Pylons issue more important than Cabinet job, says Doherty

Chief Whip refuses to rule out resigning from role over opposition to overground cables

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty: Proposed route would pass through areas of her constituency. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty: Proposed route would pass through areas of her constituency. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty has said her opposition to the overground electricity interconnector from Co Meath to Co Tyrone is more important to her than her position around the Cabinet table.

When asked if that meant she might have to resign her position, Ms Doherty said: “The principle is more important than a job.”

Ms Doherty, a Fine Gael TD for Meath East, is opposed to the 135km interconnector being comprised entirely of overhead lines. She would like it put fully or partially underground. The proposed route would pass through areas of her constituency. She said a Cabinet decision was needed to change the plan and she has written to both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten requesting an urgent meeting.

Ms Doherty was one of a number of politicians to express concern about the planning permission granted to Eirgrid by An Bord Pleanála. In the Republic, it would see the North-South interconnector running on 299 pylons about 50m high from a substation in Woodland, Co Meath, to Clontibret in Co Monaghan.

Thomas Byrne, the Meath East Fianna Fáil TD, said his party is against the interconnector in its current form, while Sinn Féin also expressed concern.

Ms Doherty said she would lobby Mr Naughten to make changes but acknowledged such a move would be a matter for the Cabinet.

“I find myself in difficulty with a Government policy and sitting at a table with people who support something that I don’t,”she said. “And that is going to be difficult.”

No choice

“The only way it can be stopped now is if the Government changes direction. I have no choice. It is the right thing to do, they [local people] have been treated appallingly.

“I have to stand with the people who have been treated appallingly. What that means, I don’t know yet. I haven’t made a decision over anything. I happen to be in a position now where I have a last-ditch chance.”

Ms Doherty accused Bord Pleanála of essentially ignoring the possibility of putting the lines underground. She said she would continue to support organisations such as the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign to try and have the interconnector put underground. Eirgrid, she said, could either “spend the next five years fighting with communities and farmers” or go underground.

Mr Byrne said he was “bitterly disappointed” with the decision and said Eirgrid should place the interconnector underground.

“Fianna Fáil stands by its commitment that this project can only proceed on the basis that the lines are placed underground. This is the only way that this project will proceed.”

Sinn Féin TDs Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Peadar Tóibín, who represent Cavan-Monaghan and Meath West respectively, also said the interconnector must be put underground.

Mr Ó Caoláin said his party would raise the issue in the Dáil while Mr Tóibín said: “The Government needs to consider the wellbeing and wishes of the people of Meath, and adopt an undergrounding policy.”