I was shocked over the last days to hear that the Apple plans for Athenry were pulled. In late 2016, I wrote this opinion piece for sin.ie, feels appropriate to share it now.
Why Athenry should keep counting their apples
By Cathy Lee
We have lived in the recession and stagnation, I think it’s safe to say it was a horrible time. To me seeing construction means success, a crane or a group of workers going about their day – developing our landscape into something more. Maybe there’s something in me trained to believe that growing up in the boom times. That’s why it really surprised me to see that some residents of Athenry have been making noise around the permission granted by the Irish Planning Board to let Apple build a huge development centre in Derrydonnell.
They were arguing against a large development by the huge technical company, Apple. Now I would say from an Irish and international perspective, Apple is a trusted company. We are all fine with using the Apple MAC’s or looking into our own beloved iPhones half the day. But of course there was the tax avoidance earlier this year that made news headlines, briefly. Maybe this form of protest is justified in showing democracy in action. Taking this into consideration, maybe indeed it was right for the residents to object and let these big multi-nationals know we can’t just be walked over here in Ireland.
Really though, on a national scale of things, Athenry doesn’t stand out as the capital of a thriving place for business and technological development. As the famous song seems to tell us, the fields of Athenry are a lonely place to be. Is this lonely unprosperous identity what these protesters are trying to uphold or achieve? No of course it’s not. They’re on about rural protection and noise pollution. I’m not trying to disrespect or insult these protesters, I’m all for a good protest but when it comes to feeble delay tactics that aren’t going to change the overall result in the end, it makes you wonder exactly what is the point?
This plan has been put into place since early 2015 and has met approval standards from Galway City Council among others. The pro-rural campaign aims to keep as much of the authenticity of Athenry as possible. We’ve of course seen across the world how sites that have some uniqueness can lose their originality when they become hugely commercialised. Apple wants to build the Athenry facility on a 500-acre site, which it was expected would be operational by 2017 with the creation of about 150 jobs or more. I just don’t see how this could be a bad thing.
Concerns had been raised over the last months regarding the impact on the local environment including noise pollution and wildlife as well as fears over the data centre’s energy use in terms of access to local water and of course protected species such as badgers and bats. I understand the need for this protection and to put value on your own space and land in sort of patriotic way. Sacrifices must be made though for the sake of progress as well. Protecting bats is all well and good but when your children have to travel to far-away places to get work when the same opportunity could be on their doorstep, this is where the difference lies.
The Apple plans are of course large and are being repeated in other European countries such as Denmark (half way through its current building). These structures need access to the natural spacious landscape and the resources that these sites provide. They are seen to be hard to come by as Apple chose this site for its uniqueness. I know how capitalism works, most likely Apple isn’t thinking about the badgers and bats and more the profits but is that something we are all totally against?
Really the need is for set standards for multi-nationals in terms of green codes and protection, not to ban the idea of economic expansion altogether. There has been a mixed response from the larger public on social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. One tweet exclaimed in anger asking why is it in places where jobs are so widely needed that this is the exact place where protest against developments take place. A Galway city counsellor Peter Feeney explained that this investment in the West of Ireland is something serious in the effort to counteract trends and really be in the running to make the whole island of Ireland a success story in terms of business and not just Dublin taking the vast majority.
This is the single biggest investment in the West of Ireland ever and in my opinion it cannot be ignored. I understand that once something like this in done, there is no going back but this time around I don’t think protesters have a leg to stand on long term. This work will go ahead and delay tactics are just difficult and unnecessary.