‘Wind en­ergy could be IFSC of the West’, claims Tea­hon

He learned de­ci­sive­ness from Haughey, but th­ese days Paddy Tea­hon is all about cli­mate change, writes Ni­amh Ho­ran

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Irish Life -

‘CHAR­LIE Haughey op­er­ated a good deal of the time by fear.” The whiff of sul­phur is eas­ily re­called by Paddy Tea­hon all th­ese years later. “It was ex­tra­or­di­nary. There was just this aura about him,” he adds. “I re­mem­ber walk­ing down the cor­ri­dor of govern­ment build­ings one day, feel­ing a slight un­ease, you know that feel­ing when the hair is stand­ing up on your neck? I thought ‘that’s odd’. And when I spun around, there he was, 10 yards be­hind me.”

Hailed as one of Ire­land’s most re­spected civil ser­vants, Tea­hon has served un­der six taoisigh. He played a key role in the Good Fri­day agree­ment, was in­stru­men­tal in de­vel­op­ing Tem­ple Bar and was part of the team that helped turn the In­ter­na­tional Fi­nan­cial Ser­vice’s Cen­tre (IFSC) from a dream into a re­al­ity. Now chair­man of the wind en­ergy as­so­ci­a­tion NOW Ire­land, Tea­hon is de­ter­mined to see one project through be­fore “I re­tire to the Zim­mer frame” — as he puts it.

“De­vel­op­ment of off­shore wind farms in the Ir­ish Sea could see the in­dus­try be­come the ‘IFSC of the West’,” he pre­dicts.

He has a de­ter­mi­na­tion and a ‘can-do’ at­ti­tude which was de­vel­oped un­der his old boss Haughey.

“The prob­lem with talk­ing about Char­lie is that peo­ple re­mem­ber the bad al­most more than the good,” Tea­hon says cau­tiously, but in his best days “he was the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of de­ci­sive­ness.”

The kind, he feels, we need more of now. “The way Haugh- ey op­er­ated was this: he called me down to his of­fice one morn­ing and — his hand ges­tures were very no­table — so he started off the con­ver­sa­tion say­ing ‘this Tem­ple Bar thing’ us­ing his left hand, which was the good hand, and lean­ing across the ta­ble he said to me, very qui­etly, ‘Go and do it Paddy’, you see? And I started [in­ter­ject­ing] say­ing ‘well Taoiseach I think…’ and sud­denly his right hand came up in a firm stop sign,” Paddy demon­strates. “And he leant across the desk and said, ‘Just f*ck off and do it!’” Tea­hon’s rec­ol­lec­tion of Haughey as a de­ter­mined man echoes the mem­ory of busi­ness­man Dermot Des­mond. The fi­nancier once de­scribed how he went to see Haughey “prac­ti­cally in tears” be­cause vested in­ter­ests in­volved in de­vel­op­ing the IFSC were frus­trat­ingly di­vi­sive. The busi­ness­man re­called how Char­lie at­tended the next meet­ing and told the suits around the ta­ble: “We are go­ing to im­ple­ment ev­ery­thing in the man­i­festo. There will be no di­lu­tion.” Then he threat­ened the banks that if they didn’t ‘play ball’ and each com­mit to buy­ing a block in the IFSC, he would re­tal­i­ate. It got the job done.

Tea­hon wants to see the same de­ter­mined ac­tion help cre­ate an in­dus­try in the West. “The Govern­ment needs to form an Off­shore Wind De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee, based on the model of the IFSC where the Depart­ment of the Taoiseach plays the lead role in bring­ing to­gether rep­re­sen­ta­tives of govern­ment de­part­ments, State agen­cies and in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives to over­see the work that would de­velop the in­dus­try.”

He de­scribes the move as: ‘a no-brainer’ for two rea­sons: Firstly, he says, “we need to care about cli­mate change and se­condly it will cre­ate thou­sands of jobs and bring huge tax ben­e­fits Ire­land.

“Just look at all the Euro­pean coun­tries do­ing this. Den­mark is a small coun­try, not that dif­fer­ent to Ire­land, and it has some of the big­gest com­pa­nies in the world in the en­ergy space. Ger­many, Bel­gium, Swe­den, France and Spain have all got in on the act too — and yet Ire­land is still stuck.”

He be­lieves the plan will have a mas­sive im­pact on the west coast of Ire­land — help­ing com­mu­ni­ties that have been left be­hind in the eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

“Ire­land needs to do pos­i­tive things that af­fect peo­ple out­side of Dublin and off­shore wind is a big op­por­tu­nity here. If we do it co­her­ently, it can be good for coastal com­mu­ni­ties be­cause the tur­bines will be out in the sea but you have to de­velop ports and ser­vice them. The Sustainable En­ergy Author­ity (SEAI) has al­ready pre­dicted 20,000 jobs would be cre­ated by 2040.”

Dublin­ers will also feel the ben­e­fits, Tea­hon says: “The East will be first to feel the value of this. En­ergy prices in Ire­land are likely to rise in the com­ing years, partly as a re­sult of the grow­ing elec­tric­ity de­mand from data cen­tres. All the big data cen­tres that are com­ing into Dublin now need lots of elec­tric­ity, so how in the name of God are we go­ing to sup­ply it go­ing for­ward? Wind tur­bines in the Ir­ish Sea would be cheaper to put in place [than tra­di­tional sources of elec­tric­ity] be­cause you will have just one wire go­ing from the Ir­ish Sea into Dublin — as op­posed to try­ing to put wires in all over the coun­try.” Tea­hon’s sen­ti­ment is in step with a num­ber of high-pro­file fig­ures who have spo­ken out about cli­mate change in re­cent weeks. In Oc­to­ber for­mer pres­i­dent Mary Robinson pointed to a re­cent cli­mate re­port that she says will her­ald the end of the fos­sil fuel era. Last Wed­nes­day, Min­is­ter for Cli­mate Ac­tion Richard Bru­ton warned: “The de­ci­sions we make now in tack­ling cli­mate change will de­fine the next cen­tury.” In the same mes­sage he promised that the Govern­ment was ready and will­ing to be­come a leader in the is­sue.

Yet Ire­land is wildly off course in hit­ting its CO2 tar­gets and is the sec­ond-worst per­form­ing EU coun­try. Tax­pay­ers face a bill of half a bil­lion every year in penal­ties — likely to be an an­nual headache for decades to come as we are set to miss our tar­gets in 2020, 2030 and 2050.

But Tea­hon can un­der­stand why cli­mate change has taken a back seat un­til now. “Brexit re­gret­tably has taken over, as has health and hous­ing, but this is about get­ting it into [politi­cians’] heads that, look, we need to be do­ing this kind of thing for the fu­ture. Like the peace process, the IFSC and Tem­ple Bar, it’s all about the next gen­er­a­tion to come. Whether the Govern­ment re­alises it or not, young peo­ple care about cli­mate change and if the Govern­ment doesn’t get se­ri­ous about it vot­ers will make it known.”

He re­calls what was planned in place of Tem­ple Bar: “CIE were go­ing to make it a bus garage. They were very ad­vanced with it. I re­mem­ber there was kind of a feel­ing that, ‘Oh dear God this is go­ing to be re­ally dif­fi­cult’. But it all worked out in the end.”

He feels the pow­ers that be will come through with this too, if they bear in mind that it’s time for ac­tion, “not just talk­ing”. A Bob Dy­lan fan, he adds: “You know that fa­mous line? ‘How many times can a man turn his head and pre­tend that he just doesn’t see? The an­swer my friend is blowin’ in the wind...’ Dy­lan was more pre­scient than we knew.”

‘Char­lie leant across the desk and said: “Just f*ck off and do it”’

GET IT DONE: Paddy Tea­hon of NOW Ire­land. Photo: Tony Gavin

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