Plans for a €280 million power line linking the Republic and the North face further legal and planning hurdles following a key victory in the High Court.
The court on Tuesday ruled against a challenge to An Bord Pleanála's decision to permit national grid operator Eirgrid build 300 pylons and a power line between Meath and Monaghan.
The 440 kilo volt line is part of a proposed north-south interconnector linking Woodland in Co Meath with Turleenan in Co Tyrone that will connect the Republic’s and North’s electricty networks.
Locals opposed to the plan indicated that they will appeal the ruling. The project faces a further legal challenge in the autumn while it is still going through planning in Northern Ireland.
An Bord Pleanála allowed the project in December following a public hearing. North East Pylon Pressure Campaign (NEPPC) and Maura Sheehy of Donaghpatrick, Co Meath, challenged this on legal and environmental grounds.
Mr Justice Max Barrett’s ruling stated that there was no lawful basis for quashing An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant planning permission for the 138km interconnector.
Speaking afterwards, Pádraig O’Reilly of NEPPC, which represents about 300 landowners, said: “I am assuming that we would be appealing.”
He pointed out that Mr Justice Barrett’s judgement was 226 pages. “We have not read any of it yet, we will have to consider it first,” he said. “The fight has not ended here.”
Cavan-based campaigner, Val Martin of the European Platform Against Windfarms, is due to bring a similar challenge to the High Court in the autumn.
Eirgrid must also wait until the end of the year for the outcome of a public enquiry into proposals for the Co Tyrone element of the line.
The North's Planning Appeals Commission held the enquiry into an application from Eirgrid's subsidiary, System Operator Northern Ireland, in February.
John Fitzgerald, Eirgrid's director of grid development and interconnection welcomed the High Court ruling in An Bord Pleanála's favour.
“The north-south interconnector is undoubtedly the most important infrastructure scheme on the island today and will help deliver very real benefits to domestic and commercial customers,” he said.
Backers of the plan say that it will help cut electricity prices for homes and businesses and guarantee future elecricity supplies.
Northern Ireland faces possible power cuts if the line is not completed on schedule in 2021.
Danny McCoy, chief executive of business group Ibec, said the interconnector would prevent this.
“In fact, the new interconnector will result in savings to consumers across the island of around €30 million per year, and that is likely to grow over time,” he predicted.
Locals fear its impact on the environment, property and health. NEPPC and Ms Sheehy took their challenge against An Bord Pleanála, the Government and State, with Eirgrid as a notice party.
Their grounds included that the board’s decision was unlawful, that the Government wrongly gave An Bord Pleanála authority to oversee joint infrastructure projects with other EU states and that this created a conflict of interest.
They also argued that Eirgrid’s failure to get landowners’ consent raised legal issues.
Opponents say that they are not against the interconnector, but want it put underground. However, Eirgrid says studies found that this would be expensive and create serious technical problems.