Is Ire­land re­ally geared up to meet de­mands of multi­na­tion­als?

Irish Independent - - NEWS - Paul Melia En­vi­ron­ment Edi­tor

The ques­tion will be whether Ap­ple de­cides to cut its losses and build else­where and what mes­sage that sends to oth­ers

I N FE­BRU­ARY 2015, tech gi­ant Ap­ple an­nounced plans to build and op­er­ate two data cen­tres in Europe – one in Den­mark, and a sec­ond in Athenry, Co Gal­way.

Plan­ning per­mis­sion was granted for the Ir­ish plant in Septem­ber 2015, but the de­ci­sion was ap­pealed to An Bord Pleanála. It ap­proved the €850m pro­ject in Au­gust 2016, but not a brick has been laid. Why? The de­ci­sion was ap­pealed to the High Court, which will rule next month on whether it was cor­rect. In Den­mark, the data cen­tre is built, and will be op­er­a­tional by the end of the year. Ap­ple now plans an­other.

Now an­other tech gi­ant – Mi­crosoft – ap­pears to be run­ning into trou­ble. It was granted per­mis­sion to build four data cen­tres in west Dublin last year, but now says it needs a gas-fired plant to pro­vide elec­tric­ity for the next three years, pend­ing an up­grade of the grid to meet the mas­sive de­mand for power.

At the time per­mis­sion was sought, no is­sues were raised about the grid’s ca­pac­ity to de­liver. That ap­pears to have changed, and EirGrid now says the sys­tem needs to be bol­stered to meet in­creased de­mand, which will take a num­ber of years. It raises ques­tions about whether Ire­land is geared up to meet the de­mands of multi­na­tional firms seek­ing to lo­cate here.

On the face of it, no. We have a hous­ing cri­sis, our pub­lic trans­port sys­tem is over­loaded and con­ges­tion is a huge is­sue. Our wa­ter net­work needs bil­lions of euro to bring it up to mod­ern stan­dards, our health sys­tem strug­gles, the grid needs some work – and Ire­land’s an ex­pen­sive place to live.

While the Gov­ern­ment has an ad­di­tional €4.1bn to spend on cap­i­tal projects out to 2021, it has to jug­gle de­mands from health, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, so­cial pro­tec­tion and count­less other sec­tors for money. There will be no quick fixes to our in­fra­struc­ture deficits.

Data cen­tres use enor­mous amounts of power – Mi­crosoft’s will use the equiv­a­lent of that con­sumed by tens of thou­sands of homes – and they’re a rel­a­tively new phe­nom­e­non. But lurk­ing in the back­ground is a sus­pi­cion that the firm’s plans will now be sub­ject to de­lay, and its plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion could be­come more than just an ad­min­is­tra­tive box-tick­ing ex­er­cise. There’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that the 18MW power plant should have been in­cluded in the orig­i­nal plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion. Should the en­tire scheme be re­vis­ited, set­ting it back months if not years?

The plan­ning sys­tem is of­ten crit­i­cised as a source of de­lays for big projects, and the Gov­ern­ment says it is in need of re­form. But dur­ing the sum­mer, An Bord Pleanála was re­duced to just four mem­bers. It’s sup­posed to have nine. What­ever about re­forms, re­sourc­ing what’s al­ready there avoids back­logs. The sit­u­a­tion has since been ad­dressed.

Apart from our ed­u­cated work­force and cor­po­rate tax rates, part of the rea­son why com­pa­nies come here is be­cause the IDA pro­vides plants kit­ted out for par­tic­u­lar in­dus­tries, and then seeks firms to oc­cupy them. It’s an ex­tra string in the bow in a global fight for in­vest­ment. But the IDA can’t build data cen­tres, and Ap­ple’s prob­lems may not go away any time soon.

If Ap­ple ‘wins’ the High Court case, the los­ing party could ap­peal. The ques­tion at that stage will be whether Ap­ple de­cides to cut its losses and build its data cen­tre else­where, and what mes­sage that sends to oth­ers. While our in­fra­struc­ture deficits don’t ap­pear to be los­ing us busi­ness, that could change.

Cer­tainty around plan­ning time­frames should, at least, be a given.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.