I should have a warm and fuzzy feeling inside me after reading the self-congratulatory publication by EirGrid “Reviewing and improving our public consultation process”. It has become obvious that I, and thousands like me, have been completely wrong about EirGrid. They are clearly lovely people who have just been deeply misunderstood in their attempts to keep us in the loop.
Aw shucks, the cover picture of the little cutie listening to the old Bakelite radio starts the warmth and by the end of this extraordinary publication I felt dirty and cheap for ever doubting Fintan Sly and his Knights of the Round Table.
After paying a small fortune in taxpayer money for the ineptitude of RPS Consulting, who clearly did not learn any lessons from the PR nightmare that was the Poolbeg Incinerator; EirGrid have now turned to SLR Consulting Limited. SLR are described in this publication (which they no doubt wrote) as: “…a leading international environmental consultancy with a strong reputation for providing expert, tailored services”.
I like that word ‘tailored’, it says a lot.
SLR’s claim to fame is its authoring of “Wind Energy in Ireland: Building Community Engagement and Social Support” on behalf of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC). The report “examined the wind energy industry and its challenge of community engagement and social acceptance in Ireland and in three other jurisdictions: Germany, Scotland and Denmark”.
SLR provided over a hundred pages of carefully-crafted bunkum to allow the NESC to come to the following earth-stopping conclusions:
“i. The policy framework underpinning engagement should include an energy-transition process that is intentional, participative and problem-solving;
ii. Tailored policies, supports and structures should be developed to: (1) support local authorities, particularly to develop enhanced community engagement in their forward-planning process; and (2) enable communities, through a Community Energy Strategy, to contribute to the energy-transition process.
iii. Participatory processes of community engagement should be required for all wind-energy developments, such as the Renewable-Energy Community Engagement process outlined here;
iv. The substantive agenda around which engagement will occur should be shaped with communities and include a range of renewable-energy and energy-efficiency possibilities, as well as local value-sharing mechanisms (from community benefit to community ownership);
v. Renewable-energy intermediary actors should be certified and resourced to enable and facilitate the energy transition at a local level but also help to achieve community settlements; and
vi. A key central-level agency (such as SEAI) should be tasked to provide a learning network to which locally negotiated plans and settlements would be linked.”
These key themes of ‘con them in, buy them off, shut them up” are repeated in this latest tabloid commissioned by EirGrid.
Some quotable highlights include:
“There have been three phases of public consultation on the Grid Link Project since April 2012. Over the course of the consultation, as the project was analysed in more detail and route corridors were identified, the level of participation in the consultation increased.
Since April 2012, three focussed rounds of public consultation have taken place:
• Between April and June 2012, following the launch of the project, members of the public and other stakeholders were asked to comment on the study area map. 527 responses were received; (my bold)
• Over eight weeks between August and October 2012 we sought feedback to identify constraints that should be considered in routing the project and 278 people and groups made responses.
• Finally, from September 2013 to January 2014 we invited feedback on a number of route corridor options we had identified and in excess of 38,000 responses were received during this third consultation.” (Page 8).
Two themes emerge from this quoted passage, which are repeated throughout this hyped-up piece of drivel.
The first one is condescension at a level that is profoundly insulting to all citizens. It goes along the lines of “we promise to speak slowly and clearly and use words of one syllable because the Irish public is too thick to understand anything more complex than that”. This echoes the attitude of their Fine Gael masters.
The second is that this fatally flawed process of consultation can still be fixed at this late stage, rather than throwing out the whole Grid25 mess and starting again with a rewriting of the NREAP, following extensive public consultation.
The Aarhus Treaty is quite clear that public consultation must begin when “all options are open”.
Some decisions of the Aarhus Compliance Committee are instructive in this regard:
“To ensure proper conduct of the public participation procedure, the administrative functions related to its organization are usually delegated to bodies or persons which are quite often specializing in public participation or mediation, are impartial and do not represent any interests related to the proposed activity being subject to the decision-making.”
(Belarus ACCC/C/2009/37, ECE/MP.PP/2011/11/Add.2, April 2011, para.79)
“While the developers (project proponents) may hire consultants specializing in public participation, neither the developers themselves nor the consultants hired by them can ensure the degree of impartiality necessary to guarantee proper conduct of the public participation procedure.
Therefore, the Committee in this case finds that, similarly to what it has already observed in the past “reliance solely on the developer for providing for public participation is not in line with these provisions of the Convention” (ACCC/C/2006/16 Lithuania, para. 78).
(Belarus ACCC/C/2009/37, ECE/MP.PP/2011/11/Add.2, April 2011, para.80)
“Aside from any consequential problems arising from a failure to implement paragraph 2, some other provisions of article 6 may have been breached even with respect to those members of the public that did receive notification of the hearings in accordance with the requirements of paragraph 2. For example, the fact that construction started before the July hearings were held is clearly not in conformity with the requirement under article 6, paragraphs 3 and 4, for “reasonable time frames” and “early public participation, when all options are open.” Furthermore, it appears that the responsible authorities treated the outcome of the hearings as if it were the outcome of public participation. This would have been more acceptable if the hearings had genuinely involved all key groupings within the public concerned. As it was, the views of those who were not invited to participate in the hearings, which apparently were expressed in other ways and were well known to the authorities, do not appear to have been taken into account.”
(Kazakhstan ACCC/C/2004/2; ECE/MP.PP/C.1/2005/2/Add.2, 14 March 2005, para. 25)
On their own version EirGrid only invited consultations after the GridLink project was launched, and even then the invitation was lukewarm at best with nothing in local Dungarvan papers and no information office in County Waterford.
Too late, guys.
For example, the GridLink Stage One Report made it clear that EirGrid had started with over seventy options but only offered the public six of these options, and even those six were skewed so profoundly that it was clear the choice had already been made. Despite the current government-manufactured brouhaha over ‘the underground option’; EirGrid should have conducted a full-cycle cost/benefit analysis on overhead versus underground versus undersea cables and thereafter should have invited the public to scrutinise this analysis. Once proper consultation had occurred on this analysis, EirGrid would have been in a position to commence Stage 1. The failure of EirGrid to carry out this public consultation exercise, whilst all options were open, makes the entire project void ab initio. There is no such thing as a retrospective repair job. The process is fatally flawed, and appointing a panel headed by a judge cannot fix that.
Another jewel of jiggery-pokery appears later:
“A key pillar of the ‘Aarhus Convention’, ratified by the Irish Government in June 2012, concerns Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making. This requires public authorities to enable the public to comment on proposals for projects, plans and programmes relating to, or affecting, the environment. It also provides that “Each Party shall provide for early public participation, when all options are open and effective public participation can take place”.
The Aarhus Convention forms a key context within which EirGrid’s Project Development and Consultation Roadmap was prepared.” (Page 13)
Although Ireland signed the Convention in June 1998, it was the last Member State of the European Union to ratify it. Ireland’s formal instrument of ratification was lodged with the United Nations on 20 June 2012 and the Convention entered into force on 18 September 2012 (ninety days after the date of deposit of the instrument of ratification).
The claim by EirGrid that Aarhus impacted on its initial strategies is breathtaking in its audacity. Whatever EirGrid might mean by ‘context’, the Aarhus Treaty most certainly was not allowed to influence EirGrid’s roadmap, nor was it allowed to impact on the formulation of the NREAP, which was steamrollered through with minimal public notice, let alone any public consultation. For EirGrid to claim anything else is deeply cynical on their part. They have flouted the Treaty from the inception of the Grid25 Project, and they are still consistently flouting the Treaty, by continuing with the GridLink Project despite the lack of initial consultation. A glossy publication cannot change that fact.
On Page 13 EirGrid makes much of the fact that they consulted documentation prepared by CIGRE in formulating their approach to consultation.
CIGRE describes itself thus:
“Founded in 1921, CIGRE, the Council on Large Electric Systems, is an international non-profit Association for promoting collaboration with experts from all around the world by sharing knowledge and joining forces to improve electric power systems of today and tomorrow.”
In other words, it is a power industry / energy industry think-tank funded and controlled by big business. I would hardly think that public participation looms large on its agenda.
Despite this, EirGrid lists what it perceives to be the benchmarks of CIGRE policy and then on pages 15-16 it marks its own report-card which compares its (version of its own) performance against the CIGRE principles. Not surprisingly, EirGrid awards itself an ‘A’, only narrowly missing giving itself an ‘A+’:
“Overall, it is considered that the Roadmap process – which forms the framework for the preparation of project-specific communications strategies – ensures a structured, transparent and defensible process. We believe it is generally in accordance with the principles set out in the Cigré Working Group document. Notwithstanding this, there are undoubtedly areas where it can be improved.”
It is now that the third theme emerges strongly. That of hearty self-congratulation. Despite the external report from the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators saying that there is serious trouble in Paradise, EirGrid manages to ignore this, so intent is it on slapping its own back. In fact, it is apparent that SLR Consulting were brought in to deflect the impact of the CIArb Report, which is relegated to the status of an incomplete annexure to this pantomime script.
The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Report is best summed up with this passage:
“Notwithstanding hard work by EirGrid, a lack of public trust has emerged as an acute issue affecting EirGrid’s consultation process and the fulfilment of its mandate. EirGrid needs to address this urgently if it is to succeed in realising the ambitious Grid25 programme. We consider that the analysis of EirGrid’s consultation process contained in this report, and our recommendations will go some way to assisting EirGrid in achieving a more successful implementation of best practice consultation and meaningful public engagement. We hope that EirGrid will take this opportunity to hear what the ‘ordinary people of Ireland’ have to say, and that this Review report will encourage EirGrid to afford the public greater ownership of the consultation process going forward, so that all can input into the development of Ireland’s strategic infrastructure for the collective benefit of the whole country.” (Page 9 of the CIArb Report – Annexure 5).
Despite the gentle and non-judgemental language used by CIArb, it clearly frightened EirGrid so badly that they saw fit to run off and engage SLR to produce its sycophantic report and no doubt the glossy brochure.
The notes of the consultations conducted by CIArb with various community organisations have been embargoed by EirGrid, as they are hugely embarrassing to its cause, with the following flimsy excuse offered:
“(Please Note- the appendices to this report are not currently included as we await permission from stakeholders to publish the notes of their meeting with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators)”.
Was that permission ever sought I wonder? Not that I know of. Has anybody out there been approached for permission to publish? And despite EirGrid’s claim that SLR conducted “structured interviews with a wide range of individuals and groups who had experience of EirGrid’s consultation process”, I know for a fact that the three biggest community groups on the GridLink route were never even contacted by SLR, let alone ‘interviewed’ by them. Where are the SLR’s consultation notes I wonder?
I could go on but my head hurts after reading all this blarney. Read it for yourself. Get angry and/or have a giggle.
EirGrid must stop treating the citizens of Ireland like goggle-eyed children. They need to recognise that Grid25 is a folly, and that the NREAP is a decade out of date. Once they have done that, perhaps we can start again, with a clean slate, and with all options open.