NWTAG chair Jen Gallagher, left, says that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan's comments were patronising.

NWTAG criticises ‘patronising’ Ryan

Recent comments from Green Party leader Eamon Ryan TD about local opposition to industrial windfarms “cannot go unanswered”.

That’s according to the chair of the North Westmeath Turbine Action Group (NWTAG), Jen Gallagher, who said that the group is calling on locally elected councillors from all political parties “to robustly defend the clauses that are in the county’s development plan which are designed to protect local people and the environment from the impact of giant industrial wind turbines”.

“When Minister Ryan recently spoke at Columb Barracks in Mullingar he claimed that Westmeath’s long-standing opposition to wind energy development could affect the county’s future prosperity. He attributed this to a legacy of past government policy when there was what he described as a ‘whole big scheme to develop wind in the midlands and export it to the UK’.

“What Minister Ryan failed to say in his ill-considered and completely misleading remarks was that these past proposals would have resulted in hundreds of giant wind turbines with heights in excess of 175 metres being erected across the entire midlands and it was only when the then Conservative government backed out of the scheme to import renewable energy from Ireland that this project was shelved.

“If Minister Ryan took the time to read Westmeath’s County Development Plan for 2021-27, he obviously does not understand what it proposes when it comes to the generation of green energy in a county that is one of the least suited in the country for generating electricity from wind turbines.

“The CPO 10.143 clause in the county development plan, which he alluded to, stipulates a minimum setback distance of 10 times the turbine height for turbines that exceed 100 metres in height, and its primary purpose is to protect local people so they are not forced to live close to structures that are often over three times higher than Mullingar Cathedral.

“Apart from the well-documented implications for people’s health resulting from noise and shadow flicker, the one-in-10 setback distance is designed to minimise the significant devaluation of house prices and the destruction of the countryside and sensitive wildlife habitats that industrial wind farms cause.”

Ms Gallagher also remarked that the minister said Westmeath County Council “is very supportive of small and micro-scale wind energy projects and that the questionable benefits of giant wind turbines are only one of many ways to generate sustainable energy”.

“Minister Ryan is arrogant enough to lecture the people of Westmeath, and his baseless remarks that Offaly has greatly benefited from industrial turbines like those proposed for Delvin and Coole has led him to the conclusion that there is community support for industrial wind farms in that county.

“His claims are, I believe, utter rubbish, and a crass attempt to justify the construction of turbines in counties such as Westmeath that are flat, low lying and have some of the lowest mean wind speeds in the country. I would also challenge Minister Ryan to explain how exactly the people of Offaly and its council have benefited from the construction of industrial wind farms built in places such as Mount Lucas. It’s certainly not in the quality of the roads adjacent to that development or throughout much of the county – which are among some of the worst in the state.

“Any right-thinking person fully understands that Ireland must play its part in developing sustainable energy but the construction of turbines that each require a base of approximately 2000 tonnes of reinforced concrete and rise to a height of 60 plus stories are not the answer, especially if they are going to be sited close to where people live and whose health and general wellbeing will be badly impacted.

“Minister Ryan lecturing the people of Westmeath in a speech that is at best disingenuous is also unsurprising considering some of the utterly ludicrous comments he has made in the past. These have included the view that a village of 300 people needs just 30 cars to meet their travel needs; that at the height of the Covid pandemic, we all should consider using window boxes to grow vegetables; and that farmers must significantly reduce the national herd because of greenhouse gas emissions emanating from cows.”

Ms Gallagher described Minister Ryan’s remarks as “patronising” and “typical of a minister who lacks any real understanding of rural Ireland and in particular those of us who live in the midlands”.

“He conveniently ignores the impact of massive data and call centres – which already use an estimated 14 per cent of electricity on a national basis, significantly more than the combined electricity usage of homes in rural Ireland – 12 per cent of the power from the national grid. Moreover, if current government strategy is implemented, data centre usage could increase to 30 per cent of national electricity output.”

Ms Gallagher urges local councillors to “defend the checks and balances within the Westmeath County Development Plan designed to protect their constituents from giant wind turbines that are only likely to increase in size”.

“The people of the midlands are not fools and most of us understand that counties such as Westmeath have been written off by ministers like Eamon Ryan, who ignore just how unsuitable the local landscape is for the type of sustainable energy he supposedly champions. Tackling climate change must be done in a way that does not destroy the existing environment and the construction of sustainable energy projects must be done in a collaborative way with host communities.

“In my experience as chairperson of the North Westmeath Turbine Action Group, the views of people expected to live close to industrial wind farms are disregarded.

“It is ironic that Minister Ryan made his comments at Columb Barracks. Its closure in 2012 greatly affected Mullingar and the wider community. Since that ill-thought-out decision was made, the decommissioned barracks in the heart of town has been neglected by successive governments, who should have invested in what is an iconic building that could be a hub of enterprise and activity.

“Instead, Minister Ryan visits Mullingar to use that venue as a platform to lecture rural communities about why giant turbines should be erected in parts of Westmeath that are bereft of essential transport and other essential services, and are forced to endure poor broadband and mobile phone coverage.

“His patronising comments have only made the North Westmeath Turbine Action Group, which I chair, all the more determined to stop the construction of an industrial wind farm in north Westmeath, which, if allowed, would pave the way for similar type developments, thus destroying any potential the county has to prosper.”