The wind farm developer behind the Clare project that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar raised a query about after being contacted by Donald Trump has said he may consider legal action.
Kilrush-based Michael Clohessy, a director of Clare Coastal Wind Power, said he first wants the Taoiseach and Clare County Council to clarify the contacts Mr Varadkar made to the council.
On Thursday, Mr Varadkar told a Washington DC audience including Mr Trump that he had called the council when he was minister for tourism after Mr Trump complained about plans to build a wind farm near his Doonbeg golf resort.
The planning permission for a nine-turbine wind farm by Clohessy's firm was refused by the council in October 2014 and an appeal rejected by An Bord Pleanála in July 2015.
Michael Shannon said he had been one of 23 landowners who had stood to make €5,000 a year for up to 25 years if the project had been given the go-ahead.
Saying he was “surprised and shocked” to hear Mr Varadkar’s comments, Mr Shannon added: “At the time we would have been hopeful that the wind farm would have got planning permission. It would have been a big help.”
On Friday, the Taoiseach's official position changed as local Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway said that Mr Varadkar's office had told him that one of his officials – and not Mr Varadkar – called to the council.
‘Out of order’
An Bord Pleanála refused planning for the nine-turbine wind farm about 2km from Mr Trump’s golf resort due to the impact it would have on local freshwater pearl mussels in the Doonbeg river.
Expressing “absolute disbelief” at the Taoiseach’s remarks to the annual St Patrick’s Day lunch hosted by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Clohessy said “be it jokingly or whatever, he made the statement”.
Mr Varadkar’s actions were “absolutely incorrect”; there was a process to make submissions on an application and that making calls to a planning department or council was “absolutely out of order”, he said.
Saying he believed Mr Varadkar had “interfered” in the planning process, he went on: “What we had hoped for when we launched a planning application [was] that we would get a fair shot at putting an application through planning.
“Obviously it was interference at a ministerial level that didn’t give us a chance and I am absolutely astounded that that behaviour goes on in this country today,” Mr Clohessy said.
Mr Trump’s company, TIGL Ireland Enterprises, which owns the Doonbeg golf club, was, however, one of more than 40 objectors, claimed it would affect booking and “as a consequence be detrimental to tourism in the area”.
Acknowledging that there was local opposition, Mr Shannon said “there was probably as much support as there was opposition against it but obviously, Donald Trump has more power than everyone else”.
The alleged call that Mr Varadkar made showed that Ireland is “back to the Galway tent – the Bertie Ahern era of the Galway tent again”, Mr Shannon declared.
Another landowner involved, John McMahon, said it was “a storm in a teacup”.
“Whatever Leo Varadkar did, it had no bearing on the planning application,” he said. “[He] made a phone call – sure every public representative in the Dáil makes phone calls on different occasions.
“I don’t think the public representatives have any bearing whatsoever on planning issues anymore. Council officials are paid to do their jobs independent of public representatives,” he said.
“There was a huge amount of local opposition to the wind farm,” he said. “I would have preferred if it had gone ahead but locally there was a huge campaign against the wind farm. That was detrimental to it getting planning.”