Although Leitrim’s Councillors did not vote on two motions calling for hydraulic fracturing to be banned in the County Development Plan, they did unanimously support a motion calling for the Minister and the Government to ensure that the practice is “excluded as a method of extraction of gas in the Republic of Ireland”.
The motion, proposed by Cllr Tony Ferguson, was unanimously agreed by Councillors at Monday’s monthly Council meeting following a lengthy debate on the issue.
Councillors Sean McSharry and Sean McDermott had initially sought amendments to the County’s Development Plan to ban the practice of fracking, however the Director of Services, Planning, Community and Economic Development, Joseph Gilhooly, explained that the process of banning the process in the Development Plan was “fraught with technical and legal difficulties” citing previous precedent involving Mayo County Council’s attempts to ban mining in 2010.
County Manager, Jackie Maguire agreed stressing that the actual process of changing the plan was not as simple as getting agreement from Councillors.
“The process is a lengthy one. Not only would it involve seeking specialist advice, it would also involve putting the change to public consultation. The entire process would be in the region of around eight months,” she noted adding that despite votes to change Development Plans in counties like Clare and Sligo, “no Development Plan has actually been changed anywhere yet”.
The point was also raised that the County Development Plan was an ‘aspirational’ document and any changes would also be ‘aspirational’ and could be over turned by other bodies such as An Bord Pleanala.
Cllr Martin Kenny said that despite this he felt that the Council should change the plan and “put up a fight” against Tamboran’s plans to frack in Co Leitrim. “If we make the change and the Minister overturns it then so be it, at least we’ve acted for the people of Leitrim,” he said.
Cllr Tony Ferguson agreed saying that the Council should stand “shoulder to shoulder” with everyone in opposition to hydraulic fracturing, however he said it was not enough to change the County Development Process, “we’re also calling for a change in the regulations and planning guidelines”.
Cllr Enda McGloin agreed saying that the Minister must be made aware of the concerns of the people of Leitrim and make the change to legislation at that level. “People have to understand that changing our Development Plan isn’t enough. We as councillors don’t have the power to actually ban this process. A ban voted by councillors won’t stop anything and that message has to go out there so people aren’t being mislead on this,” he said.
Cllr Sean McGowan said regardless a “message should be sent loud and clear that fracking is not acceptable in Co Leitrim. Even if the Development Plan is only aspirational and the Government can overturn it we should still ban this.” A stance that was widely supported by his fellow councillors.
Councillors McSharry and McDermott, who put forward the original motions calling for changes to the Development Plans both urged proper discussion on the matter, arguing that this was too important an issue with financial, environmental and health concerns for people in the county.
When Minister Pat Rabbitte was told on the special RTE Frontline programme Monday night about Leitrim County Council’s motion, he said “there is no fracking going on.”
Des Guckian a representative of ‘Save Our Shannon’ group against fracking was present at the Leitrim County Council meeting. He said he felt the issue was “put back” instead of advanced on the night. He said that the councillors stated they were unhappy and concerned about the situation but “when it came to the crunch” failed to do anything about it. He said there seemed like there was “fear” amongst the councillors.
See this week’s Leitrim Observer for the full story