THE VASSAL NATURE of post-bailout Ireland is acutely exemplified by the development of wind energy here. Planning regulations in this area is weak and developer-friendly, Government policy is led solely by the EU target mantra, and – to cap it all – legitimate local concerns about planning in this area are being dismissed with a Bertie-Ahern-like contempt. What is it about the Irish that makes us so determined to act like doormats, whilst simultaneously maintaining a fantasy that we have some kind of rebellious streak?
The news announced in the week before Christmas that the EU is to part-fund a ‘seabed survey’ for the facilitation of the export of wind generated energy to the UK, can be taken as the definitive response of those with the real authority over us to the objections of rural communities the length and breath of Ireland.
Energy Minister Pat Rabbit, when he does address the concerns of rural citizens, does so in the manner that conveys that we in rural Ireland have some form of learning block, which can be only overcome by something Minister Rabbit calls ‘better communication’.
Servicing foreign needs
The reality for rural citizens is that we have been desperately betrayed time and again by the people we elect to protect our interests. Historically, successive governments have allowed Local Authorities to pursue planning policies that permitted widespread spotting of one-off housing anywhere and everywhere. Now, when a wind development company seeks the shortest route to a national grid sub-station, it disregards the impact of local residents, led only by cost containment concerns, or larger profits as we would have it. However, even in Ireland, still the most starkly populated country in the EU, we could, if the political will existed, find a way to develop wind energy in a way that truly respected the rights of rural people to live with dignity.
The now embedded belief that wind energy policy here, which includes the establishment of misplaced mega turbines and the pylons needed to facilitate turbines, is about servicing foreign need, is indisputable. Many consider that our financial obligation to the UK, for its contribution to our bail-out of private banks, is at least partly the reason that we Irish citizens are being forced to accept standards in wind energy development that the UK government, for example, will not impose on its own citizens.
The upcoming Seanad debate on the Government’s recently proposed, revised wind energy guidelines, is a welcome opportunity for some realistic debate on this subject. Willie Penrose, TD, has produced a thoroughly researched and commendable Private Members Bill, which amongst other things, has recommended appropriate setback distances for the placement of turbines. However, draft Government guidelines maintain the 500 metre distance, operating for almost 20 years, despite the fact that the kinds of turbines being placed into rural neighbourhoods are three times higher than the versions which informed the original setback distance.
Externally-driven energy policy
If we, as EU citizens, are to be undemocratically controlled by external forces in the EU Commission – as we clearly are with regard to the development of its renewable energy policy – then why aren’t we allowed an opportunity to appeal to an EU authority, such as an EU planning ombudsman? If such an office were to be established, all EU citizens could at least be treated in the same manner. Are we not as susceptible to torment by shadow flicker as a German? Are we not as concerned by noise pollution as a Dane or a Swede? Do we not regard and value our homes with the love and passion as the typical Briton?
We rural victims of abusive planning and externally-driven energy policy, are not opposed to green energy or the geopolitical reality the EU is rightly concerned about. We are however, opposed to contemptuous abuse of power, which at its heart contains a determined discrimination, a discrimination that asserts that Irish people are second class EU citizens.
At what point do we begin to fight back against our vassal status? When is enough enough? Perhaps 2014 should be the year that we as people learn to better communicate our righteous anger to minister Rabbit and his cabinet colleagues, about the degree to which we have been abandoned to the needs of foreign powers.
Declan Doyle is Chair of the Knockmannon Residents Group, a rural community engaged in a legal action against a wind farm development in North Kilkenny.
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