North-South Interconnector: Insidious, unhealthy and unacceptable cosy relationship between Department and EirGrid exposed

August 5, 2018

Media Release from North East Pylon Pressure Campaign (NEPPC)

30 July 2018

Courtesy of an FOI request from the Northern Standard NEPPC has received a significant quantity of documentation between EirGrid and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE) related to the North-South Interconnector (NSI). It includes 135 records of correspondence dating from 6th December 2016 up to 10th May 2018. We are grateful to the Northern Standard for carrying out this FOI request.

NEPPC will have a number of statements to make in relation to these records over the coming weeks, but some key points need to made immediately:

  1. EirGrid is running the Department on all matters related to the NSI. When the Department speaks it is EirGrid speaking. When the Minister speaks it is EirGrid speaking. The Department and Minister serve as a mouthpiece to EirGrid’s uncontested propaganda. EirGrid is communicating with senior civil servants in the DCCAE on at least a weekly and often a daily basis on even the smallest minutiae related to the NSI. The FOI records of correspondence include politicians comments, tweets and facebook statements, all press releases and media coverage, weekly movements of its mobile units across the North-East, sponsorship and advertising plans, recruitment, legal strategies, plans and activities, correspondence of other parties, community meetings, NI activities and  technology answers. The DCCAE reverts to EirGrid on all matters and on all topics that emerge. Two case examples:
    1. Meeting between NEPPC and CMAPC with Minister Naughten and his Senior Civil servants on 8th February 2017 at Leinster House, where we highlighted many of the landowner and community concerns related to EirGrid information over the years on changing costs, lack of public consultation etc. On 9th February a senior civil servant in the DCCAE contacts EirGrid as follows: ‘ Hi x, As discussed here are some questions arising out of the meeting with the Minister and interested parties. Would be grateful of assistance from Eirgrid in preparation of answers’. A lengthy correspondence ensues, where Eirgrid provide the full set of answers to NEPPC/CMAPC original questions.
    2. b.   Facebook post from Shane Cassells TD:
    • On 25 September 2017 EirGrid sent email to DCCAE senior civil servant: “Hi, Flagging a post this morning on facebook from Deputy Shane Cassells in relation to NSIC. Would appear that he may raise in Dáil this week”. Response from DCCAE: “Thanks x, I’ll ask you to liaise with x (my colleague) on this as it develops”. EirGrid response: “Hi, For info, this is the material which we have on that topic if it is helpful” . The email then outlines in detail the EirGrid position on the topic in question.

 

  1. The Minister, whenever questioned on the NSI has trotted out the line ad nauseam that: … ‘the project is an operational matter for EirGrid and ESB Networks and I have no function in it’. Yet what the FOI clearly shows is that his Department is spending a huge amount of time involved in all operations from the smallest details to Eirgrid correspondence to other parties. The Minister’s statement is at variance with the facts.
  2.  The most concerning aspect of the cosy and apparently untouchable relationship between EirGrid and the DCCAE is that none of the statements are ever checked or challenged. This is never more evident than in EirGrid’s sanitization of the reality on the ground in terms of public consultation and community concerns around the project. The Department is being fed a story that is far removed from the truth. The weekly reports from Eirgrid on so called ‘engagement with the public’ is a classic example of managed communications. In the 135 documents there is not a single line highlighting the numerous issues and concerns requested by landowners to mobile unit personnel to be recorded and communicated within EirGrid. The record of these mobile unit visits is completely misleading.
  3.  A further example of playing games with the public and with voluntary groups such as NEPPC is evident in a communication to LMFM radio in February of this year. There was a strong discussion at the time related to the sensitive issue of landowner rights and EirGrid and ESB. On 9th February LMFM made a standard request for a clarification statement from DCCAE related to policy around this issue. On 12th February EirGrid send a draft statement, which they had worked on with ESB, to the DCCAE. On 15th February DCCAE sent the EirGrid statement verbatim as a DCCAE response to the LMFM query. NEPPC was subsequently questioned on the various aspects of the DCCAE statement, which in reality was an EirGrid statement. So we had the situation of a voluntary group being challenged on an EirGrid sponsored programme about a so-called Department press release that was actually written by EirGrid.
  4. The records highlight a wanton misuse of taxpayers’ monies on many fronts. Firstly, there is a huge number of personnel on both the DCCAE and EirGrid involved in many of the most menial activities, including senior civil servants and senior PR personnel in EirGrid. Secondly, we have some farcical situations of everyone covering their own backs on anything related to politics. An example is a letter by Minister Doherty to EirGrid requesting that the tender process be halted in October 2017. EirGrid sent copy of response letter to DCCAE for follow-up. Likewise, in terms of legal proceedings the DCCAE was represented in full at all High Court Judicial reviews, at significant cost to the public. Yet it requests EirGrid to write a briefing of activities at the Judicial Review.
  5. Needless to say the crucial aspects related to cost, feasibility and reliability that are trotted out by the Minister, where he states that he is informed by his officials, is in reality 100% EirGrid. NEPPC continue to highlight that many of the technical claims in this area are either misleading or plain wrong. We will cover this in more detail next week.

 

In summary, the very first FOI record document sums up the challenge facing communities in the North-East. It is a tweet from a senior civil servant to a policy forum in 2016, BEFORE any planning approvals were given: “A simple message – we need to get the North-South interconnector over the line”. A simple translation from our side – ‘the end justifies the means’.

 NEPPC and CMAPC have struggled against what these records show to be a very biased and seemingly untouchable relationship between Department and semi-state, with a Minister who is failing in his duty or who is out of his depth or both. The reality now is that these FOI records confirm what the public have believed all along and will serve to strengthen community resolve in not allowing a single pylon to be erected.

The real question now is will there be an appropriate political response from any of the four Ministers in Fine Gael, who claim to represent the people of the North-East. This needs to raised at Cabinet. Silence is acceptance of an unhealthy and insidious relationship between the Department and EirGrid.

 

Ends –

Further information:

087 680 36 66;www.nepp.ie

Related:

Open Letter to Minister Naughten – North-South Interconnector shambles August 5, 2018

EirGrid misleading docile DCCAE on critical technical matters related to the North-South Interconnector

Filed under: Press Releases 2018


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NEPP is the overall representative group for the people of Ireland's North East who advocate that high power electric cables should go underground.

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