(Adds details, government reaction)
DUBLIN, May 10 (Reuters) - Apple ditched plans to build an 850 million euro ($1 billion) data centre in Ireland because of delays in the approval process that have stalled the project for more than three years, the iPhone maker said on Thursday.
Apple announced plans in February 2015 to build the facility in the rural western town of Athenry to take advantage of green energy sources nearby, but a series of planning appeals, chiefly from two individuals, delayed its approval.
Ireland's High Court ruled in October that the data centre could proceed, dismissing the appellants who then took their case to the country's Supreme Court.
"Despite our best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans and we will not be able to move forward with the data centre," Apple said in a statement ahead of the Supreme Court heading on Thursday.
"While disappointing, this setback will not dampen our enthusiasm for future projects in Ireland as our business continues to grow," the company said, citing plans to expand its European headquarters in County Cork where it employs over 6,000 people.
Ireland relies on foreign multinational companies like Apple for the creation of one in every 10 jobs across the economy and sees major investments such as data centres as a means of securing their presence in the country.
The government is in the process of amending its planning laws to include data centres as strategic infrastructure, thus allowing them to get through the planning process much more quickly.
A similar Apple centre announced at the same time in Denmark was due to begin operations last year and Apple announced in July that it would build its second EU data centre there.
"There is no disputing that Apple's decision is very disappointing, particularly for Athenry and the West of Ireland," Ireland's Minister for Business and Enterprise Heather Humphreys said in a statement.
"The Government did everything it could to support this investment... These delays have, if nothing else, underlined our need to make the State’s planning and legal processes more efficient." ($1 = 0.8427 euros) (Reporting by Padraic Halpin, writing by Estelle Shirbon, Editing by Alistair Smout and Elaine Hardcastle)