Eamon Ryan accused of ‘holding too many portfolios’ amid deepening Coalition row over data centres

Environment Minister wants to block future data centres that do not have their own carbon-neutral sources of energy

Fianna Fáil politicians have accused Green Party leader Eamon Ryan of “blocking economic activity” and of holding “too many portfolios” in a deepening Coalition row over the future of data centres.

The Irish Times on Saturday revealed that disagreements in the Government over the future construction of data centres came to a head during an angry row between 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.


Once again Minister Eamon Ryan is making unilateral decisions that have the capacity to undermine our country’s future economic prosperity

—  Billy Kelleher MEP

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher has now accused Mr Ryan of “making unilateral decisions that have the capacity to undermine our country’s future economic prosperity” while party TD and Midlands North West candidate Barry Cowen said Mr Ryan was holding “too many portfolios” as he called for a Cabinet reshuffle.

“Once again Minister Eamon Ryan is making unilateral decisions that have the capacity to undermine our country’s future economic prosperity,” Mr Kelleher said.

“No one disagrees with the principle that most data centres should be able to produce their own energy needs using renewables. It is common sense. However, it might not be always possible in every circumstance, or at the very start of the data centre’s lifespan.

“If the Minister spent as much time focusing on ramping up our offshore wind energy production as he seems to spend on trying to block economic activity in Ireland, we wouldn’t need to be worrying about how many data centres we have in this country.”

“The Minister would be better off finding additional investment for EirGrid to expand grid capacity, for deep port development, and ultimately speeding up our offshore wind generation roll out. It is now 2024, and it is getting less likely by the month that we will hit our 2030-generation target of 5GW. This is serious. Ireland should be a wind energy superpower, but due to lethargy in certain Government departments, it is likely that we will fail to capitalise on our large potential,” Mr Kelleher said.

Mr Cowen said Ireland is “sleepwalking” into a “digital recession”.

“Ireland is closed for digital business and it will have a consequence for jobs and revenue. Big tech likes to locate near where its data is and pay its taxes in the same place.”

“While Minister Ryan shrugs that data centres are not huge employers, the users of them are, plus the economic impact of no more investment in digital in Ireland will be severe affecting productivity, innovation, employment, global competitiveness, education, and healthcare.

“The CRU, for some unfathomable reason, has become the custodian of our economic future with only very blunt tools at its disposal. Minister Coveney is right to be taking heated issue with Minister Ryan on it. While energy is a complex issue straddling economic, digital and climate action targets, the current structure of Government, with Minister Ryan holding too many portfolios, does not recognise this. A stand-alone Department of Energy should be part of a reshuffle of Cabinet responsibilities.”

“It is ironic that the digital industry which, through investment and usage, will most drive Ireland’s climate action goals, especially on renewable energy targets and emissions, is the one being targeted for mothballing by Minister Ryan,” Mr Cowen said.

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.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ryan said he is not blocking data centres. “He has stated on many occasions that data centres are critical to Ireland’s economic model. However, future data centres have to be zero carbon and part of the climate solution.

“This would mean that they are powered by renewables and have backup power sources such as batteries and zero carbon fuels such as biomethane, hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVO) or hydrogen.

“Most of the leading data centre companies such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon have already set themselves a target of 2030 to reach net zero. They can’t do that by opening new data centres that are not zero carbon.”

She said data centres with prior or approval will go ahead “as we can’t break legal contracts”.

“These will double the 2023 electricity use from 5 billion kWh (18 per cent of demand) to 10 billion kWh. The Irish consumer is spending a very considerable amount of money – which could be near €2Bn already – providing emergency generation to ensure the electricity grid is stable with all this demand growth. It is not clear yet that additional data centres wouldn’t cost consumers even more.

“Further increasing the amount of demand needs to be done in a way that ensures we don’t have further electricity or gas security of supply issues.

“Minister Ryan wants to ensure that this is the case, and has simply asked for this to be verified.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times