Minister Humphreys Urges Local Communities to Apply

Michael Fisher   NORTHERN STANDARD   Thursday 11th August 2016 p.1

The government aims to publish a new Action Plan for Rural Ireland by the end of this year. This was revealed during a visit to Clones on Tuesday by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys T.D. She was launching a scheme to assist rural regeneration.

Minister Humphreys announced that her department was making available a fund of €10 million this year to local authorities throughout the state in order to support the renewal of rural towns and villages. An allocation of €380,000 has been set aside for County Monaghan and each of the other 25 counties to go towards projects.
This was by no means a silver bullet to solve all the problems in rural Ireland, but it was a positive start, she said. They would work from the ground up in order to get the best solutions. The Minister said she did not have all the ideas and did not want to be prescriptive about how the funding should be used. She told the Northern Standard it was up to local authorities in conjunction with local groups to sit down and decide the priorities to be tackled, such as derelict buildings. Local people could identify things they needed to make a difference to bring back life to the towns and villages.

The Minister hoped there would be a quick turn-around time for grant approval, with allocations being made before the end of the year. If it brought back people into towns and villages then it would be a success. She said there were many examples of modern day living, with people turning historic sites into accommodation. She wanted to see people living in towns, creating companionship and community spirit.

She said this first tranche of funding under the Town and Village Renewal scheme represented a serious commitment by government to offer support to rural towns and villages. Each county can apply for grants for up to eight separate town or village projects. Minister Humphreys called on local communities and businesses to submit outline plans to her department for approval in September. Up to 200 towns and villages across the country will benefit from the scheme this year.

A particular focus will be placed in 2016 on supporting smaller towns, with populations of less than 5,000. A maximum of two projects can be supported in each county for those towns with a population of up to 10,000. Funding will be allocated to local authorities to meet up to 85% of the total cost of each project.

In County Monaghan, applications for the scheme will be forwarded through the regeneration committees in Clones, Ballybay, Monaghan, and Castleblayney, as well as the Carrickmacross Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the respective Municipal Districts. Funding will be released to local authorities once projects are approved by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The minimum grant for any single project is €20,000 and the maximum is €100,000. The Department says this phase of the Town and Village Renewal Scheme will be reviewed and adapted as necessary for 2017.
Speaking at the restored courthouse building in Clones, the Minister said rural development was a key priority in the Programme for a Partnership Government. Ireland’s towns and villages were at the heart of our rural communities, but the economic downturn had a significant impact on many of them. She said it was incumbent on them (as a government) to help these areas achieve a recovery.

Minister Humphreys went on: “I am launching the Town and Village Renewal Scheme to begin breathing life back into our rural towns and villages. It is critical that towns and villages become areas where economic activity can flourish, where people can live and work, and where people can meet at a social level.”

The Minister continued: “Consultation and collaboration will be key elements of the scheme. It will be administered through the local authorities, which will be required to partner with local businesses and local communities to develop and implement ideas that can make a real and lasting impact in revitalising rural towns and villages.”

She said the scheme was part of the government’s commitment to ensuring that the benefits of economic recovery were felt in every part of the country. The scheme also addresses one of the recommendations in the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas report, published in 2014.

Measures taken under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme should have a sustainable and visible impact on the area in question. The type of project to be funded under the scheme could include measures to:

  • increase the attractiveness of the town or village as a local commercial and social centre, and increase its sustainability as a place in which to live and work;
  • enhance its environment and amenity in the interests of residents, businesses and visitors;
  • enhance the culture and local heritage assets of the town/village and promote tourism;
  • tackle minor physical infrastructural deficits and land assembly issues.

The Minister was welcomed to the town along with other guests by Finbarr Dunwoody of the Clones Chamber of Commerce. The procedures for applying for the fund were outlined by William Parnell, assistant secretary at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, whose brief covers regional development and rural affairs, said the roll-out of rural broadband was a priority and the department was working in conjunction with the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten.

Louise Lennon of Irish Rural Link (an organisation based in Moate, Co. Westmeath) stressed that a good broadband infrastructure was needed. She said the scheme announced by the Minister was a first step in the right direction for the development of rural towns and villages that had been hit by the economic crisis a few years ago. She said it was important to bring facilities back into towns so that younger people could remain there.
Peter Hynes, Chief Executive of Mayo County Council, welcomed the initiative on behalf of the County and City Management Association. He said it showed the importance the government attached to rural Ireland. The local authorities, he said, shared that priority. There were big challenges in the areas of building housing, creating employment and climate change. Balanced regional development and rural regeneration was of critical importance, he added.

Mr Hynes said a key part of that was getting people back into towns and villages. The extent of the challenge was daunting: towns and villages were at the eye of the storm, challenged by the spread of online retailing. He reminded the gathering that it would take time, commitment and resources to tackle the problem, but it could be done. He cited the example of Westport in Co. Mayo where he was appointed town manager in 1996 with a brief for regeneration. Twenty years on, it had been a success. He looked forward to local authorities taking on the challenge so that towns and villages could realise their potential. They would be collaborating with businesses, the department and in particular with local communities to make it happen. This scheme was a big step in the right direction, he said.

Patrick McCarville of the Clones Regeneration Partnership said their committee set up last year would probably concentrate initially on the development of the Fermanagh Street and Diamond area. The town renewal scheme would be another potential source of funding in addition to LEADER.

Mr McCarville said the committee would be meeting at the end of the month to try to identify sites that businesses could do up. But the improvements would not happen overnight and as they heard, had taken some twenty years in Westport. One thing they were not going to do was to attempt to cloak the dereliction by erecting fake shop fronts to give the impression the buildings were occupied, as had been done in Enniskillen during the G8 summit in 2013.

Minister Humphreys told them that Clones with its monastic heritage was a fitting location to launch a scheme that aimed to support the revitalisation of towns and villages all over Ireland. Clones was also a town that had suffered more than most down through the years. Its close proximity to the border during the troubles had a severe impact on economic activity locally and sadly that resulted in a legacy of decline in the town. Unfortunately the scars were there for all to see today.

She went on: “while Fermanagh Street is always a hive of activity and thronged with people on Ulster Final day, the sad reality is that when the crowds move off, we are left with a main street that has far too many vacant premises. That’s a pity because it undermines the good work that is taking place in Clones. And there is an awful lot of good work going on here.”

“You have the superb PEACE Link facility, the recently opened Barry McGuigan Park, the new soccer pitch for Clones Town FC, as well as St Tiarnach’s Park – the home of Ulster GAA and of course a state of the art modern secondary school in Largy College. These are amenities that would be the envy of many towns in the country but unfortunately it’s all about first impressions. And the fact is when you walk on to a main street that has a number of empty and derelict premises, that vital first impression is not good.”

In launching the first phase of the Town and Village Renewal Scheme she said it was critical that town centres – and even small villages – became areas where economic activity was supported and encouraged, where people could visit and enjoy themselves and most importantly where people could live and work with a sense of pride of place.

“I have increased the allocation for the scheme in my department’s vote this year, from €4 million to €10 million, reflecting the government’s commitment to the development of rural Ireland. I want to acknowledge the excellent work which is already being carried out by businesses, communities and local authorities throughout the country to revitalise town centres. There are some fine examples of good practice and I hope that this new scheme will help other towns and villages to replicate and adapt those examples, or develop their own unique solutions to town and village renewal. I am encouraging the local authorities to engage fully with the scheme in order to maximise the benefit for the towns and villages in their area”, the Minister said.

She welcomed the presence at the launch of a number of business people and representatives of local community groups from across Monaghan and Cavan. “You are the people who are best placed to know how we can help your local town. We want your ideas and we want you to work with you. In this regard, consultation and collaboration will be key pre-requisites of the scheme”, she told them.

A project committee, representative of local community and business interests and the local authority, should be established for each project to help design a strategy which should be aligned with broader development plans and opportunities for the area. The most important part of the scheme, however, will be taking practical measures to support the town or village’s social, cultural and economic development, Minister Humphreys said.

She told them that a number of other measures would be announced in the Autumn to support rural development. These would be announced in due course by herself and Minister of State for Regional Economic Development Michael Ring. The Minister observed that there were many vacant or partially vacant heritage buildings in town centres all over the country which she believed offered real opportunity to bring life back into town centres.

If a real and lasting impact was to be made on the regions and on rural Ireland, then every government department needed to make a meaningful contribution to the effort, whether it was in relation to jobs, education, transport, housing or other economic or social policy area. With that in mind, her department would shortly commence work on an Action Plan for Rural Ireland. It would include clear objectives, with regular and structured progress reports that would be presented to the Cabinet Committee on Regional and Rural Affairs chaired by An Taoiseach. This would ensure co-ordination of the rural agenda across government, the Minister stated.

Included in this process will be the consideration of regional and rural issues in the design of the National Planning Framework. This framework is the follow-up to the National Spatial Strategy and its development will be led by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. The National Planning Framework (NPF) is a Long-term, 20-year National Plan outlining a high level spatial vision for Ireland. It will be the overarching plan from which other regionally and locally based plans will emanate.

The Action Plan format, successfully developed through the Action Plan for Jobs, takes a strategic approach based on implementation. Government departments are given key objectives which they must meet in the context of regional and local priorities.

Chief Executive of Chambers Ireland Ian Talbot said, “We welcome the commitment by Government to invest €10 million into the regeneration of rural towns and villages with the central aim to improve the living and working environment of local communities and support their potential to increase economic activity. We anticipate that this investment will be a positive step to help revitalise rural Ireland. Ireland has a high number of towns and villages with a population less than 10,000. There are 552 villages with a population of less than 100. Many of these towns and villages across Ireland will benefit from the funding announced by the Minister.”

“Consultation and collaboration with local citizens, business owners and Chambers will be vitally important to the success of the projects chosen for investment under this scheme. We encourage local business to engage with other stakeholders and to work closely with the local authority to develop innovative projects that can deliver long term and sustainable economic benefits, not only for the individual town or village but in turn for the wider county and region.”

Mr Talbot also welcomed the government’s commitment to produce an Action Plan for Rural Ireland similar to the Action Plan for Jobs. He said the courthouse restoration in Clones was a testament to what could be done with a small amount of money towards regeneration.

Mairead McGuinness, MEP for Monaghan and Vice-President of the European Parliament encouraged community groups to avail of the immediate opportunity to work with their local authorities to enhance and upgrade their towns and villages under the new scheme. The MEP said it was a good opportunity for those who had projects and ideas ready to activate to put in their applications by September.

“This funding scheme is due for distribution by the end of the year so those with projects already in mind will be in pole position to benefit. There will be further tranches coming down the line during 2017 and beyond. This part of the scheme will assist those with initiatives to help regenerate their towns and villages and give a boost to those working to bring vibrancy and economic recovery back into communities,” she said.

Mairead McGuinness was joined at the launch by local Fine Gael Councillors Sean Gilliland and Ciara McPhillips (Ballybay/Clones MD). Cllr David Maxwell from Monaghan MD was also present.

In a speech last month Minister Humphreys outlined how she was working closely with the Minster for Communications Denis Naughten, to deliver key elements of the National Broadband Plan and to accelerate and prioritise the rollout of the programme in rural areas. The aim is to deliver high speed broadband to every home, school and business by 2020 through a combination of commercial investment and state intervention.

The state will intervene in areas where commercial providers are failing to reach. The Minister said the Department of Communications was continuing to manage the procurement process for the state contract, which was expected to be awarded in summer 2017. In the meantime, her new Department was working with local authorities to eliminate any roadblocks, so as to ensure that towns and villages and rural areas were ready for broadband when the contract was signed.

She said it was difficult to overestimate the challenge they were facing. The broadband blackspots in need of state intervention accounted for 750,000 addresses, and covered 96% of our landmass. This represented about 100,000km of road network, traversing areas which were home to 1.8 million people. “Put simply: it’s a very big job – it’s akin to rural electrification.

But it will be worth the effort, and it will have a transformative effective on rural Ireland. High quality broadband is one of the many tools we can use to empower rural communities. The revitalisation of rural Ireland must be based on sustainable development”, the Minister added.

“We must learn from the mistakes of the past. We are all well versed on the mistakes of the construction bubble, when our young men were recruited and trained in their droves in an industry which was built on sand. The old approach of ‘an IDA factory for every town’ didn’t work either. It was false promise, and one that was generally never fulfilled.”

“Through the implementation of regional jobs plans, the government is encouraging each region to focus on its strengths. By supporting indigenous businesses and linking education with industry, we can give each region the best possible chance of success. Take for example, a business in my own constituency of Cavan-Monaghan.”

“Combilift is a home grown Monaghan success story – a jewel in the crown of Enterprise Ireland. Since it was first started by Martin McVicar and Robert Moffett 18 years ago, the company has grown into a global leader in forklift manufacturing. It now exports to over 75 countries. Last year, Combilift announced major expansion plans and the creation of 200 new jobs.

Crucially, the company has teamed up with Cavan Monaghan Education and Training Board to develop a series of new apprenticeship programmes, to ensure those jobs can be filled by local graduates. It’s a formula that works, and one I want to see replicated nationwide.”

The Minister told the MacGill Summer School in Glenties that sustainable development should also mean national decisions about rural Ireland were not taken in isolation. The report by the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas – published under the last government – looked at how to revitalise rural Ireland. One of its most important findings was the realisation that in order to fully support sustainable rural development there was a critical need for a more integrated approach across all government departments and agencies. “This is not a new concept and indeed much of the relevant sectoral frameworks accept the need for this kind of approach”, she said.

Minister Humphreys added: “this government’s increased commitment to supporting sustainable rural development in an integrated way has already been formalised through its commitments in the Charter for Rural Ireland published earlier this year and the creation of my new portfolio.”




Ulster Tower, Thiepval  Pic. IRFU Charitable Trust


 Michael Fisher in Thiepval  Northern Standard  Thursday 7th July 2016


Northern Standard, Thursday 7th July 2016

As she laid a wreath at the Ulster Tower in France last week, Minister Heather Humphreys stepped back and reflected on the carnage that had taken place on the battlefields of the Somme exactly one hundred years ago. She thought of the young men, including those from Ulster and other parts of Ireland, who had joined the British Army and had gone out to fight for their country and what they believed in. Some had written home to their mothers days before the offensive began and would die in the conflict.

The memorial which is similar to Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, Co. Down, is beside Thiepval Wood where soldiers from the 36th Ulster Division including some Monaghan men left the trenches at 7.30am on July 1st 1916 to advance towards the German lines. Heather Humphreys laid a wreath along with the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster MLA, the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers MP and Britain’s Prince Charles.


NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers M.P. at the Thiepval Memorial commemoration #Somme16

The service included representatives of the four main churches in Ireland. For the first 6time, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, was present at Thiepval along with his Church of Ireland counterpart, Archbishop Richard Clarke. The Presbyterian Moderator Dr Frank Sellar and the Methodist President Reverend Bill Mullally joined them.

They jointly called for Christians of all traditions in Ireland to pray for peace in these challenging times.  The Church leaders said: “Let us put our faith into action: love our neighbours, reach out to the stranger, care for the vulnerable, build community and be agents for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Addressing the service Archbishop Clarke referred to how the Somme and Ulster had belonged together in the imagination of succeeding generations over the last century. He noted that the Somme represented “a connectedness for all time with many men and women, and not only in Ulster nor only for one Christian tradition.”

He also recalled the recent pilgrimage to the Somme last month which he jointly led alongside Archbishop Martin, and which included a cross-community group of young people from across the island of Ireland. Archbishop Clarke encouraged the present generation to relate the sacrifice of the Somme to its hopes, prayers and aspirations for the future. “We must believe in a hope of the future for our young people, as they must believe in it for themselves”, he said.

The Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Frank Sellar, spoke afterwards of how for many families like his own, the Battle of the Somme was still personal. He said the Great War had changed the course of human history and a century later the world is still living with the consequences of its aftermath. The Somme, as a particularly poignant part of that conflict, changed the lives of countless thousands and indelibly shaped whole communities in Ulster and throughout the island of Ireland. It was a time of terrible carnage and incredible heroism, he added.

“For us today, 100 years on, it is difficult to imagine, or even contemplate, the shear scale of the loss of life and the impact that it had then. My grandfather lost two of his brothers on the battlefield, while a third, who survived, received the Military Medal for his bravery,” Dr Sellar said.

“For many families, like my own, the events of 1916 are still personal. It is however an enormous privilege and honour to represent the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at such an historic occasion, as we pause and remember those who died and reflect on their loss.”

“I am also reminded of our own fractured society and troubled world we live in and the vital importance of critical reflection and inclusive remembering. I am also very conscious of the necessity to always search for true reconciliation and for the creative reimagining of a civil society humbly modeled on Christ Jesus for the common good,” he said.

The objective of the 36th Ulster division was to dominate the area between Beaucourt to the north and Thiepval to the south, necessitating the capture of all German trench systems in front of them, particularly the strongly defended Schwaben Redoubt. In addition to its twelve battalions, there were four battalions of Tyneside Irish and seven regular Irish battalions distributed in other divisions, giving a total of twenty-three Irish infantry battalions involved on this front.

The Somme campaign lasted 147 days, from 1st July to 24th November 1916. The Allies captured 120 square miles of land, and advanced six miles. They suffered 419,654 casualties: forty men killed or wounded for every yard advanced.


Wreaths Laid at the Memorial Stone, Thiepval Memorial

At the start of her visit last Thursday, the Minister laid a wreath at the Ginchy Cross in Guillemont. It remembers the sacrifice of the 16th Irish Division of the British Army, which entered the Battle of the Somme in September 1916. Minister Humphreys will return there for a separate ceremony to mark the centenary in September.

She then visited one of the many cemeteries in the Picardy area maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Delville Wood contains the graves of over 5,500 servicemen, of whom 3,500 remain unidentified. They include some Irish casualties.

Heather Humphreys also attended a special Abbey Theatre production of ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme’, which was supported by her Department, at the Maison de la Culture in Amiens. It was attended by the playwright, Frank McGuinness.

On Friday morning the Cavan/Monaghan TD accompanied President Higgins at the Thiepval Memorial for an international service marking the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916. This ceremony was attended by a number of senior members of the British royal family, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster MLA along with her counterparts from Scotland and Wales.

The Minister said it was very important that the Irish Defence Forces led by Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett had been included in the ceremony along with British and Commonwealth servicemen and women.

CQMS Gerry White from Cork read from the last letter of Lt Tom Kettle, journalist and soldier with the 16th Irish Division. Students from St Paul’s community college in Waterford also played a role at the service, which was attended by 10,000 guests, mainly from the United Kingdom. Solicitor Brendan O’Reilly from Cootehill and his son Aoghan from Dernakesh National School travelled from Co. Cavan. They saw the grave of Mr O’Reilly’s grand uncle Rifleman J.P. O’Reilly. He served in the Royal Irish Rifles and was killed in September 1916. He is buried at the nearby Lonsdale Cemetery.

Speaking about her visit to France Minister Humphreys said:

“The Battle of the Somme was a seismic event, which had a huge impact on the island of Ireland. The Somme has particular resonance in my own province of Ulster, due to the very heavy losses suffered by the 36th Ulster Division on the first day of the battle. There were more than 5,500 casualties in the 36th on July 1st 1916, including 2,000 deaths. Over the four years of World War One, it is estimated that 50,000 Irish men were killed while serving in the British, Commonwealth or United States armies.”

“This had a profound effect on the island of Ireland, and almost certainly had an impact on every community across the country. For decades, the stories of these men went largely untold, and many of those who returned home from the Somme and other battles, felt forced to conceal their own experiences. The Decade of Commemorations has allowed us to explore some of these stories for the first time, giving those who fought and those who died their rightful place in Irish history.”

“During 2016, our centenary year, it has been incredibly important to me that we remember those who died fighting abroad, as well as those who died fighting during the Rising here at home. One hundred years on from both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, we are hearing a more complete narrative on the Irish experience in 1916, and the impact the events of that year had on our culture, our society and our psyche.”



Michael Fisher  Northern Standard  Thursday 30th April p.1

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton T.D. with Martin O'Briend CEO Cavan Monaghan ETB in one of the workshops at the Carrickmacross jobs forum Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton T.D. with Martin O’Briend CEO Cavan Monaghan ETB in one of the workshops at the Carrickmacross jobs forum Photo: © Michael Fisher

Monaghan Councillors especially Carrickmacross-Castleblayney Municipal District members have been snubbed by the Department of Jobs, according to the County Council Cathaoirleach, Councillor Padraig McNally (Fianna Fáil). He was addressing the April meeting of the District Council in Carrickmacross on Monday.

Three government Ministers, Richard Bruton and Ged Nash (Labour), with Heather Humphreys T.D. (centre), and two other Fine Gael Cavan/Monaghan TDs including Joe O'Reilly T.D. (right) attended the regional Action Plan for Jobs in Carrickmacross   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Three government Ministers, Richard Bruton and Ged Nash (Labour), with Heather Humphreys T.D. (centre), and two other Fine Gael Cavan/Monaghan TDs including Joe O’Reilly T.D. (right) attended the regional Action Plan for Jobs in Carrickmacross Photo: © Michael Fisher

He expressed his disappointment and frustration that he had not been invited to a regional jobs forum held at the Nuremore Hotel and attended by three government Ministers, including the Jobs Minister Richard Bruton T.D. and Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and local T.D., Heather Humphreys.

Minister Heather Humphreys T.D. and Minister Ged Nash T.D. at the Carrickmacross jobs forum Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Minister Heather Humphreys T.D. and Minister Ged Nash T.D. at the Carrickmacross jobs forum Photo: © Michael Fisher

Councillor McNally told the meeting that if there had been a Fine Gael Cathaoirleach of the County Council then that person would have been there, but on this occasion, local representatives had been snubbed. We like to be contacted about such events, he said, and it was very easy to forget that hey were there.

Cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, Councillor Padraig McNally  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, Councillor Padraig McNally Photo: © Michael Fisher

He proposed that the Municipal District wrote to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton T.D. saying that in future they should invite elected representatives from Carrickmacross. He said there was not one person present at the jobs forum who could report back directly to the workforce at the Bose factory. It is due to close at the end of next month, with the loss of 140 jobs.

Cathaoirleach of Carrickmacross Castleblayney Municipal District, Councillor Jackie Crowe  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Cathaoirleach of Carrickmacross Castleblayney Municipal District, Councillor Jackie Crowe Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Cathaoirleach of the Municipal District, Councillor Jackie Crowe (Sinn Féin) agreed that the elected local representatives had been snubbed. He seconded the motion. He said they had had no notification whatsoever about the meeting. It showed that the organisers had no time for them. He was disappointed that even the County Council Cathaoirleach had not been invited. It was not the first time that they had been snubbed and they should express their anger as a Municipal District.  It was agreed by the six Councillors present “That this Council writes to Minister Richard Bruton T.D. expressing our disappointment that neither the Muncipal District chairman or the county chairman were invited to the jobs meeting held in the Nuremore Hotel recently”.

Monaghan Councillor Colm Carthy from Carrickmacross  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Monaghan Councillor Colm Carthy from Carrickmacross Photo: © Michael Fisher

Councillor Colm Carthy (Sinn Féin) said that last month the District had agreed to write to Minister Bruton to request an update on the Bose facility and asking him if he would confirm where he was on organising a replacement for the jobs and employment in the Carrickmacross plant. The Council received a standard letter in reply from a Private Secretary, stating that the correspondence would be brought to the Minister’s attention “at the earliest opportunity”. Councillor Carthy, a former Bose employee, said he was concerned that no elected members had been invited to the jobs meeting held locally. It was a matter of grave concern, as the facility would be closing shortly. He said it had come as a surprise to him that Minister Bruton had visited the area.


Heather Humphreys T.D. and Caoimhghin Ó Caolain T.D. at the anti-pylons meeting in Aughnamullen Social Centre Photo © Michael Fisher

Heather Humphreys T.D. and Caoimhghin Ó Caolain T.D. at the anti-pylons meeting in Aughnamullen Social Centre Photo © Michael Fisher


Michael Fisher  Northern Standard Thursday 23rd April p.16

It’s a controversial issue and feelings were running high at times. After nearly three hours a clear message emerged from the crowded hall in Aughnamullen Social Centre in Lough Egish on Monday night. The verdict of the meeting was that EirGrid’s proposed second North/South electricity interconnector must be put underground. Over 300 people attended the meeting organised by the County Monaghan anti-pylon committee. After hearing from four of the five local TDs and then a lively question and answer session, a motion was put forward by Fianna Fáil Councillor Seamus Coyle. It was seconded by Fine Gael Councillor Hughie McElvaney.

The motion instructs TDs to place a Dáil motion asking the government to instruct EirGrid to cease all work on the proposed North/South link and to direct Eirgrid to underground fully the North/South interconnector as a high-voltage direct current (HVDC-VSC) cabling along roads, as in the company’s proposal for a section of the GridWest link. Asked by a member of the large crowd if she supported the motion, local Fine Gael T.D. and Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys said she would take time to read the motion before she agreed to it.

Seán Conlan T.D.  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Seán Conlan T.D. Photo: © Michael Fisher

Deputy Sean Conlan said he would be bringing the motion to a meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party at Leinster House due to be held last night (Wednesday). Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin Ó Caolain and Deputy Brendan Smith of Fianna Fáil also contributed to the meeting and there was an apology from Joe O’Reilly T.D. and Matt Carthy MEP.


Thirteen of the eighteen Monaghan Councillors were present, including all six from the Carrickmacross-Castleblayney Municipal District. An apology was received from Cllr Cathy Bennett. Concerns raised during the meeting that lasted nearly three hours ranged from the potential health impact of the overhead line, the devaluation of people’s land and property if the proposed project goes ahead and the environmental impact and unsightliness of the pylons. Many speakers claimed that the people of Monaghan, Cavan and Meath were being treated as second class citizens compared to those living in areas that would be affected by EirGrid’s two other major supply projects, GridWest and GridLink. They said communities in County Monaghan had not been consulted by EirGrid about a possible underground option for the 140km line, which the company has estimated would be five times more expensive than the overhead plans.

The meeting was opened by the Chairman of the Anti-Pylon Committee, Donal McDaid. He said it was probably the most important meeting ever to be held in this community in recent times. It might well decide for the next 100 or 200 years whether they would have a blight on the community for generations to come. He said if the proposed planning application by EirGrid ended up in the courts then the cost to everyone would be twice as much.

A planning application for the proposed interconnector route from Meath to Tyrone will shortly be put before An Bord Pleanála by EirGrid. Nigel Hillis set out the timetable of developments in the project since their last public meeting in January last year. He said if the planning application was lodged in May, with a seven weeks period for formal consultation, it was possible there would be an oral hearing held in September or October.

Each of the TDs present was given an opportunity to comment on the situation. Seán Conlan T.D. said land owners had made it clear they wanted the link put underground. Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys T.D. told those present she supported them, but they must understand that she was limited as a Minister as to what she could do. Responding to a call by her party colleague Seán Conlan that she should veto at the Cabinet table any EirGrid decision on an overhead route for the interconnector, she said there was a misconception about her role in Cabinet and emphasized that she did not have any such veto. But if the issue was raised at Cabinet, then she would be making her views known.

The Minister said she had already raised local concerns with the Taoiseach, the Energy Minister Alex White T.D. and within the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party. “All I want is fair play and equal treatment for the people of this area”, she said. She repeated what EirGrid had said, that the proposed interconnector was a strategic and critical addition to the grid, allowing the operators on both sides of the border to operate a single market for electricity. The power requirements for the West and South-East of the country were different, she said. The Minister said she was in attendance to listen to the concerns of local people.

Sinn Féin T.D. Caoimhghín Ó Caolain told the meeting there had been a persistent refusal by EirGrid to engage properly on the proposed route. It would take the resolve of the local people and the support of political voices to change any decision. He would work with the committee and its supporters in passionate opposition to what was proposed.

Fianna Fáil T.D. Brendan Smith said the South East and West of the country were being treated differently from the North-East. The people of Cavan/Monaghan were not being offered the same treatment in the GridWest and GridLink options, which allowed for possible underground power lines. He would continue to lobby to have the interconnector put underground and would be conveying the concerns expressed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.

Terry Lynch from Ardragh, Corduff, whose family farm would be affected by one of the proposed pylons, claimed that they were being treated a second class citizens. He asked the speakers at the top table: “What are you going to do about it?” He said 400kV cables were being undergrounded all around Europe, across London, Madrid and even China and wondered why it could not be done in Ireland. “What kind of state are we in?”, he asked.

Naoise Gordon from Annyalla who lives adjacent to the proposed line asked Minister Heather Humphreys why the government was not supporting a clean and affordable underground option for the interconnector. Jim McNally, also from Annyalla, pointed out the effect it would have on the small farm homesteads in the area, many of them occupied by elderly residents.

The IFA Chairman in County Monaghan Brian Treanor told the meeting the Association’s position over the years had been very consistent since the project was first mooted in 2008. They would represent any farm families when EirGrid presented all its options, properly costed, to An Bord Pleanála, and the planning authorities would make the decision, which he hoped would be the right one. They needed to have all options on the table, he said. Mr Treanor said the farmers’ group was not anti-progress and they wanted to see development. He wondered if a smaller 250kV project was required, and whether there was a need for a high voltage interconnector to the North. There was a huge responsibility on EirGrid, he said, to do the least damage to the farm environment and to farm families. In response to criticism from the floor, he said the IFA had always demanded that EirGrid looked at all the options, but the IFA were not technicians or experts. They were demanding that best practice be operated.

The chair of the meeting Alan McAdam pointed out that over 90% of farmers on the proposed route were IFA members and they were against having pylons on their land. Patrick Lynch from Corduff asked who would want to buy any property where a pylon was situated: it would be left valueless. He claimed elected representatives had been shirking their responsibility.

In his closing remarks the Anti-Pylon Committee Chairman Donal McDaid said it was possible to get the government to change policy, as had been done when pressure was put on former Minister Pat Rabbitte T.D. over Irish Water. He re-iterated that people in Monaghan were being treated as second-class citizens. It was the duty of the Oireachtas to protect the Constitution and to ensure that all people were treated equally, he said. It was the duty of government to see to it that people in this community were not treated as second-class citizens. They wanted answers and an assurance that the government was prepared to protect the Constitution. We do not want to stop progress, but we do want justice, he concluded.

At the end of the meeting all present stood and observed one minute’s silence in memory of the anti-pylons campaigner, the late Councillor Owen Bannigan from Loughmorne, Castleblayney, who was described as ‘a giant of a man’. A vote of sympathy was passed to the local Fine Gael organization and to Mr Bannigan’s family. His son Councillor Eugene Bannigan was among those present.

EirGrid CEO Fintan Slye  Photo:

EirGrid CEO Fintan Slye Photo:


On Tuesday, EirGrid’s Chief Executive Fintan Slye gave evidence to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications in Dublin. Mr Slye was accompanied by Rosemary Steen, director of public affairs, John Fitzgerald, director of grid development and Aidan Geoghegan, EirGrid’s project manager on the North-South interconnector.

Fintan Slye outlined the history of the project thus far. He said that last month the company published a draft strategy for the development of Ireland’s transmission grid and was now seeking public feedback. It was shaped by three key pillars, namely open engagement with communities, making the most of new technologies and a commitment to make the existing grid work harder before building new transmission infrastructure. The strategic review included an independent report from Indecon which showed that investment in the electricity grid would directly benefit Ireland’s economy and could help to reduce energy costs. A modern transmission grid, he said, would put Ireland in a strong position to continue to attract foreign investment and support new and emerging opportunities in the energy sector. This approach would also support Ireland’s current policy objectives, including the government’s Action Plan for Jobs and the IDA’s regional development strategy.

He said the review showed there remained a clear need for the North-South interconnector project and that a 400 kV overhead line remained the most appropriate solution, linking a substation in Woodland, County Meath, with a new substation in Turleenan, County Tyrone. It would provide a second high capacity transmission line between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The project would more than double the power transfer capacity between North and South, thereby improving the efficiency of the all-island electricity market. It would enhance the security of the electricity supply throughout the island of Ireland, which Mr Slye said was essential for economic growth, the creation of jobs and improving the standard of living and quality of life for all. It would also enable more renewable energy supplies to be connected to the network.

Mr Slye said the interconnector was needed now, as a cross-border bottleneck had developed on the all-island electricity system, which was having serious financial consequences. Last year the Economic and Social Research Institute reported that the second interconnector would remove the bottleneck and reduce electricity costs by €30 million per year. The proposed scheme had been the subject of public scrutiny and debate for some time, with the focus on whether it could be put underground.

Several independent reports on the issue have been published. The government-appointed independent panel, headed by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness, acknowledged that the evaluation of undergrounding of the North-South interconnector was compatible with the methodologies being employed on the Grid West and Grid Link projects. Two themes emerge from all the reports, the most prominent of which was the finding that undergrounding the project would be more expensive. The international expert commission’s report concluded that an underground solution would be three times more expensive than an overhead option.  eirgridLogo

Mr Slye said that EirGrid’s own estimate was that an underground system for the North-South route would cost in excess of €500 million more than the overhead option. As a state-owned company the mission of which was to develop, maintain and operate a secure, economical and efficient transmission system, this was an additional cost EirGrid could not pass on to consumers. It was an additional cost that would not be acceptable to the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Whilst undergrounding was the only technically feasible option available for the East-West interconnector, the same could not be said for the North-South interconnector project. There were technical options to be considered and they had been, Mr Slye told the Committee.

EirGrid has recently republished its proposed line route that will form the basis of a planning application in the coming weeks to An Bord Pleanála. The company had been liaising with the board on the application for some months and had been doing so because eighteen months ago the European Commission designated the interconnector a project of common interest. This meant that the project was subject to a new EU regulation for trans-European energy infrastructure that was designed to facilitate a more efficient permit granting process. An Bord Pleanála was designated as the competent authority for managing the PCI process in Ireland and, in accordance with the EU regulation, EirGrid submitted a draft application file to it for review. Last month we submitted additional information to the Board which it is now reviewing, he said. Once it is satisfied with the draft application, it will draw up a schedule for formally submitting the planning application and the company expects this to happen very soon.

Mr Slye said open engagement with communities was a key pillar of the draft strategy. During the course of the project the company had endeavoured to meet every landowner affected by the development and had had productive discussions with many. Others have chosen not to deal with EirGrid directly, appointing intermediaries to represent them. This was their undoubted right and prerogative but was also a barrier to effective engagement and the company encouraged all landowners to talk to them.

Offices have been opened in counties Meath and Monaghan (Carrickmacross) and a new office would open shortly in Cavan. Mr Slye said they were encouraging anyone interested in the project to call in and discuss it with the project team. These offices would remain open right through to the submission of the planning application and afterwards. EirGrid staff will be on hand in the local offices to provide assistance for landowners and members of the public who wish to make a submission to An Bord Pleanála once the statutory consultation process starts following the submission of the planning application.

Concluding his statement, Mr Slye said the North-South interconnector was critical to ensuring a safe, secure supply of electricity throughout the island of Ireland. It would bring major cost savings and address significant issues around security of electricity supply, particularly in Northern Ireland.


The first of three local TDs to be given an opportunity at the Oireachtas Committee to question the EirGrid Chief Executive Fintan Slye was Fine Gael Deputy Seán Conlan.

He said the communities in Cavan-Monaghan were very concerned that they had not been treated in the same fair and equitable manner as people in Grid Link and Grid West. There was a fundamental difference in the way they had been treated in terms of consultation compared with the people in the West and South. His constituents did not feel that they had been treated equally with people in other parts of the country. He said he had presented a petition from 95% of the landowners affected to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White T.D. They want a specific underground route option and they want to be consulted on it, he said.

He mentioned the meeting attended by around 350 people on Monday night in Aughnamullen community centre and said they were all totally opposed to the overgrounding of this project. There is huge community disquiet about the approach taken by EirGrid, he told the Committee. He also said there was no regional gain in Cavan or Monaghan from the interconnector project because the company had not included any converter stations. EirGrid had pointed out for the first time (in Mr Slye’s answers) that it was technically feasible to put the project underground for the 140km length of the line and that was welcome.

The company has said that it will take €500 million more to put it underground than the cost for overground. A number of questions were asked at last night’s meeting about the fact that the valuation of property has not been included in the cost of the overground option when compared with the underground option. There was also the question of the effect on tourism in the region if the lines were put overground. Deputy Conlan said Mr Slye had stated that the project was needed in its current form because of bottlenecks between transfer of energy between the North and South. But it was his understanding that the daily flow of electricity between the North and South was between 150 MW and 170 MW and that based on the company’s own figures and safety requirements, the current interconnector could take a capacity of 400 MW per day, but only 150 MW to 170 MW was being used at a maximum at tea time while the average is around 100 MW per day. There are three power stations in Northern Ireland producing up to 2,300 MW of energy per day.  The average daily consumption of energy in Northern Ireland is 1,200 MW to 1,300 MW. They can produce 2,300 MW per day. The maximum daily use ever of energy in Northern Ireland was 1,700 MW in December 2010 during the very bad weather, Deputy Conlan pointed out.

He went on: “Mr. Slye said there was consultation but the question I asked was why there was no public consultation about underground routes in the North-South project.

Mr Fintan Slye: Correct.

Deputy Seán Conlan:   So there was not?

Mr Fintan Slye: The underground routes were published and made available but there was not a specific consultation on an underground route. The Deputy is right. However, a specific underground route was examined and published. Members who have looked at the back of the PB Power report will see an Ordnance Survey map that sets out the route corridor.”

Mr Slye said EirGrid was proposing a community fund for the wider community and also a proximity allowance payable to householders in recognition of the fact that transmission infrastructure had a greater impact on those immediately adjacent to it in terms of their visual amenity. Responding to Mr Conlan he said:

“The Deputy raised the issue of bottlenecks in the current flow of the existing line, power capacity in Northern Ireland and projections for security supply in Northern Ireland…The Generation Capacity Statement, published every year and it approved by the regulators North and South clearly articulates the security supply issue that (would be) emerging in Northern Ireland in 2020 as security of supply margins dip below what is acceptable. That is due in part to the impending closure of some of the power stations in Northern Ireland. Security of supply is incredibly important to business, industry and the economy. Hence, reliance on the single line between North and South is limited by the fact that it is a single line and any one thing could potentially take it out of commission”, Mr Slye said in his response.

Deputy Conlan said the most significant point made by Eirgrid in his view was Fintan Slye’s admission that there had been no public consultation about any specific underground routes for the North- South interconnector. The international expert group had already reported in 2012 that undergrounding was feasible.

Caoimhghín Ó Caolain T.D.  Photo: Sinn Féin

Caoimhghín Ó Caolain T.D. Photo: Sinn Féin

In a comment to The Northern Standard after the Oireachtas Committee engagement with Eirgrid’s Chief Executive, Sinn Féin Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that important acknowledgments were made and other important questions had yet to be answered. “Mr Slye’s acceptance that an undergrounding approach to the North-South interconnector project is both ‘engineering and technically possible’ is important and is now firmly on the record” stated Deputy Ó Caoláin. “His comments regarding ‘other advantages’, though unspecified, and that consideration of the underground option was not just about cost was also important. The acknowledgement in answer to Deputy Conlan that “no underground route consultation with the public” had taken place regarding the North-South project was also an important confirmation of a truth the public had all known.

“I am awaiting response to other questions I posed and additional detail, including regarding the estimated additional cost per consumer per annum, and over what timeframe, if the underground option is to be proceeded with. Mr Slye’s initial response suggested a 3% to 5% increase in the cost per consumer, with a likely greater cost being placed on non-domestic customers. Having already stated on the public record that I would be prepared to accept an additional cost as a domestic consumer rather than have my neighbours and friends across the path of Eirgrid’s planned pylon supported project suffer the imposition of these monstrosities, I am keenly interested to explore Mr Slye’s calculation. The bottom line from this encounter is that Eirgrid are under no pressure from this government regarding the North-South interconnector project proceeding as Eirgrid intends. Until senior government voices make it abundantly clear that the underground option is the only way to proceed, then Eirgrid will keep to its plan”, concluded Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Brendan Smith TD

Brendan Smith TD

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Border Region Development Brendan Smith TD commented that a very important statement had been made at the Oireachtas All-Party Committee by the Chief Executive of Eirgrid. He said Fintan Slye had confirmed, in response to a question from the Fianna Fáil Energy Spokesperson Michael Moynihan TD, that the undergrounding of the North/South Interconnector was feasible in terms of engineering”.

Speaking to the Northern Standard Deputy Smith explained: “I outlined to the Eirgrid Chief Executive that there had been no meaningful discussions with local communities, that there was very serious concern and anger among communities in Monaghan, Cavan and Meath arising from the government’s decision to press ahead with the construction of overhead power lines for the North-South interconnector, despite carrying out a review of the other two GridLink and GridWest projects.  The people of the North- East will not allow themselves be treated as second-class citizens and will continue to demand an examination of the current proposals”, he said.

“In 2009 it was estimated that undergrounding the cables would cost more than 20 times the cost involved in keeping these transmission lines above ground.  This cost argument has been totally diminished and it is now widely accepted that the costs in laying the cables underground is now less than 1.7 times the cost of overgrounding.

The Cavan-Monaghan TD stated, “It is reprehensible that EirGrid are not factoring in the devaluation of land, the severe break-up of farm holdings, major disruption to households and the threat to the entire tourism and heritage landscape”.

Representatives of the County Monaghan Anti-Pylons Committee will appear before the Oireachtas Committee next Tuesday 28th April, at 11:30am when it’s expected they will respond to the EirGrid submission. The hearing can be watched on Oireachtas TV.


Anti-Pylons meeting at Aughnamullen Social Centre Photo © Michael Fisher

Anti-Pylons meeting at Aughnamullen Social Centre Photo © Michael Fisher

Around 300 people packed into Aughnamullen Social Centre in Lough Egish tonight to protest against EirGrid plans for a second overhead North/South electricity interconnector. The anti-pylon protestors from County Monaghan agreed a motion put forward by Fianna Fáil Councillor Seamus Coyle and seconded by Fine Gael Councillor Hughie McElvaney. It instructs TDs to place a Dáil motion asking the government to instruct EirGrid to cease all work on the proposed North/South link and to direct Eirgrid to underground fully the North/South interconnector as a HVDC-VSC cabling along roads, as in the company’s proposal for a section of the GridWest link. Asked by a member of the large crowd if she supported the motion, local Fine Gael T.D. and Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys said she would take time to read the motion before she agreed to it. Deputy Sean Conlan said he would be bringing the motion to a meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party at Leinster House on Wednesday evening. Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin Ó Caolain and Deputy Brendan Smith of Fianna Fáil also contributed to the meeting and there was an apology from Joe O’Reilly T.D. and Matt Carthy MEP. At least thirteen of the eighteen Monaghan Councillors were present, including all six from the Carrickmacross-Castleblayney Municipal District. An apology was received from Cllr Cathy Bennett. Concerns raised during the meeting that lasted nearly three hours ranged from the potential health impact of the overhead line, the devaluation of people’s land and property if the proposed project goes ahead and the environmental impact and unsightliness of the pylons. Many speakers claimed that the people of Monaghan, Cavan and Meath were being treated as second class citizens compared to those living in areas that would be affected by EirGrid’s two other major supply projects, GridWest and GridLink. They said communities in County Monaghan had not been consulted by EirGrid about a possible underground option for the 140km line, which the company has estimated would be five times more expensive than the overhead plans. At the end of the meeting all present stood and observed one minute’s silence in memory of the anti-pylons campaigner, the late Councillor Owen Bannigan from Loughmorne, Castleblayney. Full report in Thursday’s Northern Standard.

Heather Humphreys T.D. and Caoimhghin Ó Caolain T.D. at the anti-pylons meeting in Aughnamullen Social Centre Photo © Michael Fisher

Heather Humphreys T.D. and Caoimhghin Ó Caolain T.D. at the anti-pylons meeting in Aughnamullen Social Centre Photo © Michael Fisher