Minister for Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney has given a second extension to public consultation over Marine Institute plans for renewable energy test site in Galway Bay.
Mr Coveney says he took the decision as an “exceptional matter and in the public interest”.
A group of Galway West TDs, including junior minister Sean Kyne, sought the extension due to public concerns about the plan.
The institute has applied for a foreshore lease upgrade for its existing test site off An Spidéal in Co Galway to allow for a “ full range of marine renewable energy technology”, including wind.
However, the application has caused community concern over the handling of the consultation, and the plan to install up to three devices at the site at any one time.
The institute’s initial application sought approval for 60m-high wind turbines, and it then said this was a “mistake”.
It has since said that only one floating wind turbine of 35 metres above sea level could be tested on the site at any one time, for a maximum period of 12 months, while other devices would be tested for a maximum period of 18 months.
However, community concerns were exacerbated when the institute held a public consultation meeting in An Spidéal on June 14th - a Tuesday night when no TDs were present due to Dáíl sittings - and just three days before the initial deadline for submissions.
Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly wrote to Mr Coveney seeking more time, and her letter was signed by three other Galway West TDs, including Minister of State for Natural Resources Seán Kyne.
The deadline was initially extended for a fortnight to July 1st, but Mr Coveney has now given it another month to August 2nd.
Ms Connolly said she was “100 per cent behind renewable energy”, but such projects required community engagement, and in this case “trust has been broken”.
She was also critical of the fact that not all of the relevant documents had been translated into Irish initially, and that residents were directed to Garda stations and a library with limited opening hours.
The institute has issued a bilingual information leaflet, and says documents can be seen at Salthill Garda Station,which is open 24 hours.
The institute has said the application for a 35 year lease for the quarter scale test site is “to make sure the operational lifespan of all the national ocean energy testing facilities are consistent”.
“The test site is an integral component of Ireland’s ocean energy strategy,” it has said.
It also said the conditions of any lease that might be granted would expressly forbid that the lease could be passed on or sold.
Associated cabling for the test site - as part of the ‘Smartbay’ subsea observatory project – has already been installed.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Michael Creed is due to launch ‘Smartbay’ on Thursday, June 30th as part of the national SeaFest event in Galway.