Seanad debates

Tuesday, 20 February 2024

Special Measures in the Public Interest (Derrybrien Wind Farm) Bill 2023: Second Stage


1:00 pm

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, to the House.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is a special and unusual Bill. It arises in the circumstances that ESB, through a subsidiary company called Gort Windfarms Limited., took a lease of property in the mountains between counties Clare and Galway. It built a wind farm on the land it leased, with a considerable number of wind turbines and enough capacity to power 30,000 homes. As a result of the construction, it appears that a peat slide took place in a gully about the length of the distance from this Chamber to Kildare Street. I have seen this. The peat slide polluted an adjoining river heavily, causing serious damage to the fish stock. These circumstances gave rise to an entirely justifiable environmental outcry. After a number of legal steps were taken, it was determined that Ireland was in breach of its obligations at European level by having permitted this wind farm to be established and built without proper environmental impact regulations and reports and without proper measures to conserve and preserve the environment. ESB tried to fight these decisions and, eventually, the European Commission started to impose fines on Ireland for non-compliance with environmental impact law at a European level. The consequence of all of that was that the ESB, through its subsidiary, brought an application for substitute consent to allow it to keep the wind farm in existence, notwithstanding the fact that it had been built without appropriate compliance with environmental impact protection law at Irish and European levels.

The application for substitute consent was made to An Bord Pleanála. On 12 March 2021, an inspector's report was prepared which suggested that the wind farm should be retained and the board should provide substitute consent. At a later stage, the board rejected the recommendation of its inspector. It did so on a very narrow ground, which was, effectively, that it was impossible to undo the damage done originally. The inspector's report was very careful and detailed. It pointed out what would be obvious to anyone. I do not know if the Minister of State has had the opportunity but Members of the Independent Group hired a bus and went to inspect the site and saw all of the equipment in operation. It became obvious to us that the valley down which the peat slide had taken place had been completely rehabilitated with grass, shrubs and the like and that there was no imminent or obvious likelihood of any further environmental damage of this kind taking place. The result of An Bord Pleanála's refusal to give substitute consent is that Gort Windfarms Limited., the ESB body that carried out this development, is under an obligation, once an enforcement notice is served by Galway County Council, to undo the development. This will involve dismantling the massive concrete plinths, removing all the generators and roads it built from the mountainside, and, possibly even refilling the lake which was the quarry from which all the stone used in the development came. To carry out works of such enormous size and complexity, you can only say there is a real likelihood of further damage to the flora and fauna of the area and further damage to the environment.As a matter of European law, there is a cardinal principle that people who breach environmental law should not be allowed in general terms to benefit from their own breaches. This means the ESB should not, as a matter of principle, be entitled to benefit from the fact it built a wind farm in contravention of the various standards that were required of it at the time. The European Court of Justice is very clear in its jurisprudence that people who breach the law in these circumstances, unless they can get the equivalent of substitute consent at European level, must undo the damage they have done.

Let us consider an example. Let us suppose a motorway was built in France across a valley and a bridge was built in the bed of a river that did very serious damage to the fish stock, a rare species of snail or a breeding ground for this or that rare animal. It would be impossible, in fact, without removing the motorway bridge to bring back the river to its original condition. This does not mean as a consequence that European law requires the bridge be demolished. There has to be proportionality in all of this. There has to be reasonableness.

All of this was accommodated in the Bord Pleanála inspector's report. The reasoning of An Bord Pleanála itself is staggeringly deficient in that it does not address all of the findings of its inspector. To my mind, that is the most surprising aspect of it. In a very comprehensive analysis of what had happened, which was very serious, and what was possible to do by way of restoration of the environment, the inspector came to the conclusion that demolishing it was not a reasonable or practicable proportionate thing to require and that, therefore, the board should grant the ESB substitute consent to retain it.

Faced with the situation that the highest non-court appellate body in Ireland in planning matters had refused substitute consent, I fully concede the Government found itself in a corner. On the one hand, it appears it was being fined for failing to undo the damage as required by European law and, on the other, due to the decision by An Bord Pleanála to reject its own inspector's report, no substitute consent was available. It was in this context that our group visited the site at Derrybrien. We saw the turbines in operation and the skeleton staff keeping them in operation and proposed that they should be retained. We retained a very skilled parliamentary draftsman in Dr. Brian Hunt to draft legislation for us that would not reward the ESB in any way for its breaches of the law but, on the contrary, would divest it of its wind farm, which would be handed over to another State agency that would operate it in the national interest, and any revenues accumulating from its operation would be applied to environmental projects in the area.

The situation we now find ourselves in is that this country is busily installing gas and diesel emergency generating capacity because our natural gas and other forms of generation are inadequate to ensure we do not have brownouts or blackouts in certain circumstances. It is to avoid this that the legislation has been proposed, and to take into account that the national interest requires us to increase the volume of wind-generated energy rather than rely on fossil fuels of one kind or another, even on an emergency basis, to keep our economy going, our cities lit and industries operating. The legislation speaks for itself. It does not contravene European law. We have been assured of this by high legal authority; I am not operating on my own say-so. It is compatible with European law. It deprives the ESB of the ill-gotten gain of owning or operating a wind farm in the Slieve Aughty mountains, which it built improperly and which caused major and irreversible environmental damage to a river. We have carefully crafted legislation to bring about a common-sense and reasonable outcome that keeps in place the generating capacity for 30,000 homes but deprives the malefactors, namely the ESB and its subsidiary, of the benefit of the wrongful acts they committed.

It has been indicated to me that the Government will oppose this measure. I deeply regret this but I will wait to hear the Minister of State's detailed reasoning for so doing. It is sad that a Government with a Green Party energy Minister is in the position now of ordering the demolition of wind from capacity for 30,000 homes at a time the same Government is reluctantly, and I admit it is reluctantly, investing in further emergency fossil fuel capacity to keep the economy going. It is in this spirit that I propose the Bill. It is an unusual Bill. It is not often that I suggest the Oireachtas intervenes to provide, effectively, a solution to a problem of this kind but it is a necessary one. I look forward to the debate in the House.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome Deputy Grealish and Councillor Geraldine Donohue to the Visitors' Gallery.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I also welcome Deputy Grealish from Galway and Councillor Geraldine Donohue from Galway County Council. I also welcome the Minister of State. My colleague, Senator McDowell, has set out clearly the background to the Bill. I will focus on some issues. I was reminded when considering the Bill of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, addressing a major conference in Galway on 14 April 2022. He commented on climate change and renewable energy. Stakeholders from the entire country work there. The then Taoiseach said the report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest level in human history and that the window of opportunity before us to avoid the climate catastrophe was closing in on us all quickly. He said that we know how energy must be renewable. That was his focus. It was renewable energy.

We know that renewable electricity can not only help to deliver the necessary reduction in emissions and help us reach our targets but it can also provide new jobs, new green opportunities and a more resilient, secure and sustainable energy system for future generations to come. The Minister of State is fully committed to all of this. This is why we are offering this important legislation. I call for common sense to prevail to allow the wind to blow and the power to flow from the turbines of Derrybrien on the hills of Slieve Aughty in County Galway. I also call on the Government to use its powers and resources to explore all alternatives to secure the ESB wind farm infrastructure at Derrybrien. Rising energy costs and concerns about fossil fuels warrant the retention of the wind turbines that are in situand are functioning in Derrybrien. Abandoning the ESB wind project in Derrybrien at a time of national energy crisis would be sheer madness.The programme for Government put together by the three party coalition Government clearly stated its objective to promote wind energy and associated infrastructure and investment, and to protect that infrastructure and investment. Our Bill seeks to do exactly that. Let us not destroy the capability to provide green energy - a Green Minister of State advocating green energy. I have so far not seen any Green Senators in this House for this important debate. Let us not dismantle the 70 wind turbines capable of powering more than 40,000 homes. To do so will require planning permission and appropriate assessment. Galway County Council is the local planning authority. That is an important point I ask the Minister of State to address. The challenge is to find a solution to the long-running saga of Derrybrien. Vital wind energy with the capacity to feed power into the national grid cannot be destroyed. Yes, there are questions to be asked of the ESB. Yes, there are questions to be asked of the planning authority and there are questions to be asked by all the people involved. What we seek to do is address the situation, accept where we are now and move forward. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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I thank Senators McDowell and Boyhan for their work on drafting this Bill and for their opening remarks. I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the Derrybrien wind farm.

Derrybrien wind farm has had a long and difficult history. It is owned by Gort Windfarms Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ESB. Gort Windfarms commenced construction of the wind farm in June 2003. However, work was stopped in October 2003 due to a peat slide that resulted in an ecological disaster polluting the local river, causing the death of approximately 50,000 fish and lasting damage to the fish spawning beds. At that time emergency works were undertaken to protect watercourses, roads and property. Construction of the wind farm was completed in 2006. The Derrybrien wind farm was first referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union by the European Commission in 2006. In 2008, the court delivered a judgment against the State concluding that Ireland had failed in its obligations to assess environmental effects in accordance with the environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive prior to the granting of planning permission for the wind farm. In 2019, there was a further ECJ judgment against the State for failure to comply with the 2008 judgment. This resulted in the application of fines against the State until the terms of the judgment were met, including a lump sum fine of €5 million and daily fines of €15,000. The 2008 judgment had required that the Derrybrien wind farm be brought into compliance with the EIA directive by way of substitute consent. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 introduced substitute consent provisions into the Planning and Development Act 2000. This provides for the potential regularisation of development consents that had previously been granted permission in breach of the EIA directive. In August 2020, Gort Windfarms, as owner and operator of the Derrybrien wind farm, submitted a substitute consent application to An Bord Pleanála. On 4 February 2022, the board issued its decision refusing the application. This meant that the development is an unauthorised development in accordance with the Planning and Development Act. Following An Bord Pleanála's decision, the ESB confirmed that it would comply with the decision to cease commercial operations and announced the permanent closure of Derrybrien wind farm. The ESB has further stated its intention to decommission the wind farm and associated elements, and is engaging with the local authority. The decommissioning of the site may require a separate EIA. While the European Commission confirmed in January 2023 that compliance with the judgment was achieved with the refusal of the substitute consent application by An Bord Pleanála, the case against the State remains open and the Commission has requested that it be kept updated on developments relating to the enforcement procedure and decommissioning of the wind farm.

The State has already lost two infringement cases at the ECJ in respect of this site on the basis that this project lacked an appropriate environmental impact assessment. A substitute consent application by the ESB was refused by An Bord Pleanála in February 2022, meaning the wind farm is now an unauthorised development and subject in law to enforcement by the local authority. The provisions in this Bill could set an undesirable precedent that would severely undermine the integrity of the planning system. Reopening the site would be contrary to the commitment given to the European Commission and contrary to the outcome that has allowed for the cessation of the original infringement fines against the State. It would also likely result in further fines for the State, which would be unprecedented where all necessary steps to resolve previous infringements have been taken. The Bill does not address the adverse finding of An Bord Pleanála and the environmental assessment already carried out, and ignores the result that this development is unauthorised. Any new owner would require planning permission and there are no grounds for expecting a different outcome to the previous applications. Legal challenges are almost inevitable if the wind farm recommences operation.

With respect to the environmental contribution of this wind farm to Ireland's renewable energy and emissions targets, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications considers that it would likely be limited, even if it had continued to operate. The Department is also of the view that the continued production of wind energy from Derrybrien is not expected to have a material impact on ensuring the security of Ireland's electricity supplies. It is notable that there appears to have been no consultation with any of the key stakeholders relevant to this Bill, such as the ESB, the Western Development Commission or the relevant line Departments. The proposed role of the Western Development Commission to manage the Derrybrien wind farm, which is a substantial entity with a complex background and numerous outstanding issues, would pose intricate challenges for a non-commercial statutory body, requiring specialised knowledge and expertise of the renewable energy sector as well as highly technical, operational and regulatory capability. Impending complex challenges include obtaining planning permission, which is unlikely to be forthcoming for the reasons set out, dealing with legal challenges against any planning application or the continued operation of the wind farm, further EIAs as well as the challenges and costs of decommissioning the site in the likely event planning consent is not obtained. The Western Development Commission is non-commercial statutory body established under the Western Development Commission Act 1998 to promote and encourage economic and social development in the western region. It manages the western investment fund to provide equity and social finance to startup and scaling companies, community and social enterprises and strategic initiatives. However, it does not play a role in the day-to-day management or operational activities of these enterprises. Transferring operational management of a wind farm to the Western Development Commission is not in the State's interests, nor does such a move resolve the aforementioned issue of the site being an unauthorised development, which still applies irrespective of site ownership.

The Government, having considered the proposals in the Bill, has decided to oppose it for these reasons.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State or his response. I am somewhat aware of the intricacies of this issue in east County Galway. The construction of this site started before I entered politics, and I will be in it 20 years in June this year. It has been going on a while. The thrust of the Bill introduced by Senators McDowell and Boyhan makes sense in terms of there being an issue, which is a site capable of producing energy and what can be done to allow it be maintained and produce that energy. The Minister of State has outlined the difficulties. This was obviously discussed today at Cabinet as is all Private Members' business. This is a complex issue. No doubt he has gotten legal advice on the matter. He explained the complexities of substitute consent, the infringement cases, the lump sum payments and daily fines we are facing from Europe. Any new owners would also need planning permission and the Minister of State has said there is no expectation or reason to expect a different result. In this case, that would be problematic for the Western Development Commission if it was to be the new owner and had to apply. There are a number of issues relating to the complexities of this area of law.I do not pretend to be an expert but I do know that whether it be this type of development, quarries, or the issues that are being faced in Lough Funshinagh in Roscommon at the moment, there are issues pertaining to special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas that are complex. It may not make sense to the layperson looking at an existing wind farm that is in operation that the area has been rehabilitated and that it can provide - like all wind farms - funding for local communities through sponsorship and the likes. From one individual to whom I have spoken, the view locally is that the whole thing is madness - the fact that there is a wind farm and it is going to have to be taken down.

Can the situation be solved by this Bill? I do not know. Can it be solved by another Bill? I do not know. Is this something that requires EU Commission intervention and change at EU level for such situations? I do not know. It is an entirely complex area. The whole area of substitute consent is problematic. It requires large levels of expenditure. I have no problem with that. Some of the State entities like the ESB could probably afford those type of things but the small guy could not. I am not sure about the present owners or operators of this wind farm.

Were mistakes made? The peat slide originally caused an amount of damage. The question is whether we have to fully dismantle the wind farm. We can take down the turbines and remove them at the base, but if we have to dig up foundations and everything else like that, the question is what level of damage could be done in that case. I am not sure if that is a requirement or if it is the case that the turbines themselves would be taken up and the rest covered with peat. I do not know. There are a lot of questions and a lot of issues to consider. The Government has made a decision today, but I believe it is in the interests of everybody in the locality and for reasons of common sense, energy security and everything else, including the investment that took place and if one likes, the morality of the whole thing, that a solution would be found to this problem. It surely cannot be that there was no solution other than its removal, possibly causing more damage in the act of trying to remedy and rectify the situation.

I do not have the solution and I do not pretend that I have. I cannot come up with any piece of legislation that could be suddenly magicked up to solve this issue. The best way to proceed is to follow the legal advice and to engage with the European Union, the Commission and the Legislature in this country. Surely solutions can be found to issues such as this. Nobody is suggesting that we give carte blancheto anyone to do anything. Of course not, but where we have a project that is built, and that has the potential to operate and provide power, and where the dismantling of said infrastructure could cause more damage, it is not beyond the wit of man and woman to try to find a solution through whatever avenue. While the Government has decided to oppose this motion – I acknowledge the advice that was received in relation to it - I hope the Minister of State can bring back to the Cabinet that a practical solution needs to be found to allow this wind farm to continue to be maintained for the local community and for the good of the environment going forward. Unfortunately, we cannot change the past. We cannot change what happened and the damage that was done, but we can look to the future of this project.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. It is important to put some context around the Bill that we are being asked to support tonight. It is also important to look at Ireland's record on upholding environmental and nature laws. In January 2022, the EU official responsible for overseeing governance, enforcement action, and compliance on EU environmental legislation, told an Environment Ireland conference that much work remains to be done if Ireland is to bridge the gap of environmental compliance. He went on to describe circumstances in Ireland as disappointing and even worrying, and he called for a radical change of behaviour. This view was then echoed by the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss in March 2023. It found that the State has comprehensively failed to adequately fund, implement, and enforce existing national legislation and EU biodiversity-related laws and directives. State bodies and agencies should be held accountable for their performance in the implementation and enforcement of biodiversity-related legislation. Then in October 2023, Professor Áine Ryall of UCC, who is also chair of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and has a particular expertise and access to justice in environmental matters and environmental law enforcement told the Oireachtas climate committee that the State has comprehensively failed to adequately fund, implement, and enforce existing national and EU biodiversity legislation.

We are here tonight debating a wind farm that was developed with complete disregard for environmental laws and the local community. As we heard, during its construction in 2003, there were significant landslides. There was one at turbine 17, which did not halt construction. There was then a second landslide at turbine 68, which dislodged 450,000 cu. m of peat. That peat moved 2.5 km away before sliding further into the Derrywee river, killing 50,000 brown trout and then going on to kill 100,000 fish in total, disrupting the local water supplies, closing off roads, resulting in farmers having to purchase water tanks as the river remained contaminated for some time afterwards.

There are reasons we have environmental legislation. It is to protect our habitats, water courses and biodiversity, and to protect communities. In 2004, ESB International and the construction company were convicted of pollution offences. They received a paltry fine of €1,200. As a result, we know now that the EU initiated legal proceedings in 2005 and in 2008 the court found that an environmental impact assessment should have been conducted before permission was granted. In 2019, the European Court of Justice reaffirmed that Ireland was in breach of environmental law and the EU imposed fines of €5 million, with fines of €15,000 per day accruing until the matter was rectified. To date, the taxpayer has paid about €17 million in fines because we ignored environmental legislation. The ESB dragged its heels and obfuscated. It waited years to apply for substitute consent and when it finally got its act together, the application was struck down. Why was it struck down? It is because substitute consent did not provide for public participation and it did not meet the exceptionality test, as required by the European Court of Justice. We now know that in 2022 the ESB finally decided to take that wind farm offline, but it is still waiting to decommission the wind farm. The reason it is waiting is that it wants Galway County Council to enforce the planning permission on it. It does not have to apply for planning permission if Galway County Council issues an enforcement order for decommissioning.

At every step of the way there seems to be a blatant disregard for the law when it comes to this wind farm. I do not think that reopening the wind farm sends out the required message that we are in a biodiversity crisis. We are also in a climate crisis and we need more renewable energy, but we must be compliant with the law. We must respect the court's findings and uphold the law. Turning a blind eye to environmental obligations and leaving it to the taxpayer to somehow just pick up the tab is insulting to the public but also insulting to ourselves as legislators who are supposed to be upholding environmental law.

I just want to touch on the suggestion that this Bill will somehow address our energy security and will help us reach our renewable energy targets of 80% renewables by 2030. The language the Minister of State used is that he said it would not make a material difference. Frankly, I think that is a red herring. While it beggars belief that we have a wind farm that is going to be decommissioned, it sends out of powerful message that one cannot just ignore or turn a blind eye to the law. We all know that the real threat to our energy security is the exponential growth of large energy users, namely data centres. It was stated that Derrybrien is producing enough electricity for 30,000 homes. Data centres are currently using more electricity than all the rural houses on this island. That is the real threat to our energy security.I will work with any Member of this House to address that issue and deal with the real issues around our energy security. It is not right to send the message that somehow certain companies and projects are above the law. It is also worth noting that this wind farm has been operating at a major loss for years and is also coming close to the decommissioning phase anyway. The lifespan for wind turbines is around 20 to 30 years, so this wind farm is coming to the end of its lifespan. We are about to send out a very strong message that the law can just be ignored if it is thought there are exceptional reasons for doing so. That is not a message that we as legislators should be sending out.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Before I launch into what I have to say, I understand planning permission would be required to remove the current Derrybrien wind generators. I will be objecting to that planning permission and taking this as far as I possibly can. I disagree with some of what the previous speaker said. We are talking about changing a law, not ignoring the law.

Today, we heard a detailed and valid argument from my colleagues Senators McDowell and Boyhan. Nothing in the proposed legislation runs counter to the programme for Government. In fact, it is entirely in keeping with the ideology in it. We have very ambitious targets, particularly in relation to wind energy, not to mention the commitment we made to data centres. It is a massive and unenviable task, especially in relation to offshore wind energy. We do not have enough ports to transport materials. The Government should be striving, which is a lovely word and one it should be very familiar with, to do everything it can to maximise our wind energy output.

There is an irrational view that underpins so much in Irish politics. The Opposition is never allowed to have a good idea. If we think about this for one second, it makes no logical sense because it flies in the face of the function of the Seanad. Why was this House set up? What is its raison d'être? This approach underpins much of our politics. What I am about to say is relevant to this debate. In The Irish Sunon Monday, in my head-to-head with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, which everyone should read, especially those in Government, I pointed out that all the criticism the Government is now getting for the referendums was avoidable, but because solutions were proposed by Opposition, these were ignored in favour of running the referendums on International Women's Day. This was the priority, and to hell with anything else.

We are seeing something similar here now. A perfectly good Bill is being rejected because it has been tradition not to enact anything coming from the Opposition. I would not be surprised if there were many Government Senators in this Chamber who know this is a good Bill. Indeed, Senator Kyne, when he spoke, showed some very positive signs regarding what should be done. If there is uncertainty about the legal aspects of this proposal, would it not make sense to test this in court or to at least run it by the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, and then amend aspects about which there may be uncertainty? One of the main reasons I am convinced the opposition to this proposal is based on nothing other than the fact that it is an Opposition initiative is that I do not see how tearing down this wind farm makes any sense at all. I encourage the Minister of State to go and look at the site, if he has not done so already, because it has been put together incredibly well.

The Government's determination not to accept the Opposition proposal means it is prepared to flush some €200 million down the toilet. Is the Government so determined not to accept this Bill that it is prepared to risk blackouts? When people ask who is responsible, they will look at the Government. Does the Government seriously want its legacy, when the country already has so many problems, to be that it runs parliamentary matters in this way? The Minister of State has a chance to avoid that possibility today. I ask him to deviate from the irrationality that has plagued so much of our politics and, at the very least, to consider this legislation.

This Bill should be allowed to proceed to Second Stage. We can ten iron out any difficulties on Committee Stage. I cannot believe we are going to send large machinery into Derrybrien to tear down what is a perfectly serviceable wind energy generating station. It is absolutely absurd. Mention was made of the mudslide and turf slide on the site previously. Having walked the site with my colleagues, I can promise that if heavy machinery is brought onto that site, there will be mudslides the like of which we have never seen before. To do that would be nonsensical. It is no wonder that people turn against Europe when they see things like this going on. We need to stand up as a proud, sovereign state and declare we are capable of managing our own issues. The Government should to back to the courts, if that is what it takes, and establish what a wind farm is. We need to get this site generating electricity. If the Minister of State were to go down to that part of the world, he would see that this is feeding finance into the local economy. We are talking about retaining our pride. No one is denying that mistakes were made. We need to learn from those mistakes and repair them.

I agree with the previous speaker on the issue of data centres. This is going to be a problem as we go forward. As with many other things in this country, we tend to take a very narrow and to hell with the consequences. If the Government is determined to tear down this site, we will start with planning permission and I will object to it being given. I sincerely hope the whole of east Galway will join me in objecting. It makes absolutely no sense.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The phrase "An Irish solution to an Irish problem" is in many ways much abused. Any derision about it denies our capacity for ingenuity and creativeness when it comes to trying to deal with certain problems that inevitably arise in Government and administration from time to time. Far from offering us even an Irish solution to an Irish problem today, the Minister of State has come in and given us something more reminiscent of "Little Britain" and the Carol Beer approach to government and administration where the "computer says No". He has given us no credible argument or reason the Government cannot and should not set out to cure this defect, which undoubtedly was there and led to us being in breach of environmental requirements and to the State having to pay such a large amount - up to €17 million - in fines to date, by creative legislation and negotiation with the European Commission, including legislation such as that my friend and colleague, Senator McDowell, has brought forward today, with the support of his fellow Members of the Independent Group in this House. I think this speaks to a very disappointing lack of imagination on the side of the Government. It has not said this cannot be done legally. It has not said it could be unconstitutional in any way or that we would be in violation of European regulations or rules, to which this country is undoubtedly subject these days.

I am equally disappointed by the putative future alternative government, Sinn Féin, in failing to see that sometimes it is actually possible to legislate to cure a past defect and to ensure that this wind farm, which I and my fellow Independent Senators have visited, could operate to the benefit of the environment and to our energy security challenges, as well as preventing further environmental damage from the uprooting of these turbines. The Minister of State has given no reason other than that there could somehow be inadvertent or unforeseen consequences. It is the usual Government palaver concerning why it does not want to take an idea on board.

The Minister of State had notice of and knew about Senator McDowell and the Independent Group's initiative. It was, therefore, open to the Government to talk to its civil servants, Brussels and whomever else it might be necessary to consult and say, "Listen, there is a good point here and we should not waste this valuable resource and do further damage by uprooting these turbines". The Government should make the position clear in this regard.We do not want to endorse the wrongdoing of the past so we need to come up with a solution whereby the party responsible for that past wrongdoing, environmental damage and unauthorised development cannot benefit financially or otherwise in the future. There is a way to do that and Senator McDowell has shown how. Instead, we get an unimaginative "Computer says no" response.

It speaks poorly of the Green Party in government. I would have thought in an election year its members would want to convince the thousands of people in Ireland who think Green Party members may have some good ideas but are utterly unrealistic people who would destroy life as we know it if they got half a chance-----

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Do not exaggerate.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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-----whether it is farmers worried about forestry, turf cutters or people who wonder at the amazing expectations other people have for cars on the road by a certain date, for certain amounts of carbon sequestration or for the end of fossil fuels, which we would all like but which cannot be achieved easily or in the short term. It would be timely for Green Party members in government to show they are realistic people and know that sometimes the perfect can be the enemy of the good but no, they cling to their perfectionism by opposing a sensible solution. I recall the words in The Merchant of Venice, when Portia was appealed to: "To do a great right do a little wrong". In order to avoid the greater evil of further environmental degradation, the loss of a valuable resource and the further demoralisation of people in rural Ireland, would Green Party members not show a bit of creativity or at least pretend to try?

There is nothing of that in the Minister of State's speech today, only the usual flat balderdash we got from Government which hides behind advice it never publishes and which warns of unintended consequences, bad precedents and all that sort of nonsense. There is an obvious problem and an obvious solution. The solution is to set out to cure the defect and take away the reward for the production of energy from those who committed the initial wrong, while providing we can continue to use the resource now that it is there.

The idea we would entertain the uprooting by these turbines by the ESB as a mea culpa, only doing further damage to the environment, is nonsense. It speaks volumes. It is a combination of ineffectual government and arrogance, whereby the Government does not even feel it needs to give a reason for not taking a well-researched and good idea on board. One only has to look at the recitals in this Bill and all the issues that arise, including the possibility of power cuts in the State during times of peak demand and the significant risk to electricity security of supply in the coming years. The reality is that in order to maintain our electricity generation, there needs to be continued, and at times increased, use of fossil fuels, including coal and diesel. There will be hell to pay if the lights go out. Government Members will know all about it then.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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The lights are about to go out here.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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There are 70 operational turbines the Minister of State does not want to give a chance to. If I was writing the Government's school report, I would be saying "Can do better". Maybe I would add in another couple of words: "Can do an awful lot better." I invite Government Members to have a rethink. The lack of imagination and the arrogance underlying it has led to a "Computer says no" response from the Government. Ministers should be getting the message from Government backbenchers that that weakness of will, lack of imagination and stubborn refusal to take on good ideas will be the Government's undoing in the end.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I will surprise and shock Senator Boylan by saying virtually everything she said I agree with, except for one bit, which is that she wants this place torn down and €200 million worth of investment to be smashed up. There is potential for huge environmental damage from the remedial works she wants undertaken to make an environmental point. That is a big mistake. I invite the Senator to read the inspector's report and then read the decision of An Bord Pleanála; one is good while the other is complete rubbish and an abdication of common sense by a body that is fairly seriously discredited as things stand.

The Minister of State stated acceptance of this Bill would set a bad precedent. If he had said the Attorney General was advising the Government at the Cabinet meeting today that for Ireland to adopt the measures provided for in the Bill would be unconstitutional because it would breach European law and that nothing of this kind could be done under European law, I would be impressed even though I would profoundly disagree. If he had said that, I would understand it.

I reiterate my example of the motorway bridge in France. Would anybody expect the French Government to smash up a bridge because it had done damage to a river in France? They would not, but in Ireland the power of the ESB was such that it clung onto its unauthorised development for so long and incurred fines for Ireland. A pathetic Government response kowtowed to the ESB, did nothing about this and allowed the ESB keep the benefit of its unlawful acts over the bones of two decades. That is what went wrong and that is why we got fines. It was the cowardice of Irish Governments that led to this mess.

I appreciate the care the Minister of State gave to his response. He said the Western Development Commission is not in a position to take this over because this is not its bailiwick. The Act provides for the powers to be given to that commission but the real solution is to give it the assets, tell it to operate them and it will go to a commercial wind farm operator and say, "On an agency basis, manage this place, generate the electricity and send us the cheque." That is the simple solution. I do not expect the people in Ballaghaderreen suddenly to become electricity generation experts. All I want is that this valuable €200 million investment is not destroyed. We all inspected the Slieve Aughty mountains and saw what it would take to restore this land. All I want is that that operation, which will create massive further environmental damage, not be undertaken. There are quarries, roads and massive plinths. There are things like enormous Second World War pillboxes on which these turbines are located.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Ceaucescu-style pillboxes.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Removing them from that environment will be a massive operation.

I was glad Senator Kyne said local opinion is with us on this. It was suggested at the time that some environmentalists locally were wholly opposed to this. Possibly there were a few but we spoke to local people from the community when we visited Derrybrien and were satisfied the people of Derrybrien were with us and wanted that installation kept. Not the noisy couple of sandal-wearers who may or may not have written a few letters of protest, but the genuine people in the locality wanted this facility kept.

What happens now? As Senator Mullen suggested, why not go to Brussels and say it does not make sense to knock this down and wreck the environment a second time in order to undo what has happened? We could go on our knees and say we made a bags of this, should not have allowed the ESB to procrastinate for two decades on the matter and should have done something sooner. The Government should apologise for that but please, let common sense re-assert itself and let this valuable piece of national infrastructure be kept in place, rather than destroyed in an act of "Alice in Wonderland" nonsense on stilts. I am sorry the Minister of State is rejecting this legislation but when the damage is done on the top of that mountain again, this Government will be responsible for it and nobody else.

Question put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 6; Níl, 19.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Michael McDowell and Rónán Mullen; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Joe O'Reilly.

Question declared lost.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 7.34 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 21 Feabhra 2024.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.34 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 February 2024.