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'I wouldn't like to live close to a pylon, but who would?' - Incoming Eirgrid chair

John O’Connor also “refuted emphatically” that he would have a conflict of interest in his new position having previously been the chairman of An Bord Pleanála.

Updated 13.43

THE CHAIRMAN DESIGNATE of Eirgrid has said that he will discuss with the minister whether or not to reconsider his nomination.

John O’Connor made his comments after a bruising encounter with the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications in which he admitted that he personally would not like to live beside an electricity pylon.

The committee were questioning him on his proposed appointment as the chair of the state-owned electricity transmission company.

Asked by Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan whether he personally would like to live beside an electricity pylon, O’Connor responded, “I wouldn’t like to live close to a pylon, but who would?”

Pushed later on his response by Independent TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, O’Connor said that he would not like to live beside a pylon because it would “affect the amenity of the house” and “would be visually intrusive”. This would only be the case “if it were too close”, said O’Connor.

Questioned by Flanagan what he considered close to be, O’Connor answered “maybe 50 metres”.

The new appointment appointment comes as Eirgrid plans to erect large electricity pylons, as part of an update to the country’s energy infrastructure.

O’Connor also “refuted emphatically” that he would have a conflict of interest in his new position having  previously been the chairman of An Bord Pleanála.

Speaking before the committee this morning, O’Connor said that he left An Bord Pleanála in June 2011 and his standing with the company was now “the same as any other citizen”.

O’Connor was chairman of An Bord Pleanála for 11 years from 2000 but he said today that the doesn’t feel he has “any unique knowledge” of the planning process.

O’Connor said that when approached by Environment Minister Phil Hogan who gauged his interest in the position, O’Connor said that the Minister did not make any specific reference to his experience in An Bord Pleanála.

He said that that this was likely “a deliberate” decision by the Minister not to mention his previous role as head of the state planning board.

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Incoming chairman of Eirgrid John O’Connor pictured at committee today. Pic: Oireachtas/Screengrab

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley said that his party will not be supporting O’Connor’s nomination as he felt that there was a “mismatch” between the his experience and his suitability for the role as it currently exists.

“There is a concern among community groups that your knowledge of the planning process will effect communities acting against Eirgrid, ” he said.

Dooley told O’Connor that he believes he has unique insight into how decisions are taken, something which could  ”put Eirgrid in a dominant position” in disputes with communities.

O’Connor flatly rejected all of these charges, saying that he would not be taking a hands-on role in individual planning applications. He said that his role would primarily be in setting policy for Eirgrid and that “there won’t be any back door phone calls”.

Dooley asked O’Connor for a commitment to “dissociate yourself totally” from the planning and application processes.

O’Connor responded by saying that that, once a proposal is made, he will have no involvement but that he “couldn’t as chairperson of the company have nothing to do with the main issues around the proposals”.

Before his tenure with An Bord Pleanála O’Connor worker for 30 years in the Department of the Environment and he said that he has consistently worked to protect the environment. “If anyone thinks I’m going into Eirgrid to damage my life’s work then I would have a problem with that, ” he said.

A public consultation on the Leinster-Munster power line scheme has been undertaken and O’Connor said that he believes strongly that engagement as a rule is meaningful. He requested that communities wait for the report of the consultation process before making any judgments.

Sinn Féin deputy Michael Colreavy said that the main point on the agenda of consultations should be on whether the power lines go overground or underground and if this decision has already been taken consultations are meaningless

Read: Incoming Eirgrid chairman faces TDs and Senators amid ongoing pylons controversy >
Read: ‘I want Eirgrid to do everything it can to secure community acceptance’ – Rabbitte >

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Rónán Duffy

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