Apple Athenry ruling celebrations are premature
There was an audible sigh of relief from members of the Athenry for Apple group who gathered at the rear of Court 13 in the Four Courts today.
The ruling by High Court judge Mr Justice Paul McDermott that refused challenges to An Bord Pleanála’s decision to give permission for Apple's data centre in the Co Galway town brought an anxious wait for many to an end.
The project has been bogged down in a planning and legal quagmire since Galway County Council first gave it the green light over two years ago.
First An Bord Pleanála considered an appeal by over half a dozen objectors.
Then its decision to approve the project was brought to the High Court for review by three opponents.
That review was completed today, with Mr Justice McDermott rejecting the grounds put forward by those seeking the quashing of the board’s decision.
So it's on with the build then?
That's what you might think looking at the reaction of the project’s supporters in court and in Athenry today.
But it may not be as simple as all that.
First, there is the possibility of an appeal by one or more of the objectors. It would have to be based on a point of law and the bar is high – but it cannot be ruled out.
There’s also the question of cost of an appeal and whether the objectors could afford the risks associated with losing an expensive case a second time.
But even if there is no appeal, can we be certain that Apple will proceed with the plans as originally outlined?
At the same time as the Athenry centre was announced in February 2015, Apple announced it would build a similar facility in Viborg, Denmark.
While Athenry stalled, the Danish project proceeded and is nearing completion.
In recent months Apple even announced it would build a second centre in the Nordic country in Aabenraa, which is near the border with Germany.
If that facility comes online as planned in the second quarter of 2019, will Apple immediately need the extra capacity offered by Athenry, which presumably would take a similar period of time to complete?
Could it be considering pushing out the timeline for construction in Galway?
Many questions arise.
Apple has said and is continuing to say very little on all this, despite feverish speculation in recent weeks around whether it was getting frustrated with the delays and marches of support on the streets of Athenry.
Indeed, some interested observers today expressed concern that the company did not come out to wholeheartedly welcome the High Court decision and reaffirm its commitment to building the massive data hub in the Derrydonnell as soon as possible.
Perhaps the uncertainty heretofore, the possibility of a further appeal, its contingency planning, the Danish development and other factors are combining to change its view of it all.
Or maybe it is just being cautious, having learned that here in Ireland getting permission to build a new €850 million investment is not necessarily a fait accompli, even if you are the largest tech company in the world.
In the meantime we can only watch and wait until Apple decides to reveal its intentions.
For now though it is probably a little too premature for supporters to start singing around the fields of Athenry.
Comments welcome via Twitter to @willgoodbody