Tech: Apple pulling a $1 billion data centre is 'a major black mark' against Ireland (AAPL)

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An artist's rendition of the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry, Ireland.

Apple's cancellation of the project is a huge disappointment for locals hoping for a boost to the economy, according to a longtime campaigner who pushed for the development.

  • Apple is cancelling the development of a $1 billion data centre in the rural town of Athenry, Ireland, and locals are outraged.
  • Paul Keane, leader of a local pressure group supporting the development, said the server farm would have resulted in hundreds of jobs and boost to the local economy.
  • Apple has been trying to establish the data centre since 2015 but threw in the towel after two residents objected to the plans on environmental grounds.
  • Keane said the decision reflected badly on Ireland's government, and the country's planning processes.
  • Ireland is reliant on attracting big US tech firms, with Google, Facebook, and Twitter all making the country the site of their international headquarters.

Apple's cancellation of a $1 billion data centre in Ireland is a "major black mark" against the country, and a huge disappointment for locals hoping for a boost to the economy, according to a longtime campaigner who pushed for the development.

On Thursday, Apple confirmed what locals in the Irish town of Athenry had feared for months — that it was ditching plans to build a €850 million data centre in the area due to delays in the planning process.

"It's a major black mark," said Paul Keane, who heads up local pressure group Athenry for Apple, which has more than 4,000 members on Facebook. "We have the [foreign investment agency] IDA Ireland out there on the international stage trying to attract investment. A message like this will be aired all over the world, that Apple has pulled [out]. That's not attractive. And it's a black mark on the failures of the government to address our planning issues and court system."

Local resident Adrian Monaghan wrote on the group's Facebook page: "Absolute disgrace. The govt did damn all to stop this happening and when they did step in it was too little too late. This is at their doorstep."

Keane estimated the data centre would have created up to 300 jobs.

"Athenry is a very rural town, it's mainly farming-based," he said. "The vast majority of people living here work elsewhere, like Galway city. To work in the technology-based industry, people would have to [work] elsewhere. The centre would have created lots of local jobs, it would have created a massive economic boost."

Keane said there were two empty industrial areas "flanking" the Apple site, which might have attracted more investors. "I can't see any development there," he said.

Apple had been trying to get its Irish data centre off the ground since 2015, buying up 198 hectares of land in Athenry for a facility that would be 166,000 square metres. The plan was to use the data centre to store European user data and to help power online services, including the iTunes Store, the App Store, iMessage, Maps, and Siri for customers across Europe.

Two locals held up Apple's $1 billion project

Apple quickly ran into legal trouble, thanks to two individuals who objected to the development on environmental grounds: lawyer Sinead Fitzpatrick and engineer Allan Daly.

Locals hoped Apple would overcome the two residents' legal objections after the High Court approved the server farm in October last year. Then Fitzpatrick and Daly lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, and Apple has thrown in the towel ahead of the hearing.

"Despite our best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans and we will not be able to move forward with the data centre," Apple said.

Fitzpatrick did not respond to an email seeking comment, and Business Insider was unable to contact Daly. But according to court filings, the pair raised concerns about the data centre's energy consumption, and its impact on the wider environment as the development continued.

It isn't clear what happens to Apple's Athenry site now. The land was owned by state-owned forestry organisation Coillte but, according to Coillte's website, it was acquired by Apple and IDA Ireland for the server farm. Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for clarification.

"It's very site-specific in terms of what you can do," Keane said of the area. "A data centre was the perfect fit. I don't know who would buy that, there would be lots of work to be done."

Ireland is reliant on external investment from big tech firms like Apple, attracting companies with a low tax regime. Facebook, Twitter, and Google all have their international headquarters in Dublin. The data centre decision is a double blow after the EU decided Apple would also have to pay Ireland €13 billion (£11.1 billion; $14.5 billion) in back taxes.

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