The Irish Government should buy back the land previously earmarked for Apple’s ill-fated Irish data center, a local politician said this week.

Apple put the land up for sale in 2019 after abandoning its plans to build a $1 billion data center on the site. No buyer has been found and the land is still reportedly for sale.

Apple Galway Ireland
The once-proposed Apple data center – Apple

Sinn Féin Galway East representative, Louis O’Hara, this week told the Galway Advertiser that the 500-acre parcel of land in Derrydonnell, Athenry, needs to be purchased by the State, and will be lobbying the Government on the issue soon.

“It is a shame to see a site with such significant potential left lying idle,” he said. “The State should purchase back the site at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Buying the land would allow for it to be developed in the near future, with the IDA and other State agencies able to promote the site to both local and foreign investors.

O’Hara said the site would have “significant potential” including for start-up businesses, while also creating “substantial local employment.”

“Athenry and communities across County Galway are crying out for investment,” he said. “The economic benefits that development of the site would bring would provide an enormous boost to the region, increasing local employment, driving regional development, and ensuring our local communities have a sustainable future.”

O’Hara said Sinn Féin will be raising this issue with the Minister for Enterprise, Leo Varadkar.

“Athenry and County Galway needs support and investment and that should begin with the purchase back of the Apple site.”

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While O’Hara said the site would be attractive to buyers, data center firms may not find the site so appealing given its history and the current political opposition around developing new facilities in the country.

Apple bought the land for around $15 million in 2014. Though its plans to build a data center by 2017 were approved by the local council, appeals kept bringing the case back to the Irish planning board (An Bord Pleanála) and the Commercial Courts.

The company’s plans led to protest marches opposing the project, and environmental campaigners eventually won their appeal to stop the development. Apple subsequently abandoned its plans in 2018.

In 2021, data center development in Ireland has come under close scrutiny. The People Before Profit party last week proposed a bill that would outright ban data center development in the country, as it believes they are incompatible with its climate goals.

Meanwhile, an EirGrid consultant suggested the energy company might require new energy-demanding projects such as data centers to be built near to renewable energy sources in future, moving data center developments away from Dublin and towards the west coast.

Earlier this month, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) told national grid manager EirGrid and ESB Networks to prioritize applications for data centers in regions where power supplies are not struggling. As a result, Eirgrid is concerned that this would mean it could not approve grid access for more than 30 data centers currently being proposed.