Clare Island fisherman takes action to stop fibreoptic cable project off Co Mayo
Transatlantic cable owned by companies including Facebook and Google
A transatlantic fibre optic cable extending from the US to Denmark with spurs to Ireland and Norway is under construction and the planned route for the Irish spur includes a landfall at Old Head on the southern side of Clew Bay, some 3km from Louisburgh. Photograph: Getty Images
A Clare Island fisherman has launched High Court proceedings aimed at stopping the laying of fibre optic cable off the Co Mayo coast as part of a multi-million-euro international communications project.
James O’Toole is challenging the granting of a licence to the Irish leg of the project which will see a transatlantic subsea cable system connect Northern Europe and the US.
The consortium is a notice party to Mr O’Toole’s proceedings against the Minister of State at the Department of Planning and Local Government over the granting of a foreshore licence earlier this year.
A transatlantic fibre optic cable extending from the US to Denmark with spurs to Ireland and Norway is under construction and the planned route for the Irish spur includes a landfall at Old Head on the southern side of Clew Bay, some three kilometres from Louisburgh.
On Wednesday, Mr Justice David Barniville granted AEC’s application to fast-track Mr O’Toole’s case in the Commercial Court, saying there was clearly a significant commercial dimension and very significant costs involved in the development.
AEC, represented by David Holland SC, said the case concerns a major infrastructural project of significant importance to this country. A technical team is already in self isolation at a Mayo hotel, expecting to start work next week, counsel said.
James Devlin SC, instructed by solicitor Brian Harrington, for Mr O’Toole, will apply later this week for a stay on any work being carried out pending determination of the case.
In his proceedings, Mr O’Toole, Ballytoughey, Clare Island, described as a farmer and fisherman, wants orders quashing the decision to grant a licence under the Foreshore Act to install a subsea fibre optic cable on the foreshore of Old Head.
He claims the decision to grant the licence was made outside the Minister’s powers, is contrary to the EU Habitats Directive, lacked sufficient reasons and was contrary to fair procedures.
The licence granted in February 2020 related to the Irish branch of a transatlantic fire optic cable extending from the US to Denmark with branches to Ireland and Norway and passing through Scottish fishing waters.
Mr O’Toole claims the shortest possible route to Ireland’s shore was selected even though it is through areas of very rocky seabed where the cable cannot be buried.
He claims it will go through sensitive fishing grounds in Clew Bay and the narrow channel between Achill and Clare islands, passing through habitats of protected endangered species including the bottle nosed dolphin and the Brent goose.
He and other fishermen are concerned about the risk of fishing gear becoming entangled on the surface laid cable and that fishing gear may have to be abandoned which could entrap marine species and cause environmental pollution.
He further claims disturbance to the population of predators like shark, skate or ray could affect the entire ecosystem including the shellfish accounting for his livelihood.