Newry.ie

Councillors have called for the Minister of Infrastructure to hold an independent public enquiry into a proposed wind farm in the Mourne's. It follows a lengthy special council meeting earlier this week where councillors discussed a report from Newry, Mourne and Down Council Planning Department and listened to presentations from ABO Wind and Mourne AONB Wind.

A graphic from the ABO Wind presentation at the meeting.
A graphic from the ABO Wind presentation at the meeting.

Procedure

Council Chairperson, Cllr Laura Devlin led a discussion on the council's corporate response but straight away the conversation got bogged down in procedure. 

Cllr Devlin "Cllr Byrne, you're in first there" to which Democratic Services Manager, Sarah Taggart said "Sorry Chairperson, Cllr Clarke had a P at the very beginning of the question"

The Chairperson continued "But to be fair Sarah, I don't think we can put P's in at the start of the meeting. It needs to be on down when we get to that actual item

"We're now at item 8 to discuss the councils corporate response, Cllr Byrne you're in first there"

Mourne's Councillor, Cllr Willie Clarke "Chair can I challenge this please" 

Cllr Laura Devlin, Chairperson.
Cllr Laura Devlin, Chairperson.

Slieve Gullion Councillor, Cllr Pete Byrne "I'll allow Willie to come in and say a comment if he lets me get my first line out.

"Chair at the start of the meeting you said to leave proposals to the very end until everybody spoke and I think we all respected that and I think it would be very unfair if forty councillors respected that advice at the start and listen to all the presentations and then we all loose out in putting in a proposal when we've listened to absolutely everything. I don't think the proposal going in before Mourne against the Wind Farm even spoke is in line with what way the meeting was conducted so I could have put it in at a minute past six but I wanted to listen to the whole debate first as you stated, so I respectively waited and I don't think mine should be superseded"

Cllr Clarke "Chair I'm not saying the way you are conducting the meeting is any different from any other council meeting but usually the proposal does be put, then you wait till after all the questions and answers and then you take the first proposal that's the way the meetings are conducted. Any meeting I've been on online has been conducted in that manner. Indeed you said that my proposal could wait until after all the presentations."

Cllr Willie Clarke.

Chairperson "I think to be fair at the start of the meeting I did outline how the meeting was going to go and I did specifically ask Willie for no proposal until we got till that part of the agenda because it would have been the case that anyone could have put a proposal in and that's just, I appreciate where you are coming from but this is how I set out at the start of the meeting how the meeting would be chaired so I'm sorry if you feel that way. Cllr Byrne, do you want to proceed there"

Cllr Byrne "Just for the record to Cllr Clarke, I genuinely waited till the end of the meeting as per the advice at the start so I just really want that reiterated."

Cllr Pete Byrne

We are not proposing to put a wind farm in an AONB

"I just want to make a point before I make the proposal. I suppose Anthony had said at the very start, we are proposing to put a wind farm in an AONB. I just want to make it very clear for the minutes, we are not proposing to put a wind farm in an AONB. We are listening, scrutinising a proposal in front of us to put a wind farm there so certainly I don't want to put on the record that councillors are proposing anything. We're being responsible and we are asking all the questions of both sides and then we will make a decision to send to the consultation response at the end."

Continuing Cllr Byrne said "Based on the comments I made at the very start Chair, the information in front of us, trying to navigate the misinformation as well, listening to both sides, and I also want to thank both groups that are on here this evening. We have engaged over the last three weeks with each of them extensively, and it is very difficult for us to try and navigate a way forward that is actually accurate with the information that is put in front of us. For every report I could find on one thing, I could find a report saying the opposite and I said that when I was speaking to Conor in Mourne against the Wind Farm and when I was speaking to AONB Wind as well.    I think it would be only prudent that the council writes to the Infrastructure Minister seeking clarity on whether this planning application warrants a Public Enquiry and if so we request that the Minister establishes a Public Enquiry that we as a Council don't take a formal decision on this planning application."

Cllr Charlie Casey.

Oppose this application

Crotlieve Councillor, Cllr Mark Gibbons offered a counter proposal after a bit of confusion. "I propose that this council have taken into account the planning policy statement from our own planning department and chief planning officer, that we respond to DFI as consultees with confidence and without contradiction that we oppose this renewed planning application."

Cllr Devlin "We have had the first proposal from Cllr Byrne and it was seconded by Cllr McAteer. That proposal will be put to the floor first of all. Apologies Cllr Given.

"Is everybody in agreement with that first proposal coming from Pete Byrne."

Clarity

Cllr Clarke then asked for clarity "The proposal coming from Cllr Byrne, I didn't really hear it clearly. There was something about if Minister Mallon warranted, thought she wanted a public enquiry, then we would hold one. It doesn't differentiate from what I was going to propose. I was going to propose that DFI minister Nichola Mallon holds an independent Public Enquiry, and that's exactly what Pete wants to see too, that there's a robust interrogation of this proposal in an open forum. I don't see why we can't agree on this proposal."

Robust Interrogation

Cllr Byrne "I think we are in agreement with this proposal. I do want a robust interrogation of what's in front of us. I suppose I also want to respect the job that the minister has and her making the decision to go to a Public Enquiry here and the Council that we're going to give a steer. The steer is that we propose that we write to the Infrastructure Minister seeking clarity on whether this application warrants a Public Enquiry and If so we request that the Minister establishes a Public Enquiry and that the Council don't take a formal decision on this planning application"

Cllr Mark Gibbons

Crotlieve Councillor, Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly "Can you just confirm, Cllr Gibbons has come forward with a counter proposal which I was happy enough to second. Do you have to go to Cllr Byrne's proposal first and it's only in the event that there's not a unanimous decision on that that you then go to Cllr Gibbons motion. I always thought that you took the counter proposal first Chair"

Amendment

Cllr Gibbons requested an amendment to Cllr Byrnes proposal. "Along with your proposal could this council send out a clear message to DFI regarding our recommendations tonight. Could we have a recorded vote regarding the suggestions from planning and Mr McKay that we refuse this application. We vote tonight that we send out a clear message to DFI"

Cllr Byrne didn't accept the amendment "I'm not happy with the report that's in front of us. I'm not with us as a council declaring a climate emergency and not having an extensive discussion, site visits on this application"

Cllr Gibbons "We're kicking the can down the road here and there's going to be a decision made regarding a Public Enquiry and we can say as a chamber we sent a complete mixed message. We didn't even send a message to DFI"

Cllr Byrne "We can't send a stronger message than calling for a Public Enquiry. That is the strongest message we can send right now."

Tighten the proposal

Cllr Clarke asked that the proposal could be 'tightened' "If we could tighten your proposal up that this Council writes to DFI Minister Nichola Mallon and asks for her to hold an independent Public Enquiry. I still than thats as tight as we can get and as robust a message coming back from this council so if you're happy to tighten that up Pete I would support the motion."

Cllr Glyn Hanna.

Cllr Byrne "No problem whatsoever"

Cllr Clarke commented "Sinn Féin will be happy to support the proposal" and added "I've a great affinity with the Mourne Mountains and how valuable an asset they are. They have aided peoples mental wellbeing and also their physical wellbeing in regards to the Covid-19 pandemic. It's also a great tourism asset that will obviously help us in regard to our recovery from Covid-19. What a Public Enquiry does, it gives everybody a great opportunity for greater transparency, to scrutinise the application in detail."

"I'd say it has split the community right across the board, different organisations, different communities throughout the area. Political parties have different views in regard to it, party's memberships have different views in regards to it, no different from the community but I think it is important to get it right and we protect our community and we get the greatest scrutiny possible."

Newry Cllr Charlie Casey added "It needs to be an all encompassing Independent Public Enquiry"

Cllr JarlathTinnelly

Weak message

Mourne's Councillor, Cllr Henry Reilly thought council would be sending out a weak message "I'm very concerned that the council will give out a very weak message on this, and it does look like councillors who may actually want this project want to hide behind a Public Enquiry and it's an awful way to do politics, shocking way to do politics that we can't come out having heard all the comments and discussion, how anybody could support this is beyond me. What happens if Nichola Mallon writes back and says look, I didn't ask you for a comment on a public enquiry, I asked you to make a decision as a statutory consultee. We can't be this weak. If you support it come out and support it, if you don't don't support it but we can't dismiss our statutory function. I think we should go with Gibbons proposal and it's either for or against and we live with that."

Cllr Henry Reilly

Make these things invisible

Cllr Tinnelly called the 'red herring' of a public enquiry as a 'cop out' and said he would be happy to go with Cllr Gibbons proposal "Councillors don't want to take a difficult decision here and actually pass the decision on to somebody else

"An enquiry public or otherwise, unless it's going to make these things invisible I'm not sure what it is that Cllr Byrne and Cllr Clarke would be seeking out of that"

Mourne's Councillor, Cllr Glyn Hanna added "Are we kicking this down the road for another two years. The ratepayers and the taxpayers are going to bear the cost of this."

Not hiding behind a public enquiry

Newry Councillor, Cllr Michael Savage replying to Cllr Reilly "Hiding behind a public enquiry, that's not the case. It's obvious from discussions that groupings right across this council have had and the debate that's been there tonight that there are concerns on both sides, there's a need for information there's a need for this to be interrogated"

Cllr Michael Savage.

Cllr Gibbons "I think it's a two fingers up. As somebody who has just come into this process and you have this high respect for our different departments, our planning departments, it's a two fingers up to the planning department. To go for a public enquiry, it's kicking the can down the road." 

Summing up Cllr Byrne "What we are saying is stop going round in circles, 2015 this was taken, 2017 this was taken, 2020 this is taken. Does this community have to go through this in 2023"

Proposal Passed

A recorded vote for the Cllr Byrnes proposal 'tightened' by Cllr Clarke to write to DFI Minister and ask for her to hold an independent public enquiry was passed with 35 for, 3 against and 1 abstention. The decision has to be ratified at the November meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

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