Carthy accuses Department of ‘missing the point’ on Interconnector review
At the Dáil’s Public Accounts last Thursday Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, accused the Department of Environment of ‘missing the point’ in their so-called review of the North South Interconnector.
In an exchange with the Secretary General of the department, Mark Griffin, Deputy Carthy said that the review will examine matters that were not queried by landowners or local communities rather than conduct a full independent analysis into the undergrounding of the project which had been committed by Fianna Fáil during the last General Election.
In responses to questions from the Cavan Monaghan TD, Mr. Griffin would not provide the cost of the review or who will conduct it. Deputy Carthy’s assertion that ‘it was full steam ahead’ for the project regardless of the findings of the review was not dismissed by the department.
Speaking following the hearing Deputy Carthy said:
“For all the rhetoric of Fianna Fáil representatives following the announcement of the review it is now crystal clear that this will be a wasteful box-ticking exercise.
“It will see government spend money to let it appear that they are doing something in response to the long-standing community concerns with the pylon-supported overhead powerline option. But, nothing will change.
“The review will simply state that the previous reviews were valid. Despite the fact that they stated that undergrounding was ‘a credible option’ EirGrid will then enter into direct confrontation with local communities and landowners who will be demonised in the public domain.
“It is important to remind government that there has never been an independent analysis conducted into the undergrounding of the North-South Interconnector. Without that, nobody can have confidence that EirGrid are proceeding for anything other than pig-headedness.
“Once again, I am calling on government representatives to stand up for their communities. To end the farce and to do the right thing. Examine the costs, feasibilities and provide a full analysis of a defined underground route and then allow decisions to be made with all of the necessary information. Anything less will be unforgivable”.
Full Exchange between Matt Carthy TD and Mr. Mark Griffin, Department of Environment, Climate and Communications:
Deputy Matt Carthy: The Department has announced a review in the North-South interconnector. How much is it expected that review will cost?
Mr. Mark Griffin: I do not have a figure because we are just completing the procurement process. Given the nature of the review that is planned, I do not expect the cost to be significant.
Matt Carthy: Will it cost thousands or tens of thousands of euro?
Mark Griffin: It will cost in the thousands or the small tens of thousands.
Matt Carthy: What is the purpose of the review?
Mark Griffin: We have set out terms of reference for the project. The Deputy is very familiar with this project and it has been reviewed on a number of occasions. We have asked for a review of the findings and key recommendations of the 2018 international expert committee study and to determine whether those findings still stand. That is the nature of the review.
Matt Carthy: The review is to see if the 2018 report remains valid?
Mark Griffin: That is exactly right.
Matt Carthy: Has there been a question over the validity of the 2018 report?
Mark Griffin: No, but the Minister felt that given the concerns that remain around the project, it would be worthwhile to do this short, clearly-defined block of work to determine whether the findings still stand and to provide reassurance to people who have an interest in the project. If the outcome is that the findings still stand, it will provide reassurance.
Matt Carthy: The difficulty is that the Department is missing the point. I am one of the people with concerns and my concerns were never around the validity of the 2018 report. In fact, the 2018 report acknowledges the credibility of the underground option, which is, as Mr. Griffin knows, favoured by local communities. The difficulty does not relate to that report, per se.
The committee will be interested as to why the Department is investing any money at all into a project for which nobody asked. What was sought was an independent analysis into an underground option so we could determine, once and for all, the full implications in terms of cost, feasibility and technical aspects of the project. Will the Department consider that type of assessment?
Mark Griffin: That particular issue has been reviewed on a number of occasions, most recently in the 2018 project.
Matt Carthy: The 2018 project included in its conclusions that an underground interconnector would be a credible option. The difficulty is that nobody has properly analysed what an underground option would cost or whether unforeseen technical issues would emerge. We are, therefore, continuing along a vein whereby EirGrid, with the support of the Department, is proceeding to a direct confrontation with landowners and local communities. On top of that, the Department is now spending money on a review for which nobody asked.
Mark Griffin: In terms of how our system is set up and in accordance with the 2012 policy statement on this issue, EirGrid was determined to have the most technically appropriate solutions to the delivery of grid infrastructure. That is its role. That is not our role.
Matt Carthy: Am I correct that regardless of what this review concludes, and nobody expects it will do anything other than reaffirm the current position, the type of infrastructure used to develop this project will be determined by EirGrid and the Department will not interfere, regardless of what any independent review states?
Mark Griffin: We will wait and see what the independent review states. I am not going to comment on an outcome I have not seen yet.
Matt Carthy: Have consultants been appointed to that review?
Mark Griffin: Consultants are on the verge of being appointed but the procurement has not fully concluded yet. A party has been identified and the procedural work to finalise that is being concluded.
Matt Carthy: I take it from the language Mr. Griffin is using that he is not going to divulge who that party is?
Mark Griffin: I am not even sure I have that information in my brief.
Matt Carthy: How did the procurement process operate? Was it advertised? Were there a number of expressions of interest?
Mark Griffin: It was advertised. We looked at the Office of Government Procurement panels that were in place at the time. That did not deliver any expressions of interest from external parties to do the work, so a broader tender was issued.
Matt Carthy: Were there a number of expressions of interest or engagements with the procurement process?
Mark Griffin: At the second stage, a limited number of parties put their names forward to do this work.
Matt Carthy: All they are being asked to do is read somebody else’s homework and determine whether they can find any mistakes in it?
Mark Griffin: That is the Deputy’s characterisation of the terms of reference.
Matt Carthy: Notwithstanding anything they might find, it is full steam ahead, as far as the Department is concerned, for the North-South interconnector under EirGrid’s current proposals?
Mark Griffin: Again, I would say that is the Deputy’s characterisation of the assessment. What I said to the Deputy was we would look at whatever comes out of this process and form a view then. The bottom line is that we have looked at this issue. When I say “we”, I mean the system has looked at this issue on a number of occasions, going back probably a decade, on the options of overgrounding or undergrounding. We have commissioned a number of international expert opinions on this. The outcome, up to and including the 2018 review, is that the most cost-effective and appropriate way of delivering this infrastructure is by an overhead solution.
Matt Carthy: It is my belief that there has never been an analysis of an underground option for this project. Mr. Griffin and I will agree to disagree.