Fisherman wins first leg of battle against cable laying project off Mayo coast

File image of Clare Island

A Clare Island fisherman has won the first leg of a legal battle against the laying of fibre optic cable off the Mayo coast as a decision granting a licence for the works which is part of a multi million international communication project is to be quashed.

And the Irish spur of the project which will see a Trans Atlantic cable system connect Northern Europe and the US is now on hold as the question of whether to grant another foreshore licence is to be further considered.

Teams had been on standby and in isolation in Co Mayo waiting to start work on the Irish section of the Trans Atlantic subsea cable system.

The Irish branch of the cable system is called America Europe Connect 2 and is owned by a consortium of IT companies including internet giants Facebook and Google.

Clare Island fisherman James O’Toole over a week ago brought a legal challenge against the granting of the licence. The consortium was a notice party to the proceedings against the Minister of State at the Department of Planning and Local Government which granted a foreshore licence earlier this year

In the High Court today Mr Justice Denis McDonald was told at a remote hearing there had been a dramatic development in the case.

Counsel for Mr O’Toole , James Devlin SC told the court in a letter on Thursday evening from the Chief State Solicitor it had been indicated the Minister was consenting to an order of 'certiorari', quashing the decision of February 6, 2020 to grant a licence to America Europe Connect 2 Limited to install the cable on the foreshore off Old Head, Louisburgh, Co Mayo.

Counsel said his side did not object to the remittal back to the Minister for consideration but he said any further consideration would require public participation and an environment impact study.

David Holland SC for America Europe Connect 2 Ltd asked that the case be adjourned for two weeks. “We understand that this licence has a death sentence and a sentence of remittal,’ Counsel said. The consortium he said had already given an undertaking not to start works off the Mayo coast.

Mr Justice McDonald who had been due to hear an application for a stay on the works off the Mayo coast said the sides should agree the terms of the order quashing the licence decision which can be put in place on the next occasion in court.

The judge said an undertaking given by America Europe Connect 2 Limited that no works will be carried out should continue until the next court date on June 5. Mr Justice McDonald said this was not a reflection on the good character of America Europe Connect 2.

A Trans-Atlantic fibre optic cable extending from the US to Denmark with spurs to Ireland and Norway is under construction. The planned route for the Irish spur includes a landfall at Old Head on the southern side of Clew Bay, over three kms from Louisburgh.

America Europe Connect 2 Limited in 2018 applied for a foreshore licence to lay the cable coming ashore at Old Head, Mr O ‘Toole claims the shortest possible route to Ireland’s shore was selected even though it is through areas of very rocky seabed where the cable cannot be buried, sensitive fishing grounds in Clew Bay and passes through the narrow channel between Achill and Clare islands.

It is claimed it also passes through the habitats of protected endangered species including the bottle nosed dolphin and the Brent goose.

Most Read in Ireland