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13 May 1999 Edition

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Masts idiocy

EIRCELL PLANS MAST ON GAA PITCH IN DRUMSHAMBO



``Why do they choose to put a mast right beside the GAA pitch and on top of the National school and housing estate?'' Asks Hugh-James Gallagher, from Drumshambo. ``Aren't there enough bare mountains in the county, where there's not a sinner living within miles, which would suit them?''

It was Hugh-James who happened to notice in the small print of a local paper that planning permission had been granted to Eircell to erect a mobile phone mast on the side of the GAA pitch, just beside his housing estate of Dristernan, Drumshambo.

Immediately he went on local radio to let people know, and subsequently helped organise a meeting of townspeople, to make sure everyone got the facts on masts, and to assess together what they felt should be done.

But Fearghal McPartland, spokesperson for Allen Gaels is furious that Hugh James went straight on radio. ``Why didn't he come straight to us, in the GAA?'' Hugh James can't understand this. It's not just me, and my family affected. Everyone in the town needs to know and needs to have a chance to express their views.''

Mast only yards away from housing and school

The spot chosen is as the crow flies only a few hundred feet from the National School below the hill. ``its almost impossible to believe that the GAA, which has such a strong record in so many small towns and villages for promoting sport and Irish culture amongst young people, could want to go ahead without consulting the people first,'' says Hugh-James.

``There is no funding which could be offered by Eircell which would compensate people for the likely damage to health,'' says Hugh-James. But when aprn asked Allen Gaels' spokesperson, Fearghal, about possible damage to health. Fearghal replied ``that he had studied all the material and there was no health risk.''

Fearghal was not willing to divulge what Eircell was offering Allen Gaels for the use of their pitch for the mast. ``Negotiations are confidential between Eircell and us.'' It is rumoured that Eircell is offering £10,000 for the facility - £2000 per annum over 5 years, but of course the payment would not be directly to the people in the estate, or even to the school. Things don't work like that.

Some 200 people came to the meeting in March. They voiced grave concern. The residents' committee carried out a survey of how people felt, and, reports Hugh-James, the vast majority of people were entirely against it. They sent off their objections to Bord Pleanala. But will Bord Pleanala take into account their objections?

Why is GAA so annoyed?

Jimmy McGivern, who also lives with his family just beside where they want to put the mast, says ``people had told us it was just a Sinn Fein thing. It was only when we came to the meeting and heard the argument, that I realised what dangers were involved.'' He goes on, ``Yes, it was Hugh-James who caught them on at what was planned, and let people know, and organised the meeting and so on. But that is exactly what someone who cares about what happens to this town, a public representative, should do. Not like one of our councillors, who said he couldn't come to the meeting, but he'd go along with whatever was the view. What good is that?

Meanwhile Fearghal says that Allen Gaels will not hold a meeting of their 20 member executive to discuss the issue in May. Meanwhile Bord Pleanala has to decide on the objection from the residents.

Why didn't Eircell put the mast on top of one of the mountains, like Arrigna, above Drumshambo? Perhaps because it costs a lot of money to run a heavy power cable up the hill for a mast station, and to construct an access road. But then we are talking here about proper planning for a region, and after all that is not Eircell's business - but it should be the councillors' business.


S.F. PLEDGES OPPOSITION TO COERCIVE TELECOMMUNICATIONS BILL.



Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill, which is to give telecommunications companies the ``right'' of access to land they want for mobile telephone masts, and even more disturbingly, the ``right'' to CPO land they want for erection of a mast, (See aprn April . . .) was introduced by Government's Donnie Cassidy to the Senate last month, but may not come before the Dail until after local government elections.

``Introducing this bill before the elections might loose the Government parties a lot of support, S.F. councillor, Liam McGirl, of Leitrim points out.

Meanwhile S.F. candidates have supported the stance of Paddy McDonald, John Martin and Harry McCabe, all candidates in Cavan in the local government elections. They have warned of the importance of alerting people to the dangers of this Bill and its coercive approach to the masts issue, which they condemn as ``entirely the wrong approach.''

``Local campaigns against masts, like those in Cavan at Lislea, Cottehill, Taghart South, Shercock, have also happened all over the country, and show peoples' genuine fears at living beside a mast. You can't legislate these fears out of existence, or use coercion to force masts on communities,'' says S.F. Caoimhghin O Caolain, T.D. for Cavan Monaghan.

Last week Caoimhghin says that the bill ``rides roughshod over the legitimate concerns of local communities'', and is pledged to oppose the legislation when it finally comes to the Dail.
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