The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) is a highly credible organisation with an excellent reputation. Although it is London-based, it has a thriving branch in Ireland, as well as in many other countries around the world. Indeed, I am a fully qualified arbitrator, and the only reason I did not join the CIArb when I first came to Ireland from South Africa in 2002 was because I could not afford the membership fees!
It was with some surprise, then, that I heard the CIArb had taken on EirGrid as a client and was conducting a review of EirGrid’s consultation practices, as anything associated with EirGrid tends to take on a bad smell, and I could not imagine why CIArb would ever want to take that risk.
This also caused a bit of fun at various community group meetings as people kept asking me how the preparation for the arbitration was going. I had to explain that despite their name, this was not an arbitration but a review with imposed terms of reference. This explanation was always met with groans of disappointment.
It was with that inherent suspicion that I replied to the CIArb letter on behalf of Comeraghs Against Pylons (CAP) in response to their invitation to submit our views on the consultation process. The stance adopted by CAP was that we would participate in the review if EirGrid was prepared to negotiate with us concerning the membership of the review panel and more importantly, the terms of reference of the review panel. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, when it comes to a review, the terms of reference are often more important than the identity of the persons on that panel, as their actions (and hence their effectiveness) are largely dictated by the terms of reference.
CIArb letter: http://www.rethinkpylons.org/news/140327%20CIArb.pdf
CAP’s reply: http://www.rethinkpylons.org/news/140327%20CAPs%20answer.pdf
I never received an answer to that letter, but I can only assume that the CIArb took the letter to their client (as they should have done) and received a blank refusal from EirGrid to have anything to do with negotiations. Instead of a detailed reply to my queries, I received a document containing the terms of reference and details of persons appointed to the review panel. These details did not generate a feeling of optimism :
The review will be undertaken by a Working Group which will be chaired by the Chairperson of the EirGrid Board and will include two further Board members, the Chief Executive, the Director of Grid Development and two EirGrid staff.”
Terms of Reference: http://www.rethinkpylons.org/news/140402%20CIArb%20-%202.pdf
As you may well imagine, my reply to that letter was dripping (with what, you can decide): http://www.rethinkpylons.org/news/140402%20CAPs%20answer.pdf
I still could not help thinking that CIArb would never sell their professional reputation for the sake of an organisation that people regularly refer to as ‘liars’ and ‘cheats’ (nowadays to their faces!) and some other choice names besides, but modesty forbids me from publishing those. It is on that basis that I have suggested to John McCusker of CAP that maybe CAP should meet with the CIArb and tell them about our experiences of EirGrid ‘consultation’. It is up to John and the CAP Committee whether that will happen.
At this stage, assuming that anybody has actually engaged with them, I would imagine the CIArb Report will go something like this:
Report on Consultation with members of the public on the NREAP and Grid25 / GridLink.
1. Terms of Reference (including the fact that these were imposed, rather than negotiated with the stakeholders)
Setting out the history of the NREAP, Grid 25 and specifically GridLink – again, emphasising that the NREAP was introduced and implemented without any consultation at all, and that consultation on the Grid25 and its constituent projects was only initiated (half-heartedly) once critical strategic and technical choices had already been made by EirGrid and the Government, ensuring that all options were most definitely not open: a flagrant violation of the Aarhus Treaty.
3. The background and context of the Review.
Specific details on the exact brief handed to the CIArb by EirGrid, and details of the specific instructions concerning the terms of reference, the composition of the panel, and the publication of CIArb’s Report. Mention must be made of those 35000 submissions and the broad themes emerging from those submissions (pylons, health, suicide, landscape, tourism, agriculture, local businesses, property prices, job destruction, alternatives to wind, impact on fauna and flora, etc). Included here could be references to the number of false and/or misleading statements made by EirGrid and government officials through the public media and to various Oireachtas committees.
4. The model of consultation used by EirGrid.
Included here could be some colourful testimony from people who have attended any of EirGrid’s earlier public consultation meetings (i.e. when they still had them) including tales of being shouted down, of being taken outside whenever one asked a difficult question, of being refused access to the meeting by EirGrid heavies at the door who claimed the (near-empty) hall was ‘full’, of the deliberate misinformation contained on their website (‘your property will not lose its value’) and in their booklets (like ‘EMF and You’, which relies on biased and unsound research, and which contained a link to a discredited body of research). Mention can also be made of the offices that EirGrid ‘opened’ but which never seemed to be open, if you could find them in the first place as they were always situated down a little side alley; and of course the fact that there is still no office in Waterford, despite this county being the most heavily impacted by the proposed GridLink Project. There should also be details of EirGrid’s later model of consultation, which consisted of having private meetings with members of specific community organisations and making promises to respond to specific queries tabled and minuted at those meetings but never doing so, despite follow-up e-mails from those groups requesting same.
5. Comparison of these practices by EirGrid with international best practice.
The inevitable conclusion that actually there is no comparison with international best practice. Alternatively, that there is a remarkable similarity with the practices carried out in countries like Columbia, North Korea and Cuba.
Given the meaning of consultation as used in the Aarhus Treaty, namely full and frank consultation on environmental matters/projects/health issues, etc, whilst all options are open, and after supplying the affected public with credible and truthful information, the only recommendation that can ever be made is that the purported consultation process as carried out by EirGrid was irretrievably flawed. It is recommended that all work on any EirGrid project should be immediately halted and the entire process restarted, commencing with a full public debate and consultation on Ireland’s Renewable Energy Policy with its overdependence on wind energy, and underutilisation of other forms of renewable energy. Any Policy must be sensitive to the need for job creation whilst aiming for the least possible impact on the affected environment and the communities within.
Whilst I admit that I am displaying a high level of impudence in daring to suggest to an august body like CIArb what should be contained in their Report, they need to be aware that anything less will be met with public disdain and disgust, and will irreparably taint the reputation of CIArb in this country, if not internationally.
CIArb must ask itself: is EirGrid worth that?
CAP are conducting a study of your experience of EirGrid’s consultation process. Please could you send us a description of your experiences, especially at those early meetings (when we knew nothing and EirGrid actually attended public meetings) or if you tried to visit their office or even if you tried to telephone them. If you can remember dates and places, that would be brilliant. Please supply your names so that we can get back to you if we need clarification. If we use your description in our report we will not use your name, only your initials and parish, and only once we have secured your express permission.
Please e-mail your descriptions to firstname.lastname@example.org