Irish prime minister calls on Apple to either return to Galway or sell site

Leo Varadkar

The unsuccessful planning battle was long and the tech giant ultimately walked away in frustration, but could new planning rules re-open the door?

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has been in consultations with Apple CEO Tim Cook about the future of its axed €850m data centre site in Athenry, Galway. Varadkar is said to want Apple to either return to the site for another development attempt or to free it up for another investor.

After campaigners continually blocked development over power grid concerns and other issues during the planning stages, Apple walked. But an Irish parliament member who represents the area says the prime minister has asked Apple to reconsider.

If Apple potentially puts in another fresh planning application it may well be subject to new planning rules brought in by the Irish government that seek to speed planning decisions covering large infrastructure projects, including data centres that are seen as crucial to the economy. Apple’s Cook has previously backed these rules.

The original project was said to be popular among the wider community, who were keen to see the rural area attract new highly paid technology jobs. And the prime minister is now in the middle of a general election in Ireland to retain power, so the lobbying around Apple may not come as a complete surprise at this point in time.

Minister for the Irish diaspora and international development Ciaran Cannon has been told by the prime minister he has been in touch with Tim Cook about Athenry. He said: “I’m very pleased that Leo Varadkar has confirmed that he has raised the issue of Apple’s data centre site in Athenry with CEO Tim Cook, and stressed that the government is still anxious to see Apple locating there.”

He added: “The prime minister also confirmed to Apple the ongoing support of the people of Athenry, and told Mr Cook that Apple could either develop the site or make it available to another investor. Mr Cook undertook to get back to the prime minister on the matter.

“I can assure the people of Athenry that no avenue will remain unexplored in the journey to attract major foreign direct investment in Athenry.”