Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

DfI approval of Interconnector prompts angry backlash

The recent decision by the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Infrastructure to grant approval for the North South Interconnector project has been criticized by SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh Justin McNulty, who says the move has “infuriated” residents.

Stating there is huge local opposition to the project, Mr McNulty said: “This is a major infrastructure project that proposes constructing ugly pylons and electricity lines through some of the most beautiful and historic parts of counties Armagh and Tyrone. Local residents understand the need for interconnection, but feel strongly that the better option is the undergrounding of the cables. The applicant told local residents it was too expensive to underground the cables but any time we asked for the costings, they changed.  Local residents are infuriated at this decision.”

Claiming the rationale behind the approval is “questionable”, Mr McNulty says such “controversial decisions” should be made by a Minister and not a senior Civil Servant.  

Referring to the controversial Hightown incinerator near Belfast, which was approved last year, he added: “The decision by the Permanent Secretary to approve the Hightown incinerator is subject to a judicial review.  That legal challenge is questioning if the Permanent Secretary and the Civil Service has the authority to make such politically sensitive and controversial decisions.  Surely it would have been appropriate for [the Interconnector] decision to be at least held until that judicial review has ruled on the legitimacy of such decisions being made.”

He claims the approval has been “rushed out” ahead of the beginning of the latest all-party talks as no Minister would have given the application the go-ahead.

“It’s clear to me and residents locally that the Civil Service are rushing decisions like this out in the absence of a Stormont Executive.  No Minister would approve this application so it has been rushed out the door just as all party talks begin.  This is wrong. Given planning for this development warranted a public inquiry, how can a non-elected Civil Servant legitimately make a final decision?” he asked.