"General concern" Apple will abandon Athenry, says Fine Gael councillor

Peter Feeney insists Sunday's march was not an attempt to influence the High Court's decision on the matter...

Over 2,000 local Athenry residents attended a march through the town on Sunday to show their support for Apple's planned €850 million data centre in the area.

The development on the outskirts of the Galway town has been delayed due to calls for a judicial review into the granting of planning permission.

Peter Feeney, a Fine Gael councillor and 'Athenry for Apple' member, told Newstalk Breakfast that there is a "general concern" that the delay will result in Apple abandoning the project, which would be "the biggest single investment ever west of the Shannon".

"The decisions from Galway County Council and An Bord Pleanála were very clear-cut in favour of the project," Feeney said. "Going for judicial review is the one area where you don't have much in terms of clarity in terms of the end-game. So we felt that it was important that we put our best foot forward yesterday. We were astonished at the number of people that turned up."

Some 300 people would be employed during the data centre's construction, which would then house 150 workers.

"And the 150 would be Apple employees," Feeney noted, "but you would also have all the knock-on contract work that would come with a facility of that size in terms of maintenance and all of that.

"And then, of course, you'd have the marquee sign of Apple locally. We've a lot of other land owned by the IDA, hundreds of acres, within two miles of the site, which would be available for other investors to come, on the basis that if a location is good enough for Apple, it's probably good enough for anybody."

Two local residents and a Wicklow landowner are behind the judicial review in the High Court. Of the three objections to the plan, Feeney said there was an element of "not in my back yard". Two are residents who "feel this is the wrong place and would welcome it locally", whilst the third has concerns about the effect on the forestry at the Coillte-owned lands at Derrydonnell.

Feeney countered:

"Ironically, there'll be more trees and better quality trees when Apple is finished than when they started, because it is a cutaway forest – effectively more than half of the 500 acres is cut away at this stage."

Apple has promised to grow hundreds of acres of deciduous trees "because it suits them in terms of temperature control".

Feeney also refuted claims that the date for yesterday's march had been specifically chosen to tie-in with the fact the case returns to the High Court today, where Apple will be looking for it to be fast-tracked.

"We wouldn't dream of thinking that we'd influence proceedings," he said. "It's a legal process... There's no influence at that level. So no, it was absolutely coincidental. We allowed the process to go through for 18 months... and we haven't made any major calls, we haven't made any opinions known, because we wanted the process to be pure and to be uninfluenced.

"At every stage, our position was justified. We expected work to begin, to be honest, at this stage. Everyone is entitled to go the judicial review route, but we also are entitled to make our views felt."