“I’m 74, and I’ve never objected to anything in my life before,” John Lynch tells the Irish Farmers Journal . “I was president of chamber of commerce in Athy in the 1990s, and we targeted the malting barley sector for jobs, which has the highest unemployment in Leinster.”

But Lynch is objecting to Diageo’s plan to build a new €200m brewery in Newbridge, Co Kildare. Diageo intends to devote St James’s Gate in Dublin entirely to Guinness production due to increased demand for both Guinness and Guinness 0.0.

The Newbridge brewery will concentrate on Diageo’s range of beers and ales, Hophouse 13, Rockshore, Harp, Kilkenny, and Smithwicks. It received planning permission in March 2023.

Two appeals against that decision were made to An Bord Pleanála. One of those came from Sustainability 2050, an organisation that featured heavily in the RTÉ Investigates planning exposé broadcast last December.

That objection was withdrawn.The second objection came from John Lynch, who farms near Athy, has built construction projects himself, and also runs an undertakers in Stradbally with his wife Anne.

An Bord Pleanála ruled in favour of Diageo, endorsing Kildare County Council’s decision. In January, John Lynch issued High Court proceedings against An Bord Pleanála, seeking a judicial review to the decision.

Millions of tonnes

Lynch claims the added carbon footprint of putting the facility in Newbridge rather than Athy runs to “millions of tonnes”. He says the water for the plant will have to be sourced in Athy, as the local water supply in Poulaphouca is stretched to capacity.

“Ninety-eight percent of the ingredients for beer (malt and water) are in Athy,” he says. A third point he raises is that Pollardstown Fen near Newbridge, and the Pinkeen stream would be drained, particularly if a well is bored on site. Lynch’s objection also highlighted traffic issues in Newbridge.

Claims countered

Diageo strongly refutes each of John Lynch’s grounds for objection.

In relation to water supply, the intention is not to draw water from a new supply in Athy or elsewhere, but to continue to brew from the same Poulaphouca water supply currently feeding St James’s Gate.

Diageo has stated that the new brewery will be 22% more efficient in terms of water usage, so even running the new plant at full capacity would not require any more water than is currently being consumed.

Diageo has dug a borehole on the Newbridge site, but categorically not to provide a water supply for brewing there. Therefore the Pinkeen river and Pollardstown Fen would be entirely unaffected.

As the only ingredient to be transported from Athy is malt, the overall carbon footprint of the Newbridge site will be significantly lower than a similar brewery in Athy, Diageo is saying.

This is because one load of malt results in four loads of beer.

The majority of that beer will be delivered to port for export, with that trip a much shorter distance from Newbridge than Athy.

In addition, Newbridge is a more efficient vantage point for domestic beer deliveries to high-population centres like Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway, and Limerick than Athy would be.

Chris Pender is the local Social Democrat councillor for Newbridge. He says the Diageo brewery is not likely to cause the kind of traffic disruption envisaged in the objection from John Lynch, and welcomes the delivery of jobs to the area, but does want to see linkage between the project and the new bridge across the Liffey that received planning permission last year, and will facilitate traffic to and from the brewery.

Finite window

Diageo also says that there is a finite window of opportunity for this project. It’s inconceivable that Diageo would move Guinness production away from Ireland.

Similarly, Diageo is committed to using malt from Irish grain for Guinness, with Boortmalt as its sole supplier since the turn of the century.

However, beer production might be a different matter. Last year, as the disappointing harvest was drawing to a close, Diageo issued a warning around the Newbridge project, saying “further delays will jeopardise the rationale for this €200m investment in Ireland”.

The last two words might be the most significant in that sentence. It’s not so much that the investment won’t happen, it’s that it could be relocated abroad.

As Minister of State Martin Heydon, whose south Kildare constituency encompasses both Newbridge and Naas, said on KFM in November “it might be Newbridge or nowhere”.

A planned expansion of Boortmalt’s Athy operation, announced earlier this month by Boortmalt chief operations officer Peter Nallen at the Diageo/Boortmalt grower awards, is inextricably linked to the new brewery. Ireland’s tillage farmers would be big losers if that plant went abroad.

Instead of an expansion in malt barley tonnage, there would be a 20% reduction in demand for malt from Diageo.

Asked if he has concerns that his objection might see Diageo bring their brewery abroad, Lynch replies: “That would be an unintended consequence from my point of view. My intention is to bring it to the Supreme Court if necessary.” He plans to run in the local elections on the issue this summer.

“It’s a lonely place to be, but I’m proud of what I’m doing,” Lynch concludes. “Diageo will not build in Newbridge while I have a legal avenue left open to me”.