Shame on you, EirGrid.

Shame on you, EirGrid

With the spectre of twenty-storey high pylons towering over their properties with the additional whizzes and fizzes often generated by electric power lines, the average citizen who finds him- or herself in a ‘corridor’ must feel like they have little voice, despite EirGrid’s banal exhortations to ‘come and talk to us’ (as long as it is about stuff that we are prepared to discuss with you).

The difficulty with the concept of public decision making is its measurement. How much involvement should be afforded to the public, and how does one measure the level of involvement?

In its ideal form, public participation involves the activity of members of the public in partnership with public authorities to reach an optimal result in decision-making and policy-making, along the lines of the collaborative ‘win-win’ model practiced by mediators.

There is no set formula for public participation, but at a minimum it requires effective notice, adequate information, proper procedures, and appropriate acknowledgement / implementation of the outcome of public participation. Transparency and clear discussion / debating/ negotiating guidelines are essential.

The level of involvement of the public in a particular process depends on a number of factors, including the expected outcome, its scope, who and how many will be affected, whether the result settles matters on a national, region or local level, and so on. There is a  “ladder” of participation, in which members of the public have the most power—even approaching direct democratic decision-making—with respect to local matters with no impact outside the community. As issues become more complex and involve more global issues and affect larger numbers of people, the role of individual members of the public diminishes and the role of politicians and public authorities that must bear responsibility for such decisions becomes greater. The involvement of the public can pass through various stages as one climbs up the ladder—from direct decision-making to administrative status, participation, consultation, to the right to be informed only. In addition, different persons may have different status in connection with participation on a particular matter. Those who are most affected by the outcome of the decision-making or policy-making should have a greater chance to influence the outcome. This is behind the distinction between “public” and “public concerned.”

Clearly people who are living in the corridors are directly and immediately impacted by the proposed project and accordingly one could argue they should be directly consulted, with their views carrying considerable weight.  The difficulty here is that the EirGrid project covers the entire country, and accordingly impacts in some way on the entire population. The isolated victims get lost in the mix of ‘public interest’, something the Minister keeps Rabbitting on about.

The importance of fully integrating environmental considerations into governmental decision-making requires public authorities to be in possession of accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date information. The public can be a major source of this information.

Fortunately, the public often has the desire to take part in the process of gathering information and discussing options for decision-making, both out of self-interest and because of their responsibility to protect the environment. But this requires an open, regular and transparent process in which the public can have confidence. EirGrid have already destroyed any hope of achieving this with their manipulation of information, their deliberate failure to fully inform many communities who lie in their proposed corridors, and their blatant attempt to have communities pitted against each other by proposing alternative corridors when clearly the route of the cables was inked in some time ago.

Whilst fully participative democracy is not really practical in its clumsiness, this is no excuse for environmental terrorism tactics reminiscent of a totalitarian state.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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