Delight as Apple decision heralds ‘Silicon Valley of west of Ireland’

News flashed on smartphones to cheers in Athenry pub - and a run on apple buns

Locals in Athenry celebrate as the Commercial Court clears the way for tech giant Apple to develop a data centre in the town, the first phase of a planned €850million development. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

Apple chief executive Tim Cook might have liked the taste of Sandra Morrissey’s cakes if he had dropped by Athenry’s Square Inn on Thursday morning.

Ms Morrissey, whose husband Martin runs the pub in the town centre, had been up early baking. When the Commercial Court’s decision in the multinational’s favour flashed up on smartphones, there were cheers of delight, and a run on the apple buns.

Mr Cook might just have smelt the oven, if he had been minded to take a quick flight north. Michelle Herterich of Athenry community council had noted that he was in France several days ago.

His “surprise” visit to the Calvados region and to Omaha beach in Normandy before a meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron made the front page of Ouest-France.

“So I would just love to see Tim Cook visiting here now, as then this decision would feel real,”she said. “He could have flown in to Shannon, or Carnmore, on his private jet !”

“Maybe he is waiting to see if there is an appeal,”one of her neighbours wondered, as tea and coffee was served up. It was a small enough group which had celebrated the ruling in the hostelry, with fellow travellers in the Apple for Athenry campaign already up at the High Court.

“But we are delighted,” Ms Herterich said. “We feel we have been left behind here. Everyone knows Galway city is at capacity. We are perfectly set up for people to come and work in Athenry.”

Susan McGrady, Social Democrats local area representative for Athenry and Oranmore, said she was “very relieved that it is now all over, and we can look forward to the project starting”.

‘So much energy’

“There was so much energy put into the Apple for Athenry campaign, and it will be great, that energy directed into the town,” she said.

The Commercial Court decision, which effectively upholds Bord Pleanála approval for the project, relates to one data centre only.

Apple has plans, not yet approved, for seven more, at a total cost of between €850 million and €1 billion.

Fine Gael councillor Peter Feeney, who is chair of the community council, explained this was why Apple required such a large site – all of 500 acres at Derrydonnell.

“Yes, we have an IDA site in the town, and I know this part of the case made by the objectors,”he said. “But locating it in the town would also have required electricity pylons, whereas there is already electricity infrastructure at Derrydonnell.

“Apple is not here today but it did really engage with the community,” Cllr Feeney added.“There was a concerned group of people in Lisheenkyle, close to the site, who lodged an initial objection, but most of those people had their concerns met.”

Lisheenkyle primary school has an outdoor classroom, which Apple has promised to upgrade, and the school has also been provided with iPads.

The project does not come with a community investment fund specifically written into planning conditions, Cllr Feeney acknowledged.

“Community gain” involves giving a return to the community – rather than to individual landowners – for a particular development, and it had been an optional power afforded to planning authorities until it was specifically legislated for after 2006.

Excess heat

A similar data centre planned by Apple in Denmark incorporated plans to use excess heat to warm homes nearby, but Ireland lacks the district, or shared, heating systems which would allow for this.

“We wouldn’t really expect the company to invest in the community,” Cllr Feeney said. “Apple’s investment is a form of community investment. There will be construction jobs and spin-off jobs, and rates paid to the local authority.”

Mr Michael Gibbons, a resident of Athenry for the past 25 years, has two young sons. “This will guarantee their future,” he said.

Although employment in data centres is limited, there will be short-term construction jobs, maintenance work and security, he said.

Mr Morrissey, still busy behind the bar, agreed. “We are looking forward to becoming the Silicon Valley of the west of Ireland,” he said.

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