Apple owes it to Athenry’s locals to tell them what will happen next
You would expect Apple to thank the local supporters for fighting a public battle on its behalf, and name a start date for the JCBs to roll in
The badge of an “Athenry for Apple” supporter: the Apple scheme got what appears to be the final green light on Wednesday when the latest court bid by objectors was thrown out. Photograph: Collins Courts
For more than a year, a High Court bid by a handful of objectors to Apple’s proposed €850 million data centre in Athenry fuelled uncertainty over the project. Now that the court bid has failed, Apple’s silence is providing fresh fuel.
Big companies with bags of money to invest love big welcomes from the local communities where their lucre is to be deployed. Apple got a huge welcome from Athenry, when in 2015 it first announced its plan to invest €850 million.
The majority of locals dug in with their support when, as often happens in this country, the project got bogged down last year in a glacial planning system that is weighed far too heavily in favour of objectors.
Only an irretrievably broken system would allow such a huge proposed investment in a regional town to lie in limbo, while allowing objectors make repeated attempts at turning judges into planning officials.
While the Athenry objectors were local, in general the greater good in similar types of planning applications can be too easily buried under a blizzard of judicial review applications from professional objectors. Some of these repeat objectors are merely recalcitrant cranks, less interested in the communities affected, and stirred more by their own notoriety.
There is far too much democracy in the Irish planning system when it comes to major pieces of economic infrastructure, as Orwellian as that may sound to some.
Final green light
After a 13-month legal battle by An Bord Pleanála, with the unflinching support of Athenry locals, the Apple scheme got what appears to be the final green light on Wednesday when the latest court bid by objectors was thrown out.
Game over, right? You would reasonably expect Apple to come straight out and confirm it is going ahead with the scheme, thank the local supporters for fighting a public battle on its behalf, and name a start date for the JCBs to roll in.
Yet Apple is playing it coy, as it turns its attention to Denmark where it is planning a second data centre having almost completed its first.
Apple may yet announce its intention proceed with its Athenry scheme. Let’s hope it does. But in the meantime, it owes it to the locals who supported the company to tell them, as quickly as possible, what will happen next.