Hearts are in mouths as the final decision on the biggest investment west of the Shannon is in the hands of the courts.
This Friday (23 June), a judge in the Irish High Court will give the final verdict on whether the Apple data centre in Athenry is to be built or not.
More than two years ago, Ireland awoke to the news that the impossible was happening. Apple was building an €850m data centre in Athenry, Galway, a region whose economic woes were summed up in an eponymous ballad sung by The Dubliners and belted out by uproarious Irish football and rugby fans.
The same day, a sister data centre was also announced for Denmark.
The data centres would be host to pivotal Apple services such as iCloud, Apple Music, Siri and a panoply of e-commerce activities, bringing hitherto isolated European regions to the heart of the global digital economy.
The Athenry data centre would be powered 100pc by renewable energy and would put the regions west of the Shannon on the map as places to locate sophisticated digital enterprises and infrastructure, leading to untold potential wealth across the region.
Two years later, the Danish facility is almost finished and the Irish data centre hasn’t even broken ground. This makes Ireland the laughing stock of Europe when it comes to planning.
Low lie … the scale of our ambitions
The saga is bewildering and frustrating to a large number of locals in Athenry, who are very aware of the economic impact that the data centre will bring to their area in terms of increased spending in shops and on amenities during the construction period and thereafter.
There had been a series of stops and starts. Concerns over potential flooding as well as potential threats to local wildlife such as bats were heard by An Bord Pleanála before the green light was given in August 2016.
However, by November, three objectors – two locals and one with an address in Wicklow – received permission to seek a full judicial review of the Apple decision by An Bord Pleanála.
Some locals were aghast and around 2,000 of them marched in support of the data centre.
Apple begged for the process to be fast-tracked and now, several months later, Mr Justice Paul McDermott will deliver his verdict.
Whatever the outcome, what is really being judged is Ireland’s ponderous planning system, and we risk sending a dangerous message to potential investors in Ireland long into the future.