Bats and badgers hold up Apple’s Irish data centre plans

Mac vendor wants to build over a field of Athenry

Apple’s Irish operations have hit another little local difficulty this week, as it emerged that national authorities are still reviewing its plans for a mega data centre in the beautiful Galway countryside at the behest of local bats and badgers supporters.

Plans for the $850m, 30,000m2 centre, outside the town of Athenry, were announced last year, and Galway County Council gave them the green light. The plan was to clear forest land currently occupied by non-native tree species, and eventually build up to eight data halls, over a period of 15 years.

However, locals have whacked in an appeal to the national government, citing their previous concerns over traffic, noise and light pollution, and flooding. The also cited the impact on local bats and badgers, both of which are protected species. The impact on a local well has also been thrown into the mix.

Just to further complicate matters, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny called an election this week with voting will take place on February 26. Some of the republic’s political parties are after Apple over allegations it hasn’t paid the state as much tax as it should, a stance reiterated by Sinn Fein earlier last month.

Either way, a decision now isn’t expected until summer at the earliest, which presumably would pose a question-mark over Apple’s plans to have the first hall up and running next year.

Local councillors have trumpeted the economic benefits from the development, with Peter Feeney reportedly last year citing the example of Apple’s Cork-based European HQ, which he said started with 100 jobs 35 years ago, but now employs 4,000 people. Though that’s not exactly comparing Apples and, er, Apples. The data centre will generate around 300 jobs, including 150 actually running it after it's built.

IBT quoted Feeney this week saying that he now doesn't expect the national authorities to get round to making a decision until Summer at the earliest.

Apple has sought to sweeten the deal for locals, by providing an outdoor education space for a local school, and replanting native trees in the Derrydonnell forest. It also said it would construct walking trails. Which is nice, as the 75,000 people in Galway, are presumably terribly constrained in the 2,374 square mile (6,148km2) county.

Apple, one of the most beloved of tech companies, has had a bit of a run of bad luck in Ireland recently. Apart from being slated over its tax affairs, its Cork HQ was the subject of a bomb threat last month, forcing staff to evacuate themselves. Last year, one of its employees was sent down for a year for hoarding his own waste products in his apartment

So it might not be coincidental that badgers are significant in Irish folklore, usually cited for bringing bad luck. On the upside, apparently, in rural Ireland they are also renowned for making very nice smoked ham, according to our vintage copy of the Observer Book of British Mammals. ®

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