Farmers at the Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association (ICMSA) annual general meeting in Limerick yesterday warned that EirGrid's €3.2bn upgrade plan, which would include 1,500 new high-rise pylons, had the potential to "wipe out" decades of successful marketing and hard work done for the Irish agri-food industry.
President of ICMSA John Comer said Mr Coveney and Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter had done excellent work getting the 'green and clean' Irish brand out in international markets.
"Do you not accept that a long line of monstrous pylons marching through our farming heartlands does terrible damage to that truth?" he asked the Agriculture Minister.
However, Mr Coveney rejected the allegation that Eirgrid's plans would undermine the agriculture and food sector.
"There is already a 400kv line running across north Kerry and as far as I'm aware there has been no dramatic damage to the agriculture sector there," he said. "I am aware that this is a very sensitive issue but I'm also aware of how antiquated our current electrical system is," he said.
Mr Comer said that the "patronising attitude" of EirGrid towards the concerns of rural people in the pathway of proposed lines was infuriating.
"There is a very real sense that as far as Eirgrid – and, to a lesser extent, the State – is concerned, that the matter has been settled and that us poor culchies are just going to have to deal with a decision already made," said Mr Comer. However, he said it would be resisted.