Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed that data centres such as that proposed by Apple for Athenry in Co Galway, will in future be considered strategic infrastructure for planning purposes. 

This means that applicants wishing to develop such centres will apply for permission directly to An Bord Pleanála, and no longer be required to seek initial planning from the local authority.

The designation allows projects to proceed through the planning phase faster.

The move will not make any difference to the Athenry data centre, which has been delayed for two years due to appeals and legal challenges to the planning process.

A spokesperson for the Government told RTÉ News that the Cabinet is developing a detailed position on the role and importance of data centres, the strategic infrastructure designation and powering such centres as far as possible with renewable energy. 

The decision to develop this policy framework was taken last month, before the Commercial Court ruling on the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry.

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar told RTÉ News in San Francisco that it was not confirmed to him by Apple that the data centre would definitely proceed. 

He was speaking following a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, which was part of the Taoiseach's trade mission to the west coast of the United States.

Mr Varadkar said that he told Mr Cook the project had enormous support in Athenry.

When asked whether it was confirmed by Apple that the project would go ahead he said: "No not confirmed. We didn't get a start date, or a definite commitment or anything like that.

"But certainly from our point of view, we really impressed on them very strongly how much the Government is behind the project, how we will do anything within our power to facilitate it and how the people of Galway and Athenry in particular really want it to happen."

Apple has agreed to continue considering Athenry in the context of its future business plans.