Challenge to Apple’s Athenry data centre fast-tracked

Commercial Court takes one of two legal challenges on list but defers ruling on other


A legal challenge to the planned €850 million Apple data centre in Co Galway will be fast-tracked by the Commercial Court.

Sinéad Fitzpatrick and Allan Daly initiated the case in the High Court last month over An Bórd Pleanála’s decision last August to grant permission for the data centre, one of eight such proposed developments, near Athenry.

Ms Fitzpatrick and Mr Daly, of Lisheenkyle, Athenry, which is close to the proposed centre, claim the permission is invalid on grounds including that the board failed to carry out an proper environmental impact assessment of the proposed development.

Ms Fitzpatrick says she and her neighbours are concerned about the development, particularly about the enormous energy demand it would create in the location. On a full build out, the development has a bigger energy demand than the greater Dublin area, she says. There appeared to be little or no analysis of the environmental impacts of this increase in power demand, she claimed.

On Monday, lawyers for Apple Distribution International, the entity seeking to develop the data centre, which is a notice party to the action, applied to have the case admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court list.

In a sworn statement seeking transfer to the list, Catherine Kearney, a director of Apple Distribution International and vice-president of operations for Europe, India, Africa and the Middle East, said the company wanted the action heard “as expeditiously as possible”.

The proposed centres are “critical pieces of infrastructure required to support the worldwide demand for global storage necessary to cater for the rapid expansion in wireless electronic communication, entertainment and work”, she said.

Exponential growth

“Apple has experienced an exponential growth in the demand for data processing and storage and expects this trend to continue in the future,” she said. The growth in demand for Apple’s cloud computing and storage service means a large number of large data centres need to be built on a phased basis to deal with the demand, it was stated.

The Athenry project is expected to create hundreds of jobs both directly and indirectly. The case, one of two challenges brought over the proposed facility, was admitted to the list by Mr Justice Brian Cregan.

Rory Mulcahy SC, for Apple, said it would also be applying to have the other action, brought by Wicklow landowner Brian McDonagh, transferred to the Commercial Court. Apple want both challenges heard together and a hearing date fixed for March 2017, counsel said.

Representing himself, Mr McDonagh told Mr Justice Cregan he was objecting to the fast-tracking of the cases, arguing it would prejudice his action.

Mr Justice Cregan said he was satisfied to admit the Fitzpatrick/Daly case to the Commercial Court list but nothing would be done in respect of Mr McDonagh’s action until that matter returns before the court next Monday.