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Ryan and Coveney in heated row over data centres

Simon Coveney forcefully argued that Minister for the Environment’s proposal was not agreed Government policy

Disagreements in the Government over the future construction of data centres came to a head during an angry row between Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan and Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney at a Cabinet committee meeting.

Mr Ryan is seeking a change in Government policy that would block any future data centres that did not have their own carbon-neutral sources of energy.

This was strongly opposed by Mr Coveney, who pointed out forcefully that had not been agreed Government policy at a Cabinet economic committee meeting two weeks ago.

The two men engaged in what some people present, and others who were briefed afterwards, described as a heated argument on the subject, though sources close to both men were keen to confirm that there had been no lasting personal fallout. But they did acknowledge the encounter, and the continuing dispute over policy.


Ireland has more than 80 data centres, where technology companies house the IT infrastructure that runs their websites, apps and online services and stores vast quantities of digital information. Their number has grown rapidly in recent years. Last year, an industry survey reported that in addition to the existing 82 centres, a further 14 were under construction, while planning has been approved for 40 more.

Data centres use vast quantities of electricity, and now account for as much electricity usage as all urban households in the State, almost a fifth of the total.

There have been calls for a moratorium on new data centres, as concerns over the impact on the grid – and the effect on Ireland’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions – grow.

It is understood that Mr Ryan conceded there was no question of blocking data centres that already had consent. However, he argued that any future data centres must be zero carbon before they could be approved.

A source familiar with the issue said this would mean they would be powered by renewables and have backup power sources such as batteries and zero-carbon fuels such as biomethane, hydrogenated vegetable oils or hydrogen. Mr Ryan also wants to ensure that future data centres don’t put pressure on the electricity grid or affect Ireland’s energy security.

It is understood Mr Coveney said he understood the environmental issues and the threat to the grid, but pointed out that any change in policy would have to be agreed by the entire Government and not unilaterally implemented by Mr Ryan.

There was also nervousness about the message to the hugely important tech sector, which has been one of the main drivers of bumper corporation tax returns in the past decade, if the Government were to announce a blanket ban.

A spokesman for the Government said: “The Government’s agreed policy acknowledges the challenges around energy supply and climate but does not envisage a blanket ban on new data centres, especially where they are linked to major employment in the country.”

A policy statement from 2022 declares a “preference” for data centres “that can demonstrate a clear pathway to decarbonise and ultimately provide net-zero data services.” Mr Ryan’s proposal, however, goes significantly beyond this preference to ban completely data centres that are not zero carbon.

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Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times