The government is considering legislation to class data centres as “strategic infrastructure”
The Taoiseach has insisted that Apple remains committed to building a new data centre in Athenry – despite frustration over planning delays for the project.
The €850m investment has been held up for years while a similar project in Denmark – originally announced alongside the Galway plans – is now close to completion and will be up and running by the end of the year.
The issue was raised in the Dáil by independent TD Noel Grealish – who warned that Apple had already announced plans to build a second plant in Denmark, adding that the company may be reconsidering its decision to locate in Galway.
Responding to Deputy Grealish, Leo Varadkar said the project will provide 300 construction jobs and 150 permanent on-site jobs and will be one of the biggest capital investments in the west of Ireland.
“I met the vice president of Apple approximately two weeks ago,” he said. “We discussed Athenry.”
“She reaffirmed Apple's commitment to going ahead with the project.
“Notwithstanding that another data centre is going ahead in Denmark, provided planning permission is granted Apple remains committed to the Athenry project, which I very much welcome.”
Apple was given the go-ahead to proceed with the development by Galway County Council in February 2015.
That decision was re-affirmed by An Bord Pleanála in August 2016 – however the project has been delayed by a judicial review undertaken by three objectors to the project.
A decision at the Commerical Court is due to be released soon.
“The Government is very keen for this project to go ahead,” said Mr Varadkar.
“I am reassured by Apple of its commitment to the project but the Government acknowledges that planning issues and delays in the courts undermine the case for future investment and it intends to act on that.”
Deputy Grealish said the Athenry plans would see the data centre run on clean and renewable energy “from day one.”
He said the “bigger underlying issue of concern” is that Ireland will be saddled with a reputation for planning laws that see large infrastructural projects being held up for years on the back of minor objections.”
“The fear is that any multinational company examining Apple's experience in Galway may not consider Ireland,” he said.
“We will be bypassed for a country with progressive planning laws, where governments do everything possible to create inward investment.
“This is not about Galway or Apple but rather it is about Ireland.”
The Taoiseach said the government is considering a change to the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act which would include data centres as “strategic infrastructure,” thus speeding up the planning process.
“It is important that Ireland has a planning process that allows people to give their views on any planning application but it is also important that decisions are made speedily,” he said.
“It is frustrating to see so many of these important decisions being held up in the courts by means of judicial review.
“That does not only affect private sector projects such as this - important public infrastructure projects are also often held up in the courts.”
He said any change to the operation of the courts can require constitutional change and can be difficult to put in place but insisted that classifying "projects such as this” as strategic infrastructure will significantly speed up the process.