Committee Reports::Report on the meeting with ESB and Cork Anti Pylon Action Group on Electromag Fields::22 October, 1998::Report


Report of the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport on Meeting with Electricity Supply Board


Cork Anti–Pylon Action Group on Electromagnetic Fields

October 1998


Report of the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport on Meeting with Electricity Supply Board


Cork Anti–Pylon Action Group on Electromagnetic Fields

October 1998






Minutes of Evidence of Joint Committee Meeting of 12 February 1998


Appendix 1 – Submission to Joint Committee from Electricity Supply Board


Appendix 2 – Submission to Joint Committee from Cork Anti-Pylon Action Group


Appendix 3 – List of Members of Joint Committee



The Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport was established following Orders of Reference of the Dáil and Seanad of 23 October, 1997. In addition, Standing Orders state that the following powers may be conferred on a Committee:

“(1) power to take oral and written evidence and to print and publish from time to time minutes of such evidence taken in public before the Select Committee together with such related documents as the Select Committee thinks fit;”.

This report of the Joint Committee on Electromagnetic Fields was agreed at its meeting on 1 October, 1998.


Seán Doherty, T.D.




Déardaoin, 12 Feabhra, 1998

Thursday, 12th February, 1998

The Joint Committee met at 2.30 p.m.


Deputy Michael Ahern*,

Deputy Martin Brady,

Deputy Michael Creed,

Deputy Austin Currie,

Deputy Liam Lawlor,

Deputy Dick Roche,

Deputy Emmet Stagg,

Deputy Ivan Yates.

Senator Peter Callanan,

Senator Liam Fitzgerald,

Senator Tom Fitzgerald**,

Senator Fergus O’Dowd.

Deputy Seán Doherty in the Chair.

Chairman: I welcome Mr. Ken O’Hara and his colleagues from the ESB, and Mr. William Cunningham and his colleagues from the Anti Pylon Action Group in Cork, to the meeting. I ask them to introduce their colleagues.

Mr. O’Hara: I am pleased to respond to your invitation to attend today to discuss the issue of electromagnetic fields. My colleagues are Kieran O’Brien, the managing director of the national grid, who has direct responsibility for dealing with transmission grid matters throughout the country; Larry Donald. the secretary to the board of the ESB; Bernard O’Reilly, the manager of transmission asset management within the national grid; John Gartlan, the ESB’s senior specialist on electromagnetic fields in relation to electrical power lines; and Cathal Ó Luain and Eugene Bergin who are senior consultants, with Eugene specialising in cables.

Mr. Cunningham: My colleagues are John Aherne, who is chairman of the local farming group of the IFA; Michael McCormack, who is a Member of the Cobh Chamber of Commerce and is representing the chambers of commerce of the area; J.J. Kett, who is a Member of the Cork and harbour anti pylon group and Michael Whelan who is a Member of the chamber of commerce and one of our experts on underwater technology.

Chairman: I wish to point out that electromagnetic fields are an area of concern to this Committee. According to the ESB report of 1977, the Joint Committee on State Sponsored Bodies stated:

Electromagnetic fields generated by electrical current have been the object of considerable controversy in Ireland and elsewhere in recent years. The contention is that the fields in the vicinity of high tension cables increase the incidence of cancer. The question has been the object of a good deal of epidemiological and experimental research. The results of this have been either contradictory or inconclusive.

Avoiding exposure to EMFs is problematic as EMFs are created by household appliances as well as power lines. As far as power lines are concerned, the cost of avoiding or reducing the EMFs could be very large, depending on the amount of reduction required. Large voltage cables would have to be rerouted or properties purchased in the vicinity to create a sterile corridor.

The ESB, in collaboration with a number of other electricity companies, is contributing to research in the UK by a leading epidemiologist on the causes of childhood cancer, which includes EMF as a potential hazard. It is also participating in a World Health Organisation review of research into the effects of EMF. The Joint Committee believes that the ESB should continue to support studies of this kind and to communicate the results to the public as they become available.

I ask Mr. O’Hara to make his presentation and I will then ask Mr. Cunningham to make his, followed by a question and answer session. Neither of the parties will be allowed question each other. All questions must be responded to as they are put by Members of the Committee. While Members of the Committee enjoy absolute privilege at this meeting, that privilege does not apply to any of the parties present.

Mr. O’Hara: This is a complex matter. As a State body and an electricity utility owned by the people of Ireland, we obviously treat the matter of the health and safety of the public and our staff as an absolute priority. For that reason, we regard the subject of electromagnetic fields as an important one. To that end, we closely monitor the extensive and ongoing research on the subject. We operate in accordance with the best international practices and standards in designing and constructing our networks.

Despite the scientific position on the subject, we appreciate there are many fears among some Members of the public on the issue. We would obviously like to deal with those and I will ask John Gartlan, who is our expert on the matter, to address the Committee. John is a Member of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland and a Member of an expert electromagnetic field group of the international conference on high voltage electric systems. He is also a Member of the expert EMF working group of the European Community for Electrotechnical standards. He is also an ESB representative on EMF to the UK electricity association. He has represented the ESB at international electromagnetic field conferences abroad. I will now hand over to John.

Chairman: We will continue with what we had arranged. I will now call on Mr. Cunningham to make a short presentation and if there are then further short presentations-----

Mr. O’Hara: In that case, if I may I will lengthen my statement.

Chairman: That might be preferable.

Deputy Yates: Both parties need to realise the pressure which Deputies are under.

Mr. O’Hara: I have not addressed the subject in any real detail.

Deputy Yates: I appreciate that.

Chairman: The witness may delegate that responsibility to someone else but we do not have time for long presentations as Members will want to ask questions.

Mr. O’Hara: There are obviously a number of issues. Our presentation discusses power line frequency and electromagnetic fields under the headings of national and international reviews of the scientific literature, scientific studies, guidelines and standards, electromagnetic field levels produced by the proposed Aghada-Raffeen 220kV line, ESB policy and a summary of the issues.

The interpretation of the findings of independent international and national review bodies on power frequency electric and magnetic fields - EMFs, all have one element in common: no health risks from power frequency, electric and magnetic fields as normally encountered have been established. The most recent major review of power frequency electric and magnetic field literature and one of the most extensive to date was published in October 1996 by the United States National Academy of Sciences. On its release Professor Charles Stevens, the chairman of the research Committee, stated that:

Research has not shown any convincing way that EMFs common in homes can cause health problems, and extensive laboratory tests have not shown that EMFs can damage the cell in a way that is harmful to health.

The report concluded:

No clear, convincing evidence exists to show that residential exposures to electric magnetic fields.. are a threat to human health.. there is no conclusive evidence that electromagnetic fields play a role in the development of cancer, reproductive and developmental abnormalities, or learning or behavioural problems.

Dr. Tom McManus, chief technical advisor in the Department of Public Enterprise, conducted two major reviews of electromagnetic fields, in 1988 for the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, and in 1992 for the Minister for Energy, Deputy Robert Molloy. In the 1992 report, Dr. McManus summarised the views of the many international and national organisations which addressed this issue in preceding years. He concluded:

without exception, these reports and the positions taken by the organisations concerned do not see enough evidence to be able to indict electromagnetic fields as a hazard to health.

Looking at the scientific studies----

Chairman: With respect, Mr. O’Hara, it would be preferable if you commented on page six of your script as it is relevant to what we are dealing with today. I will move on to Mr. Cunningham after that.

Mr. O’Hara: Page six discusses the Aghada-Rafeen 220 kV line in the context of EMFs. The EMF levels which will be produced by the proposed Aghada-Raffeen 220 kV line, even directly under the centre of the line, under normal maximum operating phase current conditions, are comfortably within the IRPA guideline levels. In routing the proposed line, it was ESB’s survey aim to maintain 50 metre clearance from existing habitable buildings. At 50 metres from the proposed Aghada-Rafeen 220 kV line the values of predicted electric and magnetic fields which will be produced are many times smaller than the IRPA guideline values - less than 2 per cent - and are much lower than the levels produced by everyday office and domestic electrical appliances. For example, an electric hairdryer can produce a power frequency magnetic field up to ten times greater than the maximum magnetic field level produced by the proposed 220 kV line and in excess of 200 times the field level at 50 metres from the centre of the proposed line.

Deputy Yates: One would want to let one’s hair dry naturally according to that.

Mr. O’Hara: If I had any.

Chairman: Other factors will emerge in the course of questioning. Mr. O’Hara has set out the position of the ESB.

Mr. Cunningham: Cork Anti-pylon Representative Association receives representation and support from Cobh UDC, Midleton UDC, Passagewest Town Commissioners, Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce, Midleton and Area Chamber of Commerce, IFA, Macra na Feirme, Aghada Community Council, all Cork East politicians, Dáil Deputies and county councillors, Bishop John Magee of Cloyne, Cork Harbour Anti-pylon Community Group, East Cork Tourism and many other public and community organisations.

CARA was formed following a delegation of the above organisations to the Minister for Public Enterprise, Minister O’Rourke, in November 1997. Its sole purpose is to co-ordinate the efforts of the various interests opposed to the ESB’s proposed overland 220 kV connection from Aghada to Rafeen and who favour the alternative undersea crossing of Cork Harbour. The association has the full and committed support of the entire community in the greater Cork Harbour area, which has a population of over 160,000. It holds the full backing of chambers of commerce, industry, farming and a wide range of people and organisations deeply committed to the continued development of the region. A recent Evening Echo phone-in poll resulted in 91 per cent support for its actions. The association recognises and appreciates the need for development and job creation and many of its Members are actively engaged in such activity. Additional electrical power is required at the western side of Cork Harbour and we have proposed a viable way of getting it there which does not damage the ongoing development and job potential of the area.

The area through which the ESB proposes to build this large power line already has the greatest density of power lines in Ireland. We brought with us a large scale map which shows the existing lines of 110 kV and upwards as well as the proposed line. The modern farming practices employed in our area - intensive tillage, horticulture, dairying and beef production - are increasingly affected by the density of power lines. The destruction of an area earmarked for residential, amenity, tourism and agricultural use must not be allowed as it will have a serious negative impact on inward investment, indigenous industrial development and the quality of life for residents and tourists. The proposed power line would further affect the living environment of existing and future industrialists and businessmen and of a key outdoor amenity area for the Cork region. Cork Harbour area is at a very critical stage of its development. It has a very heavy industrial infrastructure located in well defined areas, combined with key areas which still largely retain their natural scenic landscape. Placing a further burden on the landscape of the area would irrevocably ruin the balance of the environment.

All properties along the proposed route - farmland, building sites, existing houses and industrial development land - would be seriously devalued by the ESB’s development. Auctioneers in the area estimate a devaluation of between £10,000 and £30,000 in the case of a typical family home near or over which a pylon or cable system would be established. It must be noted that in Britain the situation has now developed where no mortgage is payable by a building society on a house which is within 50 metres of a 110 kV power line. It is estimated the proposed power line would sterilise a further 1,000 acres of land.

There is no doubt the jury is still out on the vexed question of the detrimental effects of living in close proximity to strong electromagnetic fields. While the ESB ignores any evidence that serious health damage can be caused, people are no longer willing to put their families health at risk while a viable alternative exists. Fears of another horrible mistake as happened with BSE or with the Blood Transfusion Service Board are too parallel and too vivid and the community is worried.

The granting of planning permission by Cork County Council and the subsequent upholding of that decision by An Bord Pleanála has left the people of east Cork bewildered. Some questions have been answered while others may never be in a saga where the normal democratic processes seem to have broken down.

The planned overland pylon route would, if erected, run in a three quarter circle around Cork Harbour through residential areas and areas of high amenity value. The underwater route would fill the remaining quarter of the circle and would run directly across the harbour. The Pirelli report, which examined the feasibility of this option, showed conclusively that the under harbour connection was feasible from a technical point of view. This report stated that all the ESB’s concerns regarding security, continuity of supply, etc., would be fully overcome by a well designed underwater cable system. ESB statements have continuously attempted to find reasons to discredit the underwater connection.

Chairman: In fairness to Mr. Cunningham, his colleagues and the ESB, I wish to have balance in the initial presentations. I now invite questions from Members of the Committee. Anything excluded, or which I have asked be excluded, may form part of the replies.

Deputy Roche: In my case we are revisiting old territory. I think the ESB will accept that those like myself who are concerned about this issue are pursing it out of a sense of bloody mindedness. We all use electricity. The ESB adopted a far different attitude when there was a major problem with a 220KV line in my constituency when the debate was at an early stage. The ESB’s attitude at that time was aggressive. Mr. Moriarty sent me a famous correspondence when I was Chairman of the Committee suggesting, among other things, that I would be sued for £2 million. Thankfully the ESB does not do this anymore.

The ESB must accept that there is distrubing evidence for the past 15 or 20 years concerning this issue. We first debated this issue ten years ago in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on State Bodies. The view then was that this concerned cantackerous scientists in the US who were not strong in their disciplines or who did not have much credibility. I recall people like John Roys in Wicklow carrying out much research on the issue and being told that the scientific evidence being reported was of no consequence. The reality is that the jury is out on the issue. We do not understand what is happening. There is anecdotal evidence concerning health risks associated with 220KV lines. I am aware of anacdotal evidence relating to problems in Wicklow. There is a distrubing amount of scientific literature - and I presume most of it eminates from scientists of good standing - which suggests there is a health risk. I do not know how we calculate this risk.

This case seems to boil down to the cost of going underwater as opposed to the cost of taking the alternative route. I remember the debate in County Wicklow and I read of another case in Sligo concerning a 220KV line where the ESB wanted to bring the line along an existing route in order to overcome the problems of new planning permission, etc. I have examined the ESB’s submission which, for example, mentions the epidemiological studies in the context of US national cancer research and a number of north eastern states are mentioned. However, a number of other states in the US have taken serious measures concerning the amount of space surrounding powerlines. I am distrubed and believe there is evidence suggesting we do not know the definitive position on this issue. If the decision is being made purely on the basis of cost, I would like to know what the cost factors are.

Mr. O’Hara: John Gartlan will respond on the specific question of EMF. This is not the first transmission line in the country. There are many such lines throughout the country, Europe and the world. The overground or underground debate must be viewed in the context of even under sea cables involving overhead connections. Therefore, risks, if one perceives there to be such, are not eliminated. People are always concerned about risks, but the evidence suggests there is no human health risk associated with overhead lines.

Mr. Gartlan: A comment was made that the jury has been out. In science, and in this area of electro-magnetic fields, it is impossible to prove a negative or that X does not cause Y. This is the basic problem. However, since the early epidemiological studies in Denver in 1979, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent internationally on EMF research. When the National Cancer Institute in the US published its report seven month ago in the New England Journal of Medicine - a major study and one of the largest to date on childhood cancer - Dr. Edward Campion in an editorial said:

The 18 years of research has produced considerable paranoia but little insight and no prevention. It is time to stop wasting our research resources. We should redirect them to research that will be able to discover the true biological causes of the leukemic clones that threaten the lives of children.

This doctor no longer considers the jury to be out. It represents a growing body of opinion among the international scientific community.

Mr. Cunningham: This is a unique opportunity. One can avoid going through farmland and areas of residential importance. One can go through an industrial site which is derelict. The two ends are already in industrial zones. All contact with people can be avoided, thereby eliminating the prospect of any detrimental effect of electro-magnetic fields on human beings.

Deputy Yates: I am not a health expert. I see the full planning process has been completed. Is the ESB saying it is about to begin construction or is there any scope for dialogue between the two parties before the Committee? Is the ESB prepared to consider any of the points made by the local group? Regarding costings - I do not think Deputy Roche’s question was fully responded to - the group has quoted £20 million as the differential between the underwater and overland option. Is this the ESB’s figure and how is it evaluated? The document says tenders were not sought. Does this figure include the full compensatory factor for all the people who would be effected in an overland project? Is there any reason other than cost for the ESB’s reluctance to go underground?

Mr. O’Hara: There has been and continues to be detailed discussion with the people in Cork in relation to the route of this line. We are endeavouring to get the agreement of people to this route. EMF was not a consideration in deciding whether the route would be overhead or undersea. It is not a factor. Our view is that EMF does not constitute a health hazard for this line or any other line and was not a consideration. The problem is that on the south of the city there is a large industrial development which has to be catered for through new power lines. I am afraid we will not be in a position to serve that part of Cork with a reliable quality supply unless this line is built.

I ask Kieran O’Brien, the Managing Director of the national grid, to take the question regarding cost.

Mr. O’Brien: The estimated cost of the cable crossing is £29 million. This is based on estimates for a certain amount of on land work and the cable crossing which is based on a report commissioned from Pirelli, the largest cable manufacturing company in the world with the most advanced reputation in relation to high voltage cables. This is a high voltage submarine cable which is a specialised application. The land line costs are based on costs built from our own database. We continually build these lines and have a very up to date database on them. The cost includes estimates for compensation. The difference is between £29 million and £9 million.

Regarding the situation in Cork it is necessary to stress that as of summer of next year the ESB will be unable to take key transmission circuits in the Cork area out of service for maintenance because the resulting electricity system will not be sufficiently reliable. A fault in any of those key circuits, which is a regular occurrence on any electricity system, will immediately lead to substandard reliability and an increasing likelihood of power shortages in the area. We are so concerned with this situation that we have already discussed it at the highest level with the IDA. As investors become aware of the difficulties relating to the reliability of power supply should the proposed project not proceed there will be a negative impact on the industrial development in Cork over the next three or four years.

It is important to understand that in relation to the planning process, which is being fully complied to by the ESB, this is the only project that has planning permission. Even if we were to seek planning permission at this stage, particularly for the cable option, the commissioning of the project would be delayed at this stage for several years.

Deputy Clune: I represent the neighbouring constituency of Cork East/Cork South-Central. In fact, the power demand comes from my constituency. As Deputy Hayes has already mentioned that the underground option would cost £29 million, is cost the only reason you cannot go underground?

I am very concerned with the visual impact of this development. I appreciate that you have planning permission and Bord Fáilte approval but if the power line goes ahead people living in the area in 20 to 30 years time will have to look at it. Sustainable development is something we all have to think about, not just in the Department of the Environment and Local Government but across all Departments but this development would interfere with future generations. Are economic factors the only reasons why you cannot install an underground power line?

Mr. O’Brien: First, a cable crossing Cork harbour is technically feasible and the only other option but it is a technically inferior solution to an overland route. We have no problem in justifying that. It is more expensive. This would be a major project in relation to the harbour and would have significant environmental impact.

Chairman: It appears that your group, from reading some of your documentation, feels that there has not been sufficient interaction with the ESB or the ESB with you and the extent of the consultative process has not been sufficient. Many questions where answers are doubtful or where answers can be given have not been answered to your satisfaction. Is that correct?

Mr. Cunningham: Yes.

Chairman: Is that part of the problem?

Mr. Cunningham: Initially it was part of the problem where consultations were inappropriate and have been described as a sham. In many cases it proved to be an exercise in deception.

Mr. Aherne: I would like to describe the consultations which took place between the ESB and local farmers prior to planning permission. First, a preliminary survey was carried out on 20 June 1994 signed by Mr. Thomas Banberry on behalf of the ESB. The next meeting between the parties involved took place approximately two years later on 20 June 1996 after planning permission was sought. Is that consultation?

Deputy M. Ahern: As a Deputy for the area from Carrigtwohill where Mr. O’Hara spent many peaceful years I would like ask a few specific questions. First, is the ESB not required to get three tenders for any capital works the same as any other public utility? I am aware there were three different costings given to people who inquired as to the cost of the underwater option verses the overhead line. If this is true why did it happen? Is the underwater cable proposed by Pirelli the most up to date technology available? If the underwater work is to be carried out will it be done by a subsidiary of the ESB or put out to public tender? During the High Court case did the ESB oppose an oral hearing for the farmers? Did the ESB oppose An Bord Pleanála when they sought to ask farmers to attend an oral hearing? How much will it cost to sterilise 900 acres if they are required? Is it true that an individual was recently offered £15,000 to allow the ESB erect a pylon on his land in the Cork South-Central constituency? How much extra cost will be added to the bill for the overhead line if each pylon costs £15,000?

In conclusion, I have not come across such united people in all my 16 years in Dáil Éireann and many years prior to that being involved in politics. I have come across various problems but you would always have differing views. On this occasion every sector of the community is in agreement. I think the views of the people should be taken into account because the issue impacts on many different sectors of the community. I would like replies to my questions and ask Mr. O’Hara and other Members of the ESB board to take the views of my community into account before proceeding in whichever manner they intend to proceed.

Mr. O’Reilly: I will take the consultation process first. This project started five years ago and we contacted the farming groups, including Mr. Aherne, approximately four years ago. Prior to going to planning permission every farmer on the route was visited and asked their opinion as to how the line might affect their farming activity. Their views were taken into account and incorporated into the line that was ultimately proposed to the county council. All the other main agencies concerned with this issue were consulted and asked to give their views. These included the Cork Harbour Board, the IDA, IBEC, and the IFA. The county council was consulted on a continuous basis so that their reaction to the evolving proposal would be taken into account. During the process there were three public exhibitions. One of those exhibitions was held in a hotel where all public representatives were invited to attend for a consultation. More than a 100 individuals or groups were consulted throughout this period of time.

With regard to tenders the ESB does seek tenders for capital works or those works which are not undertaken directly by the ESB own resources.

I will move on to the costings and the costing elements. There is one set of costings only of which I am aware, either for the overland connection or for the under harbour alternative which has been spoken about today. I am not aware of any combination of those. However, as the particular costings are quite complex, I understand how various parties may have confused them. However, in our defence, we provided the actual costings to the Cork Anti-Pylon Group, Mr. Cunningham, RTE’s “Prime Time”, The Echo and to virtually everybody who has asked for them.

Did ESB object to an oral hearing? ESB’s submission at that stage was to the effect that an oral hearing was not required as all the questions raised and put in by way of objection had been addressed in the original submission. We did not hold that additional input was required. That was the basis of our submission on the oral hearing. On whether 900 acres of land was to be sterilised, Chairman, I would point you to the fields of Ireland where you can see our transmission lines and where farming activities continue under these lines. We have agreed arrangements with the Irish Farmer’s Association and we are working very well with the thousands of farmers we deal with daily in this area. That continues to proceed in harmony. This question has really only been brought to the fore on the Aghada-Raffeen line. The question of sterilising 900 acres does not arise.

As regards the issue of costs and compensation, under the electricity Acts the rights of the landowners are fully protected and any loss which arises as a result of these lands must be fully compensated and there is full redress to independent arbitration by the farmer to establish that position. The rights of the individual in that regard are fully protected. Having said that, it is ESB’s desire to reach or try to reach agreement without having recourse to any of those facilities.

Deputy M. Ahern: On the underwater cable being spoken about by Pirelli, is that the most up to date technology in that field?

Mr. Bergin: On the question of the submarine cable, there are three types of submarine cable which are possible. One type is a synthetically insulated cable called XLPE cable, which we are installing on land cable in Dublin at present. However, joints would be required for the lengths involved and for this voltage level, it would not be looked on as a reliable connection. This would be the practice internationally at this voltage level. At 20 kV, 38 kV or lower voltages, it would be an acceptable solution.

The second type of cable, one which we have on our system, is a pipe type cable which is installed across the Rivers Shannon and Liffey. That has length limitations and would not be suitable for installation as a submarine cable. The third type of cable is called low pressure oil filled cable or LPOF cable and is the type used internationally. It is installed in places like Sardinia and New York across the bay. We would require that cable to be manufactured in one length of 4.2 kilometres. It is a highly complicated cable. The cables installed in the cities and villages in Ireland are fairly simple cables, but this is state of the art and it is extremely complicated and very expensive. Internationally, there are approximately ten companies which can make this cable, which is very specialised. Once it fails, you must get the company back to repair it. It is not something we can do ourselves because we have no experience of it. Despite the fact we are quite proud of our competence as a utility, this is a specialised field and we would have to bring somebody in to do this for us. That is one of the reasons we do not want to go down that road. We are talking about a minimum of two to four months or possibly six months as a repair time. If you lose the length of cable, you must go back to the factory to get a completely new length of 4.2 kilometres of cable manufactured, which is a big loss.

Mr. Cunningham: I would like Mr. Whelan to reply to the underwater section and Mr. O’Hara to comment on Mr. O’Reilly’s assertion that pylons are living quite happily all over the country. From the farming point of view, we are talking about an intensive agricultural belt which is horticultural based. I would like to reply to Mr. O’Hara’s industrial reference and for Mr. McCormack from the chambers of commerce to reply on behalf of industry in our area.

Mr. Whelan: Our research leads us to believe that the technology is there to lay a three course single line cable across the harbour or, if necessary, the four independent cables, as indicated by ESB. The cost involved of the cable, as indicted, would be somewhere in the region of £5 million but we believe the transportation and laying costs are far in excess of that. Other questions arise in relation the costings. I believe the budget figures presented to us by ESB from the Pirelli report are about £7 million to £10 million over the real cost.

Deputy Gormley: I am not a Member of the Committee but my colleague in Cork, Councillor Dan Boyle, has done some work on this issue. Have you conducted an environmental impact statement or have you calculated the cost to tourism in the area? I listened to your conclusions on health and you said there is no conclusive evidence, which does not inspire confidence. In effect, you are saying the jury is still out. In that instance, would it not be better to adopt the precautionary principle adopted by environmentalist throughout the world whereby if you are not sure of the consequences of something, you do not proceed?

I am not clear about the costs involved in the cable link. Perhaps you will give me your costs and estimates. You spoke about state of the art cable. I would like to know if your costs have been exaggerated. Do you believe consideration should be given to subsidies for installations such as this if there will be environmental consequences and consequences for tourism? Is that an option we should consider?

Mr. O’Hara:The issue of subsidies is a matter for Government. One of my colleagues said very clearly that the question of supply to that part of Cork harbour is a matter of deep concern to us. The question of additional cost, a factor that must be considered, is not the only element and security of supply is also an issue. The cable route is not as secure and reliable a supply as an overhead network in that area. We are up against a tight deadline with an overhead line to supply that area. As my colleague, Mr. O’Brien, said, from next summer we will not be able to do maintenance of the networks there if we are to give a quality supply to that industry. That is an issue in itself.

The question of subsidies does not apply just to one particular line; it applies to all lines. No doubt one will get the same argument in other parts of the country. There is a lot of industrial expansion in the country. That brings with it many new transmission networks and similar problems. People say Cork is an exception. No doubt other people will say that their area is an exception also. That is to deal with the question of subsidy, not as a matter for the ESB but generally.

To take the question raised about health, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the first reports on health. Mr. John Gartlan will respond to that question.

Mr. Gartlan: It has been estimated that in excess of 13,000 studies and reports have been written on the issue of electromagnetic field exposure. Some of those have been positive in that they have shown a very weak statistical association with various types of cancer, but many more have shown no such association. What happens with epidemiological and laboratory studies, such as this, when there is such a huge existing body of evidence is that each new published study gets assimilated into the existing body of evidence, it is peer-reviewed, and attempts are made to replicate and verify it. Then the total body of scientific literature is examined periodically by review bodies. The important review bodies are the independent authoritative review bodies, both national and international. Many of them have examined the literature and scientific evidence to date and none of them have been able to indict electromagnetic fields as a human health hazard. They go further to say that, other than the existing international guidelines, there is no requirement for further additional guidelines.

Deputy Gormley: To which Irish body is Mr. Gartlan referring?

Mr. Gartlan: Dr. Tom McManus, the chief scientific advisor to what was the Department of Energy in 1988 and 1992, published two reports on power frequency electromagnetic field exposure.

Mr. McCormack: I represent the Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce, which is among the top six chambers of commerce in Ireland. Many of the main power brokers in Cork harbour are big industries. They are the main power users also. We believe they would be quite happy to accept their power from an underground cable.

Those types of industries are being continually forced to spend millions of pounds on environmental issues relating to the quality of how they do business, and rightly so. We feel the ESB could take cognisance of that also.

The ESB proposals will stunt the planned development of the harbour in a co-ordinated way in that it will affect tourism, it will sterilise a lot of land from commercial or domestic use, and it is a considerable growth area. An underwater cable has a short-term and low environmental impact which is confined to a great extent to the period of construction. The chamber of commerce feels that the ESB has not given due consideration to an alternative underwater cable. We would like to see the ESB’s quotations and pricing structure and those of the Pirelli report put out for independent professional scrutiny to see the exact difference in price.

Chairman: How does the Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce respond to the statement of the ESB on the consequences of delay at this stage and taking the alternative route, having regard to economic and social effect of the resultant inability of the ESB to proceed if it was to change at this point?

Mr. McCormark: We totally accept that the power is required - I think everybody does. One must go about the best possible way of providing it.

Chairman: What about the delay?

Mr. McCormack: If there has been a delay in the past, the ESB should have looked at the alternatives.

Chairman: We are at a point now where there are two conflicting views. Have you a view on the consequences of the years of waiting which would result from the pursuit of an alternative route?

Mr. McCormack: I believe that, with the co-operation of the businesses and all the bodies, the delay would not be as long as anticipated by the ESB.

Deputy Bradford: I, like some of the Members present, am not a permanent Member of this Committee but I am glad to have the opportunity to listen to the two presentations. It is good that the two groups are in the same room. While we will not solve the issues today because they are quite complex, I would hope that, arising from the fact that we are almost getting the groups meeting face to face, it might be possible for Mr. O’Hara to arrange for senior management level to meet the group at an early date. One of the strong arguments at the public meetings we have attended to date in the east Cork area is that there has not been enough face to face dialogue. I know a number of meetings have taken place but there have been requests that Mr. O’Hara and the ESB chairman meet the group. Nothing can be lost by dialogue, even at this late stage. I hope Mr. O’Hara might be able to arrange such a meeting at an early date. He might comment on that afterwards.

The submission from the east Cork group, headed “Prudent Avoidance”, refers to the situation in Scandinavia, various parts of Europe, the US and Canada. We heard earlier what happened in three or four northern states in the US, but it appears that in other areas, including Europe, the US and Canada, there is a deliberate effort being made to reroute and bury high-voltage cables underground. The report states that the French are spending tens of millions of francs burying not only new but old cables. Is it that these people are all out of touch with modern technology? Is it that the ESB and the Department have better scientific and technological facts available? Is it that these people are working towards an agenda for the future and we are working in an old-fashioned way? It appears strange that in 1998 we, in Ireland, are proposing to provide power by a certain route and throughout Europe people are moving in a different direction and rejecting what we are trying to put in place. Why are we taking option (a) when option (b) appears to be commonplace in other parts of the world?

Mr. O’Hara: I have just returned from a visit to France. As one approaches Charles De Gaulle Airport, one sees an array of overhead lines. Every country, including France, has a large array of overhead lines. That is the reality.

Deputy Bradford: What about present developments?

Mr. O’Hara: It is a matter of cost in other countries also. For this country particularly, which must compete internationally being an island, the issue of cost, as well as the security about which we spoke, is an important factor at the end of the day. There is no way that this country could afford to bury all the transmission networks underground. Let us be realistic about that. It is not practical or realistic.

I do not have a problem with meeting a delegation but the question of that meeting serving a useful purpose is at issue. I would have to take the advice of my senior advisors before deciding to do that. I have no difficulty with my senior advisors, such as the managing director of the national grid who has met the group and is prepared to meet it again, meeting them. I do not have a problem with doing so at some stage on his advice but it would want to serve a useful purpose at the end of the day.

Deputy Bradford: It would need to be in the short-term because the matter is moving at speed and a conclusion is about to be reached. I thank Mr. O’Hara for that offer of a meeting.

Mr. Aherne: Mr. O’Reilly’s reference to negotiations with the farming community actually refers to a ten year old document. I have in my possession a document which contains a question to farmers in the area from a meat factory asking whether ESB pylons are safely isolated from cattle. At a meeting in Malahide on 7 November last, Dr. Liam Downey, Director of the Agriculture Institute stated that apparent liability will be extended to the farm gate. I also refer to a Teagasc memo we received on 31 July 1997 regarding the use of pesticides. It states that the consequences of misuse can be far-ranging: damage to treated crops; damage to health of consumers; damage to health of grower or his employees; detection of unacceptable residues by Government agencies perhaps leading to prosecution; and detection of unacceptable residues by market agents leading to rejection of produce.

At present, we are dealing with one of the three major multiples in the country for fresh produce. Can anyone here recommend an expert who can reassure me, as a farmer - this is a worrying issue for farmers in the area - that when I drive my ten metre sprayer tomorrow, which is slightly wider than the room in which we are sitting, and I meet an obstacle - a pylon or whatever - that I can spray around it without giving some of the area twice, three or four times the dose of pesticide? What am I, the remainder of our group of vegetable growers and people raising cattle to do when buyers inquire whether ESB pylons are safely isolated from cattle?

Mr. O’Reilly: With regard to the ten year old document, we have an agreement with the Irish Farmers’ Association which has been in existence for more than ten years. This agreement takes the form of a code of practice to which everyone adheres regarding our behaviour when we visit the property of farmers and landowners and their behaviour vis-à-vis ourselves. The code of practice regulates such behaviour and it has worked well. No submissions have been made to me to alter the code.

With respect to whether cattle adjacent to our pylons are safe, I believe they are. Members of the company’s climbing patrols must climb these pylons to do certain things. Admittedly they must be careful as they approach the top of the pylons. However, cattle next to our pylons are safe.

With regard to the spraying of pesticides, etc., normal farming spraying equipment is designed so that pesticides are not borne by the wind into neighbouring lands or other areas. The focus of this equipment must be to commit pesticides as efficiently as possible to the ground. In those circumstances, there is no difficulty involving the equipment used from spraying pesticides in areas adjacent to our transmission towers.

Senator Callanan: A number of those present have met at another forum and I am tempted to repeat some of the questions asked there. My recollection of a number of the answers given at that time vary with some of those provided this evening. I am not being derogatory or stating that the ESB is not a responsible body. There is an obligation on the gentlemen representing the ESB and I am sure they are worthy of the trust placed on them. However, I recall different answers being given at the forum to which I referred.

For example, it was stated that the cost factor was a major consideration when the decision was taken to go over ground rather than under the seabed. I also recall posing a question in respect of the system of negotiation with the farming organisations, including the IFA and the ICMSA, to which a vague answer was provided. The emphasis in answers given at this meeting has shifted slightly but not too much. Not all farmers are represented by the IFA, ICMSA, UFA or other organisations. Therefore, it is difficult for the ESB to have negotiations with an organisation which does not represent everyone. It is not acceptable to put forward the argument that the company dealt and negotiated with the farming organisations.

I do not believe the doctor who represented the ESB at the other forum to which I referred is present. If he was, I would pose the same question to him in respect of medical evidence which is a serious issue. It is not the responsibility of farmers or householders in the area in question to bring electricity to our side of the river, the responsibility lies with the ESB which must find the most acceptable way of doing so. It is against that background that the representatives referred to a 220KV line. I will read the conclusion of Professor Charles Stephens’ report:

No clear convincing evidence exists to show that residential exposures to electromagnetic fields - EMFs - are a threat to human health. There is no conclusive evidence that electromagnetic fields play a role in the development of cancer, reproductive or developmental abnormalities or learning or behavioural problems.

If one goes back 25 years, medical science, research and knowledge would be far at variance with the advances in science and technology in 1998. If one goes forward 25 years, the supporting medical evidence and the research and development carried out in the interim will vary somewhat - in this case it might vary dramatically. I contend that the ESB cannot, in its best estimate, base any conclusion of the findings of Professor Stephens’ report because it only refers to the period on which it was based. Science does not stand still.

The report features quotes from various people, one of whom I know, Dr. Maurice Hurley. I am concerned about that aspect of the report. The doctor who attended the meeting in Cork is not present today and I ask the representatives of the ESB not to give an answer at variance with his on this issue.

Mr. Kett: I wish to address a major point in respect of the seeming lack of understanding between the two sides involved in this matter. I do not mean to be critical and my point is not directed at anyone, because I knew some of my colleagues before this issue arose and I have come to know the others in the interim.

There is a problem that while visits to individual households and group sessions were arranged and while verbal contacts were made and returned, there was no visible proof that the ESB listened and responded to what was being said. There was a small element in relation to individuals but there was no response.

If a construction company digs two or three trenches on a main street and digs all day until 6 p.m. when they go home, the local residents have a right to complain that open trenches have been dug up, that the road has been left impassable and that the work is carried out too often. It is as if the company is saying that the people are now complaining that they need to be home by 6.30 p.m. when we told them at 4 o’clock that there was another route; they should have taken the other route at 4 o’clock.

Deputy Stanton: I am concerned about the issue of medical evidence. The ESB put one side of the argument and did not put the other side to the planning authorities or the public. There is a body of evidence to suggest that these fields are quite harmful. A Swedish study lists at least ten studies undertaken. This study was based on children living within 300 metres of transmission lines. A Danish study on the total population of Denmark used national cancer registers to identify cases of leukaemia and central nervous system tumours. Controls were selected randomly. The ESB has not examined all the evidence on both sides and put both to the public. It is important that a public body such as the ESB should do so.

An oral hearing is not required. I raised this matter in the Dáil and I feel An Bord Pleanála should have granted an oral hearing. This was a complex issue of local and national importance. They are the criteria that An Bord Pleanála puts forward when it is deciding whether to grant an oral hearing. This did not happen in this case. In a democracy the people must be heard. Deputy Michael Ahern and I are on the same side on this issue and, as he pointed out, he has never come across such opposition to a proposal. The reason there is such great opposition to this proposal is that people feel they have been treated unfairly, because they have not been listened to and a viable alternative exists.

The ESB has been asked already whether it has got more than one tender for the underwater crossing. My information is that there was only one tender. In any other project there would be at least three tenders and in some cases nine or ten tenders would be required before money is spent. I would like to see an assessment of the underwater option from more than one company. I understand there is an underwater link from Sweden to Denmark in the Baltic. Perhaps the ESB would comment on that. Is it there and does it work? If so, why cannot a smaller link under Cork harbour work?

The density of lines in the area already is staggering. Across Cobh there are seven or eight power lines. People are saying that enough is enough. In the name of humanity, will the ESB listen to the people in the area? Everybody in the area, from industry and business to housewives and bishops, are asking the ESB to listen to them and to re-examine the project. We are not against industry; indeed, we want industry. However, it is not too much to ask that the ESB would re-examine the project when there is such a public outcry against it. Leaving aside the statistics and numbers, what has the ESB to say to the men, women and children of east Cork?

Mr. Gartlan: With regard to the “other side of the story” as the Deputy refers to it, as part of the planning submission for this project a detailed environmental impact statement was prepared. As part of that statement we discussed the effects of the transmission line in relation to the existing environment. One of the elements examined was the alleged association between electromagnetic fields and particular forms of ill-health in humans, in particular childhood leukaemia.

We discussed the Swedish study within that environmental impact statement. In the handout we prepared for the Committee we address the Swedish study. It was conducted between 1960 and 1985 and comprised a total population of 483,000 people living in proximity to high voltage transmission lines in Sweden. There were a number of conclusions from such a large study, running over such a long period. For the total incidence of childhood cancer there was no association between proximity to high voltage transmission lines. For the total incidence of adult cancer, there was no statistical association with living in close proximity to transmission lines. They did conclude that there was a statistical association between a particular form of childhood leukaemia and living in close proximity to transmission lines. That was a very weak statistical association. From that population of 483,000, 142 cases of childhood cancer were encountered. Statistically speaking, on averages in Sweden, they would have expected to encounter 138 cases of childhood cancer. Therefore, in a population of 483,000 over 25 years there was an excess over what would have been statistically expected of four cases. That is the strength of the association of that study. Statistically it is a weak association. There were many other inconsistencies in that study which international review bodies have examined and have identified as being weaknesses. We discussed that study in the environmental impact statement and in our submission to the Committee.

Chairman: Is the ESB engaged in contributing to and participating in international research?

Mr. O’Hara: Yes.

Chairman: What process or mechanism is there for keeping the public informed and sharing the research information? We have talked about Swedish and other studies but there has been no evidence of specific research findings as a result of the ESB’s involvement.

Mr. Gartlan: One of the major studies to which ESB contributes is the UK childhood cancer research study. That is a large study which is examining in excess of 1,000 children who have contracted cancer. That study has been ongoing for many years and it will be some time before it is finalised. Whereas we are contributing the duration of the study is in the region of about eight years. It is hoped to have preliminary results available at the end of 1998 and to publish the report in 1999. When that happens the ESB will communicate with the public on it.

Chairman: Would it not suggest that because there is a study going on and the ESB is participating in it that there is a concern? Usually, there is a prima facie reason or evidential material to suggest that where a study is undertaken costing large sums of money it is rooted in a legitimate and justifiable concern.

Mr. O’Hara:I do not think that is correct. There is an onus on us as a responsible public body to make sure we are fully briefed on all studies done in this area, to recognise what is being done and the attitude of the experts in the area.

Mr. Cunningham: Following your question, Chairman, on ESB contributing to research on health, I want to ask is the ESB involved in any research concerning the effects on milking cows grazing under pylons and in proximity to power lines.

Chairman: Deputy Stanton said his question was not answered. Would the Deputy remind Mr. O’Hara of that question?

Deputy Stanton: It has to do with the tendering process for the underwater crossing. I understand only one tender was sought. Is this true? Why did it happen? Is it normal practice for a semi-State company to do that?

Deputy M. Ahern: I have been a TD in the constituency of Cork East for 16 years. The first correspondence I received concerning this project was a notice there was to be a presentation on what was to happen. It was a fait accompli.

On page six of the ESB presentation it states that under normal maximum operating phase current conditions EMF levels are within IRPA guideline levels. Are the IRPA a statutory independent body? If not, who set them up and to whom are they responsible?

Mr. O’Reilly: We go out to tender when we are placing contracts for work to be executed. Prior to having work executed there are assessments and estimates obtained so we may be guided as to the final costs of such projects. In the case of the under harbour cable option we sought information as to what the estimate for doing that would be. In seeking that estimate we approached Pirelli on the basis that they are very well known and they are the world’s leading company in the manufacture and installation of underwater cables. We felt that if we were going to get advice we should get it from people who enjoy the lion’s share of the market or we might be accused of having a minority report. That is how we handled the tendering process on this occasion.

Mr. Gartlan: The International Radiation Protection Association, IRPA, are the advisory body to the World Health Organisation on ionising and non-ionising radiation. They set the guidelines in 1990. In 1992 a separate group was formed from that to deal specifically with non-ionising radiation, the subject of power frequency radiation. The guidelines form part of the World Health Organisation Environmental Health Criteria Programme which is sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme. They are currently the most widely recognised and most stringent international guidelines in existence.

ESB are not conducting any research at the moment in relation to milking cows grazing, but ESB in conjunction with the IFA have recently launched a booklet on stray voltage in milking parlours which affects milking cows.

Chairman: Mr. Cunningham, I am moving to a conclusion on this. Would you like to make a brief concluding statement?

Mr. Cunningham: My parting comments reemphasise to your Committee that the people of east Cork are totally opposed to this overland route. They are afraid of it in terms of loss of income, devaluation of property, health reasons, nuisance and, I am sad to say, because of the attitude of ESB officers over the last four years in their dealings with the people of east Cork. They have lost any respect and goodwill which existed. They will never get it back as feelings have been deeply hurt. In this situation the entire local population are opposed to their plans. I am telling the chief executive officer that this overland line will be opposed by the people of east Cork right to the bitter end. It will take much longer to complete, if it is ever completed, than any underwater route would take to plan and complete.

Mr. O’Hara: In relation to electromagnetic fields, I emphasise that all independent authoritative reviews have concluded no health risks from electromagnetic field frequencies have been established.

I recognise the concern of people in Cork about the construction of new lines. It is not easy for people to accept that these lines would be raised across land. There are, however, responsibilities on ESB to supply industry. We have a responsibility to ensure that is done in the most cost effective manner, while taking account of the concerns not just of local people, but also of security and quality of supply to industry which must compete in the international arena. We are doing our best to deal with local environmental concerns. Those issues do not arise only in Cork but throughout the country. We do our best to deal with them in the most humane and sympathetic fashion, while taking account of longer term horizons as well.

Chairman: Mr. O’Hara, on behalf of the Committee, I thank you, as chief executive of the ESB, and your colleagues for coming in here today. I also thank Mr. Cunningham and his colleagues for coming here today.

This Committee has tried to facilitate two mature, responsible and concerned interests, both with the best interests of those to whom they are responsible in mind. It is a complex issue, there are diverse and opposing interests present. I hope both parties will try to find common ground to ensure neither progress nor good relations will be lost.

The Committee adjourned at 5.19 p.m. sine die.

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

List of Members of Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport


Liam Alyward


Martin Brady


Michael Creed


Austin Currie


Brendan Daly


Seán Doherty


Phil Hogan


Liam Lawlor


Jim Mitchell


Noel O’Flynn


Dick Roche


Trevor Sargent


Emmet Stagg


Ivan Yates


Peter Callanan


Liam Fitzgerald


Des Hanafin


Fergus O’Dowd


Shane Ross

*Deputy Michael Ahern substituted for Deputy Noel O’Flynn.

**Senator Tom Fitzgerald substituted for Senator Des Hanafin.