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Ireland mulls datacentre planning review to help others avoid Apple-like build delays

Speaking at the inaugural Datacloud Ireland event, Irish state minister Patrick Breen outlined the government’s commitment to helping other datacentre operators avoid the planning problems Apple has encountered in Athenry

The Irish government has outlined its commitment to addressing the legislative and policy hurdles blighting the progress of datacentre builds by the likes of Apple and Amazon in Ireland.

Speaking at the inaugural Datacloud Ireland conference in Dublin, Patrick Breen, minister of state for business, enterprise and innovation, said the Irish government is committed to ensuring the country’s burgeoning datacentre market can continue to grow unencumbered.  

“Ireland is a world-class centre for datacentre locations and so many of the world’s leading IT and technology firms are choosing Ireland for their cloud computing and related activities,” he said.

“These activities are a key part of the enterprise landscape and marks Ireland’s success as a leader in the digital sector.

“The government is committed to ensuring Ireland remains a world-leader location for data-related activities, including the construction of datacentres.”

Breen went on to make an indirect reference to the legal delays Apple has faced over the past two and a half years, since announcing plans to build an €850m datacentre in Athenry, County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, in February 2015.

The project has been beset by a series of delays, deferments and planning appeals spearheaded by a relatively small number of objectors, who include local environmental engineer Allan Daly.

Meanwhile, supporters of the project, who go by the name of Athenry for Apple, have repeatedly raised concerns that the delays could prompt the consumer electronics giant to scrap the project and take its investment elsewhere, and that other tech firms may follow suit.

To protect against this happening, Breen assured conference attendees about the work the government is doing behind the scenes to safeguard Ireland’s position as a good place for datacentre and cloud operators to set up shop.

“Many of you will be aware of the legal delays we have had in one datacentre proposal,” he said. “Let me affirm that the government is considering what policy and legislative changes may be possible to maximise certainty and timelines of the decision-making and the planning and judicial process for further datacentre proposals.”

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Breen’s comments come less than a week before Amazon is due to hear whether an environmental appeal against its plans to build a €1bn datacentre in Dublin has been successful.

The cloud computing giant initially received permission from Fingal County Council to proceed with the project, before Daly and another co-objector sought to contest the decision with Irish planning body An Bord Plenala (ABP).

The pair want Amazon to be forced to submit an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the build, and ABP has until 25 September to decide whether it will be required to.

“We are very conscious of these situations, we are very aware of it and we are looking at proposals to ensure Ireland will remain a world choice for datacentres,” Breen added.

Elsewhere in his address, Breen touched on the characteristics that contribute to making Ireland such a desirable place for so many tech companies to site their server farms, and the work going into ensuring that it remains that way.

On the latter point, he referenced Ireland’s plans to build on its international connectivity – the country already hosts numerous landing sites for transatlantic subsea cables – and ramp up its renewable energy generation and usage.

In terms of what is already luring datacentre operators and cloud computing firms, Breen hailed Ireland’s skilled workforce, its data protection regime and its temperate climate.

“We have a very strong talent pool, and a steady stream of key skills required in this sector, including data technicians and network engineers,” he said. “I think that’s key for the location of datacentres here, having the personnel and expertise for these datacentres.

“Alongside hard infrastructure, such as energy grids, we have a strong and trusted data protection regime that is very much a part of the infrastructure of Ireland’s modern economy. This is a key factor for us in the decision-making processes for companies looking to establish or to expand datacentre operations in Ireland.”

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