comes after the project cleared its final planning hurdle last Wednesday, when the High Court rejected an application by objectors to appeal last month’s decision to allow the project to proceed.

Due to a delay of two years in Athenry, the Government announced earlier this year that it wanted to change the planning process to allow data centres be considered strategic infrastructure.

It means that applicants wishing to develop such centres will apply for permission directly to An Bord Pleanála, and will no longer be required to seek initial planning from the local authority. It should allow projects move faster through the planning process.

While Mr Varadkar’s spokesman could not say if the Taoiseach directly raised this with Mr Cook last week, he said Apple had been made aware “publicly and privately” of the Government’s intentions in recent months.

The spokesman insisted that the data centre was not lost to Athenry and could still be built. IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan expressed “disappointment” at how the computer giant’s planning application had progressed.

Speaking to RTÉ radio, he welcomed Government proposals to bring data-centre developments under the critical infrastructure framework in order for them to be fast-tracked in future.

“The planning process has taken longer than anyone would have expected,” he said, adding that although Apple was continuing “to consider Athenry in the context of their future business plans” it has “not committed to commencing the data centre immediately”.