Labour Senator John Whelan has warned that Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte will have to address the “apparent conflict of interest” where the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland chairman Brendan Halligan, a long-term Labour apparatchik, is also a director of Mainstream Renewable Power; one of the major wind-farm developers in Ireland.
Mr Whelan issued the warning in the wake of a major demonstration outside Dublin Castle against proposals to erect 2,500 “185 metre high wind turbines, higher than the spike in Dublin, near family homes in 14 counties across Ireland”.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he warned the status of Halligan was leading to “much public disquiet and fuelling public cynicism with regard to wind energy policy and an increasingly controversial planning process.”
The Labour senator asked, “How can Mr Halligan serve both the public interest and the commercial interests of a private company? This is not best practice and will have to be addressed; there is no way around it.”
He added that “it is unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue and I will now be raising the issue with both Minister Rabbitte and the Oireachtas Committee on Energy and Natural Resources”.
This is likely to lead to tensions between the senator and Mr Rabbitte, who has made renewable energy one of his core departmental objectives.
But Whelan warned that on this issue Labour “can’t come across all pious and highly principled on other issues and then turn a blind eye when [it] suits us. In public life you cannot serve two masters”.
Decisions, he said, “to be made around wind farm policy and planning are going to have a profound effect on thousands of rural families for generations to come”.
Whelan’s position was echoed by the Labour Senator John Kelly who noted “all that the people want is for the Government to sit up and listen to them, that they don’t want to live beside residential wind turbines for reasons of health, noise, and the safety of their children.
He said Friday’s protest was peaceful and passionate, held by decent families trying to protect their human right to live in peace and tranquillity, not surrounded by wind farms “that are bigger than the spike”.
Kelly added: “It is indeed ironic that Enda Kenny is saying the Seanad is ineffective, whilst at the same time, when I brought a Wind Turbine 2012 Bill through the Seanad, achieving cross-party support, it was Enda who blocked the same bill going the Dail. He considers this to be democracy, when in fact he himself is blocking democracy”.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent Mr Whelan also claimed “much of the public disquiet would be resolved and allayed if the Government accepted Deputy Willie Penrose’s and Senator John Kelly’s legislative proposals affording 1.5km setback from family homes”.