Fears grow in Athenry for €850m Apple data centre over delay
Taoiseach confirms review of infrastructure law to streamline planning for large projects
A High Court ruling on the Apple data centre project is due to be delivered on October 12th.
Campaigners and business owners who are pushing for the green light for the Apple data centre in Athenry in Co Galway say they are fearful of the long-term impact for the area and the country if the project does not go ahead.
“Athenry for Apple” campaigner Paul Keane says he fears Ireland and Athenry will suffer major reputational damage if the tech giant pulls out of their plans to move to Galway, as frustration grows over the delay in the planning decision.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that Apple had warned the Government that further delays in the planning process were putting a proposed €850 million Athenry project at risk.
And despite assurances from the Government, including from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday, the local community in Athenry has grown weary of the drawn-out process.
Mr Keane founded “Athenry for Apple” a few weeks after the American multinational announced its plans to build at Derrydonnell outside the town two years ago.
An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the development of the Galway centre last year. However, the project is the subject of a judicial review on environmental grounds following appeals by local residents and a landowner.
A High Court ruling is due to be delivered on October 12th.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has held talks with Apple about the project, and the Government says it is examining potential changes to the Strategic Infrastructure Act to ensure that the planning and legal system works “more efficiently” when dealing with such large scale projects.
Mr Keane says he expects “Athenry for Apple”, which now has over 4,000 members, to stage more demonstrations in the coming weeks.
“We had over 2,000 people at our lasts protest which is pretty good for a town of this size. We will do another large one and there will be various shows of support in and around the court date and up at Government,” he said.
“If Apple don’t get the go-ahead Athenry would lose the jobs and the industry leading into that. House prices will start to fall again in Athenry. The town has already gone through a very severe change process already.
“But it’s far more than just that. It would be devastating for Athenry and east Galway. We would have a black mark on our name and anyone that is thinking of doing foreign direct investment would see us a no-go area because of what happened with Apple.”
Local Fine Gael TD and Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ciaran Cannon, said he had been given assurances from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that Apple was committed to the Athenry project.
“I’m pleased that An Taoiseach has also maintained contact with senior executives in Apple and that, as late as last week, they have confirmed their continued commitment to investing in Athenry”, he said.
“This morning An Taoiseach has also confirmed to me that he has requested an examination of our planning and legal systems as they apply to large developments of this nature.
“The last thing we need in Ireland is a perception to develop internationally that our systems are incapable of dealing with large industrial developments and that delays of two or three years are commonplace.
“I’m of the belief that we can have the requisite robust and forensic analysis of such planning applications but that this analysis can, and should, happen in a much shorter timeframe.
“An Taoiseach agrees with me and also suggests that we need to maximise the use of renewable energy when developing new data centres.”
Local businessman John Moylan said losing Apple would result in a bleak future for Athenry. His business SIP Energy employs 85 workers in the construction industry in the town and he knows how crucial it is for Athenry to secure the foreign investment.
“The Government aren’t being proactive enough. They need to start in the morning, going into the Strategic Infrastructure Act, and it needs to be amended now. They shouldn’t be waiting for Apple’s decision,” said Mr Moylan.
“We have a huge industrial park that is owned by the IDA that has been laying idle for over a decade. If Apple doesn’t come I can guarantee that nothing will ever come to Athenry, and that’s the biggest issue.”
Emmett Byrne, co-owner of Byrne-Mech, which employs 110 people in the town, says his work-force would grow if Apple came to Athenry.
“It’s concerning that Denmark is progressing the way it is and the Athenry project can’t move forward at all. And it’s not just a problem for Apple, from the IDA’s point of view any other multinational looking to build on the IDA’s land in Athenry would have concerns now,” said Mr Byrne.
“When it was first was objected to, I thought there would be a bit of common sense and they wouldn’t have gone as far as they have. It’s worrying now and the objections look like they could be successful.
“We just have to wait until next month and hope they will get the go-ahead but I don’t think Apple will wait around. They might just look to increase their capacity in Denmark.
“There are seven other multinational companies that are looking at data centres in Ireland at the moment. If Apple doesn’t get the go ahead in Ireland does that rule Athenry out of any further development?”