Taoiseach under fire for ‘diplomatic clanger’ over Doonbeg wind farm intervention
March 16th, 2018
Opposition parties and environmental groups have accused the Taoiseach of dropping a “diplomatic clanger” over his backing of Donald Trump’s opposition to a wind farm proposal near his Doonbeg resort.
Speaking to journalists at a St Patrick’s Day lunch in Washington yesterday, Leo Varadkar revealed that Mr. Trump called him in 2014 over concerns that a proposed nine-turbine wind farm would impact his Doonbeg golf resort.
According to Mr Varadkar, then-Minister for Tourism, he “endeavoured to do” what he could in relation to Mr Trump’s concerns and contacted Clare County Council in relation to the application.
Planning permission was refused in last 2014, with the Taoiseach joking yesterday that he was happy to take credit from Mr Trump, although he doubted that he had any significant role in the decision.
“Subsequently the planning permission was declined and the wind farm was never built, thus the landscape being preserved, and the president has very kindly given me credit for that, although I do think it probably would have been refused anyway,” Mr Varadkar said.
Clare County Council issued a statement last night that it holds no record of any representation from Mr Varadkar on the wind farm’s ‘planning file.
Clare Coastal Wind Power, the company that sought planning permission, said in a statement that it is “disappointed” by the Taoiseach’s actions and that it is reviewing the situation.
In October 2014, the Council refused permission for the wind farm, to which Mr Trump tweeted his delight: “Great news from Ireland – Clare Co Council has refused to grant permission for a massive wind farm near my hotel and golf course in Doonbeg.”
The case subsequently went to An Bord Pleanála who upheld the Council’s decision to refuse planning permission.
One of the grounds for refusal was that the construction of the wind farm could impact upon the population of protected freshwater pearl mussel in the nearby Doonbeg River.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FiE) had objected to the proposed development on ecological grounds, arguing that the construction of the wind farm would have required “extensive excavations” and caused disturbance to the soil that can be “deadly to the local ecosystems”.
According to Tony Lowes, the Director of FiE, the proposed location of the wind farm was “inappropriate”. He said that the group wanted to alert the local authority to the “sensitive nature of the area” for such constructions, adding that the proposal was “rightly refused”.
To Mr Lowes’ surprise, FiE received an unexpected call from Mr Trump in 2014 offering his support for the group’s opposition to the proposed wind farm.
Mr Lowes said that, while Mr Trump was “complementary” about the group’s work and offered his support, the NGO turned him down. “We operate on a shoestring and welcome support, but we felt in this case our independence precluded any involvement.”
FiE has also been strongly critical of plans to build a 38,000-tonne rock barrier to tackle coastal erosion at Mr Trump’s resort and also challenged the original decision to grant planning permission for the resort back in 1999.
Opposition and Environmental Criticism
Both the Taoiseach’s actions and subsequent comments have been roundly criticised by opposition parties. Speaking this morning, Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan said that the Taoiseach’s decision as then-Minister for Transport was “clearly wrong”.
“The fact that [the Taoiseach] could not see the intervention was inappropriate is what he has to defend,” he added. “There is no doubt that he exercised undue influence and undermined due process with his intervention. It was and is completely inappropriate.”
Co-leader of the Social Democrats, Catherine Murphy, TD agreed that it is “entirely inappropriate” for a Minister to involve themselves in the planning decisions on behalf of a private individual.
“We are supposed to have moved on from the days of political meddling in planning, but Mr Varadkar’s behaviour would call that into question,” she added.
The Kildare North deputy called on the Taoiseach to give a “full and detailed explanation” of his actions before the Dáil.
The admission from the Taoiseach comes just weeks after he told the European Parliament that he was determined to take Ireland from a climate laggard to a climate leader.
However, Friends of the Earth Ireland said that Mr Varadkar dropped a “diplomatic clanger on climate change” in his effort to “cosy up” to President Trump.
While agreeing that the visual beauty of Ireland should be considered as part of the planning process, Dr Cara Augustenborg, Chairperson of Friends of the Earth Europe, said that the Taoiseach’s “boasting” of potentially blocked a renewable energy project is “quite disturbing”.
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