Fianna Fáil councillor facilitated controversial gas company donations to constituents in days before election

A Fianna Fáil councillor facilitated more than €50,000 in donations from an energy company to community groups before last month’s local elections – only for the company to soon after reveal plans for a controversial gas plant and battery storage development.

A number of the groups who received the donations from Lumcloon Energy shared Galway county councillor Ivan Canning’s election literature before last month’s vote and wished him well before his election. 

A community group has come together to oppose Lumcloon Energy’s development, which it says poses health and environmental risks. Though Canning now tries to downplay his role in the distribution of about €56,000 in donations from the company, last month several Portumna community groups publicly thanked him for “securing” the funds. 

When asked by The Ditch why several community groups appeared to believe he had secured funds on their behalf, Canning said, “If I put somebody’s name forward for a grant or for anything, I suppose people would take it that I secured it – maybe that’s human nature.” 

The Ditch understands that some of these groups now want to return their donation after learning that Lumcloon Energy applied to Galway County Council for planning permission to build a gas-fired power generator at Portumna, having entered pre-planning consultations with An Bord Pleanála the previous February. 

Canning now says he will oppose the development while his party colleague minister Anne Rabbitte “has voiced her concerns” about it. 

‘Thank you to Ivan Canning for securing €2,500 for Portumna GAA’

Records show Lumcloon Energy lobbied government 11 times since 2016. Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen was among those lobbied on eight of these occasions.

Lumcloon is currently finishing work on a plant in Shannonbridge – despite concerns from locals about potential pollution. In 2022 then taoiseach Micheál Martin called the plant a “highly innovative project” at a ceremony also attended by Barry Cowen and Green Party TD Pippa Hacket.

The company in October 2023 had the first of its meetings with An Bord Pleanála (ABP) concerning its proposed gas plant and battery storage facility in Portumna. The development required two applications to ABP, with the planning authority’s inspector carrying out reports on the site this May. 

Councillor Ivan Canning, as well as his party colleague minister Anne Rabbitte, have said they were under the impression the plant would be solar powered during interviews with Galway Bay FM late last month.

Canning however had already, according to local community groups, secured more than €50,000 in donations for distribution from the group in the runup to June’s local elections. 

“Thank you to Ivan Canning for securing €2,500 for Portumna GAA through Lumcloon Energy Community Fund. This is greatly appreciated,” wrote a GAA club on 2 June in a Facebook post.

“We pay a very special tribute to Ivan Canning for his mammoth efforts in securing the huge sum of €2,000 in support of our branch projects,” posted the South-East Galway Comhaltas page on 5 June. “Thanks very much for the support … much appreciated,” replied Canning. 

‘Just received a phone call’

After the local elections Canning held a party in a Portumna pub where he presented the groups with the funds alongside Lumcloon CEO Nigel Reams and rugby player Bundee Aki. Groups that attended the ceremony thanked Canning on social media for securing the funds.

Canning however claims his only role was nominating groups to receive money. “I got a phone call to nominate the groups. That’s what I did,” he told The Ditch. When contacted by The Ditch a representative for one of the groups said they believed Canning secured the funds on their behalf. 

Canning denied giving out the funds in the run-up to the election, telling Galway FM he had been in “election mode” and that nothing happened until afterwards. He minimised his role in acquiring the money when contacted by The Ditch, saying he “just received a phone call”.

The development has become increasingly controversial locally since, after the local elections, Lumcloon Energy applied to Galway County Council for planning permission for work associated with the plant. 

In this application it became clear that the development wasn’t to be solar powered – as Canning and Rabbitte claimed to believe.

East Galway Gas Plant Concern Group says the proposed lithium storage facility may be in danger of catching fire and that the gas plant is a health and environmental risk. It also says its scale is out of place with the rest of the area.

The group is calling on supporters to make observations to ABP about the proposed plant.

Rabbitte declined to comment. 

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors