Tirconaill Tribune, 08/10/09
Deadline looms for Ramelton mast
As a final deadline approaches for the location of a Tetra mast at Ramelton, the local group opposing the existing site will hold an important meeting on Tuesday night to consider their options. Tetra has given the local group until Friday of next week to identify a new location as an alternative and we understand that no real progress has been achieved. The Tetra representative Ciaran Kelly met last week with the Milford executive planner Frank Sweeney, Cllr. Jimmy Harte and local residents to discuss alternative sites for the highly controversial mast.
A spokeswoman for the committee said that while it was a positive meeting, Tetra is working to a very close deadline and the reality is, if an alternative site cannot be found by the 16th October, Tetra will have no option but to proceed at the Eircom exchange.
It is understood that a site on Council owned property has been deemed unsuitable on infrastructure grounds by Tetra and despite a search for other locations; nothing has emerged as being acceptable.
Frank Sweeney expressed his disappointment that the community had not already managed to come up with a single alternative site to date. In light of this situation Cllr. Jimmy Harte representing the local councillors is urging anyone with an available site in the Ramelton area that would be willing to discuss leasing it to Tetra to come forward to himself or Donegal County Council as soon as possible.
The meeting on Tuesday night is in St. Mary's national school at 8p.m. and the organisers said it was their most important forum since the committee was formed in the summer.
Tirconaill Tribune, 01/10/09
Council to tighten mast regulations
Donegal County Council is to move to tighten planning regulations in relation to telecommunications masts in the aftermath of the controversy over the permission granted to the Tetra Company for such a facility in Ramelton. Motions from Cllrs Jimmy Harte and Mick Quinn proposing the changes were unanimously backed at Monday's meeting in Lifford. Harte has called on the Council to adopt a policy of keeping telecommunications masts at least 1km from schools while Quinn wants a guarantee that the local authority will encourage applicants for such facilities and support structures to engage in pre-application discussions with local stakeholders with a view to addressing concerns regarding the locations that have been identified by companies like Tetra.
Harte said he was not surprised by the answer he received on the matter from the Director of Planning & Economic Development Francie Coyle which stated that there was nothing in the planning guidelines which advocates a specific distance for such infrastructure to be kept away from schools or other buildings. Coyle said that the Harte proposal would be inappropriate and in inflexible in terms of the consideration of the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. The guidelines, he said, focuses on the processing of planning applications with the applicants, consideration of design, siting and visual impact, access arrangements and the sharing and clustering of structures.
Mr Coyle's reply to Cllr Harte concluded by saying that Government advice clearly states that there are no health and safety issues in regard to masts. Cllr Quinn's motion proposed that the Council require applicants for telecommunications masts and support structures to fulfil four conditions before a decision is made on the plans. Firstly that the application is advertised in a local newspaper. Secondly all technical data pertaining to the radio path profile, the beam of greatest intensity, exclusion zones and safety procedures must be included with the plans. Quinn is also asking the Council to guarantee that a pre-application public information meeting takes place at a venue as close as possible to the location of the proposed structure. Finally he calls for pre-application discussions with local stakeholders with a view to addressing concerns in relation to the siting of masts.
In response Francie Coyle said the local authority encourages applicants to engage in pre-application discussions with local stakeholders but there was no legal requirement on individuals or companies to follow this procedure. He added that similarly there is no legal obligation to facilitate a pre-information meeting at a venue close to the site of the proposed structure. Coyle said all applications for planning permission have to be advertised in the press and by way of site notice. The regulations, he said, indicate that within a period of two weeks before making an application notice of the intention must be inserted in a newspaper circulating in the area.
Cllr Quinn was told that there is no legal obligation for applicants to inform local elected representatives at pre-planning stage. Mr Coyle said the issue that had been raised can be considered during the review of the County Development Plan which starts next July. He added that an amendment to the policy could be achieved through a Variation under Section 13 of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2007 which is a lengthy process. Coyle said the policy itself was robust enough and coupled with the guidelines in place provides sufficient basis to make an informed planning assessment and judgement of any proposal in terms of the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
Quinn said he was stunned by the Council response to his motion. The people of Ramelton, he said, believed that there was a hidden agenda in terms of the controversy over the granting of planning permission for the mast in their town adding that the existing policy was far from robust. He said masts should be located as far away from schools and hospitals as possible and he also had concerns about the Council's answer on the health risks of such facilities. Cllr Dessie Larkin said the Council's robust policy had let down the people of Ramelton.
"I told Tetra they could not have selected a worse site. When I heard the green light was given at pre-planning I despaired. The Company acknowledged to me that the site in Ramelton was selected because Eircom owned it” Larkin said. County Manager Michael McLoone said when the matter was brought to his attention it was too late for him to review the application as the decision had been made. He said a Variation of the Planning Act would be needed to address the concerns raised by the Cllrs. Cllr Ian McGarvey said that three years ago he had submitted a proposal that masts be located 1km away from schools.
Cllr Harte said there was a perception that telecommunications infrastructure posed a health hazard despite Government advice that there was no risk. Harte said there no need for a mast to erected in the middle of a town adding that the Department of Education didn't appear to be bothered about the impact the controversy was having on the national school in Ramelton. Following a proposal from Cllr Quinn it was unanimously agreed that the Council commences the process to vary the Development Plan to address the concerns raised in relation to telecommunications masts.
Tirconaill Tribune, 24/09/09
Tetra agrees to compromise
As 212 children stayed away from National schools in Ramelton on Wednesday, Tetra officials have told Cllrs. at an electoral area meeting in Milford the company is willing to work with members of the protest group to find an alternative site.
Only four children from an enrolment of 180 at St. Mary's NS turned up for class while at nearby Ayr Hill 36 children stayed away. The protest came as parents and the community ratcheted up their action to prevent the Tetra mast being located in the shadow of the schools, public utilities and housing estates, some as close as one hundred metres.
Across the summer there have been several community meetings and despite having met with Tetra personnel on a number of occasions, the company offered no real alternative to the controversial site where the Council granted planning permission fourteen months ago.
Parents staged a protest at the schools before going to the Council office in Milford where Cllrs. were meeting with Tetra officials to discuss the crux. Following a ninety minute meeting the CEO of Tetra, Pat Kelly agreed to work towards an alternative solution. The Cllrs were told that Tetra had until next February to find a new site: otherwise they would be obliged to proceed with the existing one on the Ards Road.
Aoife Allison who's spokesperson for the Ramelton protest group said they were satisfied with the outcome of the meeting and they had to accept the willingness of the company to work with them and the Council and she was optimistic that progress could be achieved over the coming weeks.
The controversy at Ramelton was first highlighted in the Tribune's edition of July 2nd when we revealed the extent of the development of the 65 feet tall Tetra communications mast on the Eircom site is on the Ards road adjacent to housing estates and a number of public utilities including the national school, community hospital and churches. The proposed site for the mast is approximately one hundred feet from nearby houses: 350 feet from the nearest school: 400 feet metres from the nursing home: 300 feet from the local church and parochial hall and less than 800 feet from the local churches and a hall.
A series of local meetings have addressed the concerns of the community and Aoife Allison said the real challenge now is to find a new site before the February deadline. She said they had to be optimistic that a suitable piece of ground ‘out of town' could be identified and they are issuing a public appeal to anyone with such a facility to contact them immediately. She said they were delighted with the success of the protest on Wednesday and in particular the committee extends thanks to the private bus company who provided transport to Milford.
Various meetings have heard the concerns of the community being expressed and it remains to be seen how successful the latest initiative turns out because the community is very wary of the health implications of these signals and frequencies.
Tirconaill Tribune, 17/09/09
No progress on Ramelton mast
In the ongoing controversy over the proposed construction of a twenty metre Tetra mast in Ramelton the community was briefed on the ongoing developments during a public meeting in St. Mary's national school on Tuesday night.
Around sixty people along with five Cllrs. attended the meeting to hear about last week's meeting with Tetra officials in Letterkenny. While the meeting did not offer any positives to the Ramelton delegation, Cllr. Ian McGarvey said he had a phone call from one of the officials a day later expressing somewhat different sentiments on behalf of the company and he was more optimistic about the future as a consequence.
However the Ramelton press officer, Aoife Allison read a new communication to the meeting, which insofar as the delegation who met with Tetra is concerned, did not reflect the tenor of the previous day's discussions. She said afterwards that the option of keeping the children out of school should the mast go ahead was not being ruled out and that was something they may have to consider seriously given the tenor of last week's meeting with Tetra officials.
The delegation said they were told in no uncertain terms by Tetra personnel the mast was going ahead and the officials confirmed they would be attended the Letterkenny area Council meeting on next Wednesday to convey the same line of thinking.
The TETRA press release contained no data whatever on the debate at the Mount Errigal Hotel, which at best was described as a very hostile attitude towards the delegation and their community. The press release chose instead to focus on the communications agenda and how the company is complying with international health and safety guidelines.
The meeting on Tuesday night ran off at tangents to the main issue on the agenda: that of how best to handle the situation as it now obtains rather than looking back on why or how planning permission had been granted. The committee had, earlier in the Summer met with the planning officials at Milford and a report of that meeting was also conveyed on Tuesday night.
Cllr. McGarvey is who Chairperson for the mast protest group outlined what has taken place in regard to meetings with the various official bodies in these past three months and he assured the gathering that no stone had been left unturned in their efforts to have an alternative site chosen for the mast.
He said that talk about legal action was just not relevant since the cost of judicial reviews and such like would be astronomically high and no community could afford the kind of money required to mount such a challenge.
There was a certain degree of scepticism in the room that not enough was being done and following an accusation that Tetra was only trying to buy time Cllr. McGarvey said that his entire focus was on negotiation and trying to find a way out of the current impasse.
A further meeting will be held following next week's council meeting in Lifford to assess further what options remain with the community in their battle to stop the construction of the mast at the proposed location on the Ards road.
Tirconaill Tribune, 13/08/09
Ramelton flabbergasted with Gormley's U-turn on masts
As the controversy over the proposed location of a Tetra communications mast rumbles on in Ramelton leaders of the protest group have accused John Gormley of a shameful U-turn in Green Party policy on the issue. George and Irma Hermes wrote to the Green Party Guru recently seeking his intervention to stop the location of the Eircom mast on the proposed site in Ramelton and they are dismayed, shocked and disappointed with the reply. They have unearthed a statement by Gormley in the Dail on September 16th 2005.
The record of that date states: “Green Party Chairman, John Gormley TD today accused the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell TD, of engaging in political gamesmanship in relation to the siting of mobile phone antennae in Rathmines. Mr Gormley said that constituents had given him copies of letters from Mr McDowell to Minister Tom Parlon, in which he asks his PD colleague to remove the masts because of safety concerns. But since then a third mast has been erected on the OPW building close to St Louis and St Mary's schools.
Deputy Gormley said” “This is a disgraceful display of political gamesmanship and spin by Michael McDowell. He has tried to give the impression that he is acting in the best interests of his constituents while at the same time doing absolutely nothing on this serious health issue. In his letter Michael McDowell states that the siting of the mast on the particular building contravenes clearly established criteria for location of masts,? and he goes on to say: ?In the circumstances, therefore, I would ask you to ensure that the mast in question is removed immediately and that the legitimate wishes of parents and teachers that the well established criteria for location of such masts are adhered to in the future.”
On the 13th of April 2005 Tom Parlon responded, saying he would be in touch with you again about this important matter as soon as possible. “Since then my constituents have heard nothing from either minister, but to their shock and amazement another mast has been erected. The wink and the nod between McDowell and Parlon has become a sneer of contempt for the concerns of local parents about the welfare of their children. It's now time for Minister McDowell, who likes to talk the talk, to deliver to his constituents. Or is it the case that the PD president has no influence over his party colleague.
I have raised this issue with Minister Parlon repeatedly in Dáil Éireann, and if Minister McDowell had read the answers I received he would know that his own government had brought in the very planning exemptions which allowed these masts to be erected. The clearly established criteria? he referred to have been set aside, allowing Minister Parlon to rent space on OPW buildings to telecommunications networks, even if these buildings are located next to schools, hospitals or childcare facilities.”
Mr Gormley said he would raise the issue again when the Dail resumes.
So what happened next? Has Gormley ordered Eircom to abandon the site at Ramelton given his stated position four years ago? Is he coming to Ramelton to supervise the removal of the concrete base: given that some of the structure has already disappeared?
The Hermes family wrote to Gormley for his advice and help last month in the hope that the Minister's position on the matter back on 2005 had not changed. Oh really!
His private secretary sent back a lovely letter saying: “Dear Mr. & Mrs. Hermes, The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, T.D., has asked me to refer to your e-mail in connection with a telecommunications structure in Ramelton, Co. Donegal.
The Minister has asked me to explain that his role in relation to the planning system is mainly to provide and update the legislative and policy guidance framework, although he is also a statutory consultee in relation to planning applications which impact on the built and natural heritage. The legislative framework comprises the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2006 and the Planning and Development Regulations 2001-2009. As regards policy guidance, the Department has issued a large number of planning guidelines (available on the Department's website www.environ.ie) under section 28 of the Planning Act which planning authorities and An Bord Pleanala are obliged to have regard to in the exercise of their planning functions. The day-to-day operation of the planning system is however a matter for the planning authorities. Under planning legislation, the decision to grant a planning application, with or without conditions, is a matter for the relevant planning authority in the first instance or An Bord Pleanála on appeal.
In making decisions on planning applications, planning authorities and the Board must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the development plan, any submissions or observations received, relevant Ministerial or Government policies including any guidelines issued by the Department. Under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is specifically precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to any particular case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála is, or may be concerned. The authorities are also, as stated above, required to consider national policies and guidance. The Department's Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Telecommunications Antenna and Support Structures state that planning authorities must have regard to policies and objectives of the government and/or any Minister insofar as they may affect or relate to their functions, and also note that government's telecommunications policy aims to place Ireland in the top quartile of OECD economies as regards availability, price and quality of telecommunications services. While the Guidelines state that free standing masts should be located in residential areas and near schools only as a last resort, they do not specify exclusion distances.
On the issue of the possible impact of masts of health, the Minister is acutely aware of the concerns of people who believe that the presence of mobile phone masts in their neighbourhoods may have caused them illness and disrupted their lives. In 2005, an expert group on the health effects of electromagnetic fields was established by Government. This group was chaired by Dr Michael Repacholi who was previously coordinator of the Radiation and Environmental Health Unit at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva. The Group's published report examined a wide range of issues in relation to potential health effects of electromagnetic fields, including those produced by mobile telecommunications. The expert group concluded that so far there are no adverse short or long-term health effects from exposure to the radio-frequency signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters.
Reports of scientific studies often appear to reach different conclusions on the health effects of electromagnetic fields. Science advances on the basis of weight of evidence as represented by studies published in the most authoritative journals. The Department continues to be guided by the latest scientific consensus from international bodies such as the WHO and the international Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP.) The electromagnetic exposure limits specified by ICNIRP have been recommended by the European Commission to its Member States. They provide science-based exposure limits that are applicable to both public and occupational exposure from radiofrequency and extra low frequency fields. These are the limits that are accepted in Ireland and the Department sees no scientific reason to depart from them.
Compliance with the ICNIRP limits is currently specified by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) as a condition for granting licences to mobile phone companies. Over the last number of years, ComReg has conducted measurement surveys to verify compliance with these limits by their licensees. The detailed measurement results from 480 sites have been published on their website. All measurements have so far shown total compliance with measured levels that are typically thousands of times under the ICNIRP limits. This year ComReg are in the process of surveying the emissions from a further group of mobile phone masts with the results being published as they become available.
In due course, an Irish research programme will be established to investigate further the health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields. Furthermore, the statutory powers of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) will be extended to include responsibility for matters relating to non-ionising radiation. The aim is to build a scientific knowledge base in Ireland that keeps abreast of the latest international developments in the area of non-ionising radiation safety.
The Minister trusts that this clarifies the position. Yours sincerely, Eddie Kiernan, Private Secretary.”
How could we have not known it was as simple as all that? Does the Minister's letter not explain everything?
George and Ina were shocked but they should realise this is Dear Old Ireland and politicians change their minds as regularly as they change their knickers.
In the meantime representatives of the Ramelton Mast Committee met with planning officials of the Council in Milford. The latest update on that one is that the planning permission has not been withdrawn.
Tirconaill Tribune, 13/08/09
Ramelton group queries permission
The meeting between Ramelton residents and a planning official of Donegal County Council took place in Milford on Thursday last. The group was seeking clarification from the Council in relation to the proposed construction of a Tetra 20 metre mast in the town and the granting of planning permission for the structure. In attendance were Mr. Frank Sweeney (Planning Officer) and local residents - Aoife Allison, Eilis Friel, George Hermes and Donal Cullen -
Observers: Cllrs Liam Blaney and Ian McGarvey.
The following account of the meeting has been made available by the delegation that met with Mr. Sweeney.
“When did the site inspection take place?
He does not know. There is no documentation on file to show when they were out at the site.
"Why are such discrepancies within the planning department that other mast applications have been refused on the 2-8 guidelines?"
Mr Sweeney was not sure, he was going to have a look at the Kilcar refusal.
"Where exactly was the planning notice erected?"
The planner who passed the application claims it was on the wall, but there is no documentation or photo on file to prove this, and Mr. Sweeney agreed that their checklist states that the site notice should be documented on file.
Eircom claim that the site notice was erected on the 31st March 08 however a photograph taken of a resident at the 19th April 08 of a clean-up beside the exchange shows no site notice at all.
"How many complaints have been received at the time of application?"
No complaints received.
So why was nothing received at time when now more than 1100 people signed a petition, more than 250 people joined a protest and also all churches and Cllrs are against the location?
He does not know.
Mr. Sweeney stated the weekly list was definitely on the website, but he couldn't explain why nobody could find it without the planning application number.
"Who was present and where are the minutes of the pre-planning meeting with Eircom that took place on 16th October 07 and what concerns were raised at that meeting?"
He was not present himself and does not know who was! He will find out and get the minutes for us if there are any! Because he was not present at the meeting he does not know if Eircom were encouraged under section 3.4 of the Donegal Development Plan to engage in pre- applications discussions with the community.
"How have Eircom satisfied you that this is a last resort and that it's needed and where are the resorts?"
Mr Sweeney said that a mast have to be situated near ESB sub stations or Eircom Exchanges for security reasons. We put to him if this is the case why had they previously applied for planning permission at 2 other locations in the town that did not meet the above criteria. He said he did not know and when asked if he just took Eircom's word for this, he agreed.
"Have you been provided with “Radio Path Profile Analysis & Transmission Coverage Area for the proposed transmitter? Can you get answers for us?"
No, they don't need this information.
"Explain, as you have stated, where the three residential areas are."
He was able to state and locate two of them.
"Why are discrepancies between the written description in the application form and the reality at the location?"
Mr. Sweeney explained it is not really important what was written in the application form because it's more important what the planner sees.
"The whole issue of visual impact"
In his opinion it will not impact the area visually as on the approach to Ramelton from Letterkenny the housing estate will block the mast. He feels that this is acceptable!
He states that a seven metre ESB pole and trees will help soften the visual impact of the 20 metre mast.
In relation to reasonable distances, he said they follow distances set out by the government and these have been adhered too. And when we asked him, he said back to us: What is a reasonable distance!
They do not have to prepare an environmental Impact Statement.”
Tirconaill Tribune, 06/08/09
Ramelton people power says no Eircom mast
Opposition to the construction of a Tetra mast near the national school at Ramelton moved up a gear at the weekend when hundreds of protestors paraded around the town before being addressed by a number of local Cllrs.
Good weather on last Thursday evening saw hundreds of supporters assemble at St. Mary's National School before joining the parade across the town. A huge array of banners and placards were carried by the crowd and the protest demonstration was led by groups of school children.
It was a great turnout of the community and the big crowd has given a whole new dimension to the campaign. At the same time opposition to the mast has been growing with every public meeting in St. Mary's NS: there have been five in all at this stage with parents leading the way in putting more pressure on Eircom and local politicians.
Donegal County Council has already requested that Eircom send an official to its next Letterkenny area meeting to discuss the construction of a Tetra mast in Ramelton. The meeting is due to be held on September 21st and as yet there has been no response from Eircom but Cllr. Ian McGarvey said he anticipates the company will agree to their request.
Cllr. McGarvey confirmed that a deputation will meet with planning officials in Milford later this week to discuss how planning permission had been granted last year.
Fr. Desmond Sweeney PP and Chairperson of the Board of Management at St. Mary's NS has also said that their concerns had been expressed to all the relevant authorities about the mast site and he hoped the voice of reason would be heard and taken on board. The Ramelton committee will be reassured by what is happening elsewhere in the EU: A court in France has ordered the dismantling of a cell phone mast based on the ‘precautionary principle' because there is insufficient proof that cell phones are harmless. The suit was initiated by residents in the vicinity of the tower against cell phone company Bouygues Telecom. Following the judgements of the Nanterre TGI (District Court) and the Versailles Appeal Court Bouygues Telecom began dismantling its phone mast in the early morning of March 6th of this year.
The Irish Government takes a different view, obviously. Last year in response to questions from Deputy Catherine Byrne, John Gormley, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said: “ The issue of potential health effects of mobile telephone masts was comprehensively covered by the Expert Group Report published by Government in March 2007 entitled “Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields. The Expert Group Report examined a wide range of issues in relation to the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields, including those produced by mobile phone base stations, by electrical appliances in the home and by electricity pylons. It provides a comprehensive review of existing scientific evidence drawing on World Health Organisation (WHO) and other expert studies. It answers many of the questions raised by the public in relation to the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields. Its findings have been accepted by Government.
The Report confirms the majority scientific opinion that to date no adverse short or long term effects have been demonstrated from exposure to electromagnetic fields at levels below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. However, a minority group of scientists believe otherwise and extensive international research continues to be coordinated through bodies such as the WHO. This research is co-funded by the Irish Government.”
The Minister told Deputy Byrne in conclusion: “The Department's current advice to those living in close proximity to mobile phone base stations, based on the findings of the Expert Group Report, is that there is no scientific basis for, or evidence of, adverse health effects in children or adults as a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields. This applies irrespective of the location of the phone mast.”
The consortium - called Tetra Ireland Ltd. takes its name from the digital radio technology it is proposing: Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) TETRA technology is in use across several European countries and municipalities by police, fire, rescue and military authorities. The TETRA system operates at a frequency below that of mobile phones (around 400 megahertz) and will function even if mobile networks go down.
However the TETRA system has possible drawbacks too. A study by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority in Britain last year found that there was a “medium” possibility that these radios could interfere with sensitive machines such as pacemakers and hospital life support equipment, although the report noted analogue radios (as currently used in the Republic) posed a greater threat. Police officers involved in a pilot scheme in the north of England in 2002 claimed that their new digital portable radios induced migraines, sleeplessness and concentration problems.
Prior to Thursday evening's demonstration Deputy Joe McHugh announced that he'd met with Eircom officials and they'd agreed to meet with the residents: for the second time. A fortnight earlier the group met with an Eircom official at Letterkenny to listen to the concerns of the neighbourhood. However at the next public meeting it was alleged this was nothing more than a public relations exercise and the official could give no direct assurances that the views expressed by the delegation would be taken on board.
Prior to the march on Thursday evening Cllr. Padraig MacLochlainn addressed the demonstrators saying that much more focus of attention had to be put on Donegal County Council and the manner in which planning permission was granted in the first instance over a year ago. He said that in his opinion the granting of permission was in contravention of the county's development plans and this was an issue that the County Manager would have to respond to urgently.
Cllr. Ian McGarvey said that every avenue possible was being pursued through political channels to get Eircom to change their minds and all of the seven Cllrs for the Letterkenny area were one hundred per cent behind the Ramelton campaign.
Speaking at Gamble's Square later, both Cllrs Mick Quinn and Dessie Larkin reiterated similar views and offered their total backing to the community in their battle with the phone company. Donal Cullen also addressed the gathering and he laid more emphasis on the role of the Council and the concept that only as a last resort should Tetra masts be located in a built up environment.
Against this background are the political dimensions...and there is the European Union. The head of the EU's Health Dept has failed to respond to a request by concerned residents of Ireland, both North and South, for a meeting to discuss the proliferation of communications masts and the proposed installation of the Tetra system currently being rolled out across the country.
There are currently 10,000 masts across Ireland with health complaints relating to the proximity of masts causing concerns that are termed clusters around the masts. The experiences of individuals and the existence of these clusters suggests that the extremely low frequencies (ELF) radiation is the cause of the persistence health complaints.
Prof. Olle Johansson of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, a world expert in the effects of ELF radiation addressed a public meeting in Leixlip, Co. Kildare warning of the dangers of the signals from communications masts.
In one study in mice, resultant damage to DNA rendered the fifth generation infertile. In another study where individuals were exposed to an hour of radiation on their back, changes were detected to the subjects' skin.
Mr. Robert Madelin, Director-General, Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection, was in Dublin for an all ticket chat at Croke Park as part of the 6th National Healthcare Summit sponsored by the Sunday Business Post and Eircom.
John Weigel, a Leixlip resident and member of the citizen group wrote to Madelin in March, saying, “Of immediate concern is the use by An Garda Shiochana of the Tetra signal on communication masts adjacent schools where it is known that children absorb seventy-five percent of the radiation in their brains, prompting childhood brain tumours, cancers and leukaemia.”
Weigel's concern is backed up by statistics from the National Cancer Registry which notes that Leixlip already has a 12% higher than the national average of breast cancer, 13% higher lung cancer and a 23% higher than average incidence of prostate cancer. As a result of the Leixlip meeting, The Hon. Desmond Guinness announced that he would not be renewing the lease for the mast on the grounds of Leixlip Castle.
On April 2nd The EU passed a non-binding report sponsored by Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries, which states: “Ensuring that at least schools, kindergartens, nursing homes and health centers are located at a specific distance, determined in accordance with scientific criteria, this type of equipment ‘and advocate' solutions dialogue between industry, government and military and neighborhood associations on the criteria for the installation of new antennas or telephone lines high voltage because they consider that it ‘is in the public interest'.”
Commenting on Madelin's failure to meet with citizens, Walter Graham, chairman of Northern Ireland Opposing Masts, said “This is typical of a distant huge unaccountable EU Commission refusing to meet with local people. It is the reason why Ireland and France have said no to EU treaties and is further evidence of how the EU has failed to work for the citizens. Brussels allows us all to be irradiated against our will 24 hours a day and when victims ask for a chance to meet these unaccountable bureaucrats the answer is NO - it's time to pull out of Europe and deal locally with this issue,” he added.
As the Ramelton citizens assembled at Gamble's Square on Thursday night following the demonstration they were addressed by Mr. Anthony McCahill, one of the chief organisers of the evening. He said that it was unfortunate that Ramelton had to fight for everything: and they never got nothing. He said the local Cllrs. had been approached and lobbied prior to the local elections to have what he called ‘the mystery boat' moored across the river removed pronto but nothing happened. He asked the crowd to look across the river at the half sunken vessel as he called on the newly elected Cllrs for the Letterkenny area to use their power to have it taken away immediately ‘because it is a terrible eyesore and is damaging the potential of the natural beauty of the Quay and the town of Ramelton'.
But the chief focus of the night was the battle to get Eircom to locate the Tetra mast elsewhere and the committee expressed their view that the politicians will listen to people power in the battle that lies ahead.
Tirconaill Tribune, 30/07/09
Ramelton public protest over Tetra mast By John McAteer
Donegal County Council has requested that Eircom send an official to its next Letterkenny area meeting to discuss the construction of a Tetra mast in Ramelton. The meeting is due to be held on September 21st and as yet there has been no response from Eircom but Cllr. Ian McGarvey said he anticipates the company will agree to their request.
Fr. Desmond Sweeney PP and Chairperson of the Board of Management at St. Mary's NS said that their concerns had been expressed to all the relevant authorities about the mast site and he hoped the voice of reason would be heard and taken on board.
Cllr. McGarvey told a meeting of the local community in Ramelton on Tuesday night that he does not expect any works to proceed on the mast until the company has met the seven local Cllrs. The largely attended meeting heard support from Cllrs. McGarvey, Dessie Larkin, Mick Quinn and Ciaran Brogan. All Cllrs pledged to use their good offices to impress on Eircom the depth of concern over the siting of the mast close to the national school: the community hospital and a number of housing estates.
Donegal County Council's planning office in Milford came in for a heavy slating for granting permission to Eircom and the County Manager was also blamed by a vocal section of the meeting for ignoring the well-being of the community in allowing the decision to be processed in favour of Eircom.
A public protest meeting is taking place in the car park at St. Mary's National School on this Thursday evening at 6.30 and an appeal went out from Tuesday night's meeting for a record turnout from all sectors of the community. As concerns grow over the mast more than one thousand people have now signed a petition requesting that Eircom relocate their structure out of this location.
This week's meeting considered a range of measures including legal imperatives to stop the mast on grounds of health and children's safety.
Cllr. Dessie Larkin said the Cllrs would ask the County Manager to examine the planning file to determine if he was satisfied that the correct decision had been taken. The Cllrs. agreed to facilitate a meeting between the committee representatives and officials of the planning office to try and determine the rationale used in granting the permission in the first instance.
Donal Cullen, Community Representative said they were targeting the wrong people since it was his opinion that the real responsibility lay with the County Manager. “The Manager is responsible for all Council decisions but he's not taking responsibility,' contended Mr. Cullen.
Cllr. Ian McGarvey took a different line warning that blaming public servants was the wrong road to take. He said that many avenues had been explored already and from his own meetings with the Manager and Council staff all he could say is they'd been very helpful.
Cllr. Mick Quinn reiterated Cllr. McGarvey's comments and added that all the seven Cllrs were unanimous in their full support for the campaign.
Cllr. Ciaran Brogan said that it was unfortunate that such a site close to so many facilities had been chosen and he believed that Eircom owed it to the community to come to Ramelton and listen to the concerns of the public the parents and the entire community.
A large number of speakers were highly critical of Eircom and their lack of response to the concerns raised. The mood of the evening was summed up in concerns about the children at St. Mary's school, which is in very close proximity to the mast site. A number of parents said they would not allow their children back into the school in September should the mast be erected and it is expected the views of all the parents will be sought before such a decision can be made.
This was the fifth meeting of the community opposing the mast location inside the last month and there is general dissatisfaction at the lack of response from Eircom and their officials to the concerns being raised.
The committee will evaluate progress in the campaign over the coming days and weeks before any further actions are contemplated.
Donegal News, 17/07/09
Eircom to be asked to move site of Ramelton mast
The first meeting of the new Letterkenny Electoral area committee this week agreed unanimously to write to Eircom in the hope of persuading the company to look at an alternative site for a controversial mast in Ramelton.
Cllr Dessie Larkin requested that Planning Officer Frank Sweeney bring a report to the councillors detailing how the grant of planning for the mast fitted with the new development plan and national policy.
A number of the councillors had attended a public meeting in Ramelton this week where residents and parents expressed concern about the proximity of the mast to the primary school, houses and a nursing home. "Why try to assure masts are located away from large population areas and obviously schools come into that. It is important that the action group opposing the location of the mast realise it is an important bit of infrastructure for communications for the emergency services but its location is wrong. Once the mast is erected there can be up to 12 other antennae placed on it, "Cllr Larkin said.
Cllr Liam Blaney said it was his understanding that locating such masts in a built up areas would be a last resort. "There are more applications people don't know about, one of these is 80 metres from my own house. I have emailed Eircom and sought a guarantee there will be no telecommunications antennae on the mast," Cllr Blaney said. He told the meeting that both the ambulance service and Gardai were moving to satellite communications in the next few years and masts such as the one at Ramelton would no longer be needed. "If that is the case why would Eircom want this when the service is going to move? Is it that they are just using the emergency services. I would be very cautious why they put this mast up in the first place," Cllr Blaney added
COVERT AGREEMENT CLAIM
Cllr Mick Quinn said that planning approval for the Ramelton mast did not appear on the council's website and there was concern among local people as to why it did not. "There is suspicion that there may be covert agreement between Donegal County Council and Eircom and that is negatively impacting on the local community," Cllr Quinn said.
Cllr Ciaran Brogan pointed out that at stage, with planning permission granted, that they were depending on the good will of Eircom whether they locate the mast there or not.
"I am sure Eircom will not want to be involved in any controversy. It is important we send the message to Eircom of our unanimous support against the mast.
Cllr Noel Mc Bride warned that a written guarantee from Eircom would not be worth the paper it was written on. "We should request that they not erect this mast and come back to the people of Ramelton and us and we will work together and identify an alternative location, "Cllr McBride said.
Cllr Harte said it appeared that someone in Eircom had not learned any lessons. "Whether there is medical evidence or not there is a perception there about masts. People have concerns and I think this is something Eircom has disregarded. You cannot get anywhere more sensitive than a national school. Maybe the Department of Education should have a roll in this. We should invite an Eircom representative in for the next area meeting, "Cllr Harte added.
Planning Officer Frank Sweeney told the councillors the application was for a 20 metre mast with the usual radio antennae. "There was no mention of mobile antennae. This is part of the roll out nationally for emergency services and the application was made last year. The grant of planning was put on the website the same as any other application. It is an exempt development and can attach other antennae to the mast. The national guideline say there is no risk as long as radiation is below a certain threshold. There was an existing Eircom compound at the site," Mr Sweeney said.
It was unanimously agreed that the council would write to Eircom in an attempt to get them to relocate the controversial mast.
MET WITH EIRCOM
Cllr Ian McGarvey informed the meeting he and six other residents of Ramelton had met with an Eircom representative on Tuesday and he met with the County Manager about the mast. "We left the Eircom representative under no illusions that if they want to roll out this mast, they will be taking on the entire community.
Parents are claiming they will withdraw children from the school because this mast is about 400 feet away. Irrespective of what Eircom say about safety, they can locate anything on it once it is up. I am asking the council to address whatever issues might be involved in preventing the mast being erected,"Cllr McGarvey said.
He added that the public meeting was told that confrontation was not helpful to anyone and he advocated that no one break the law. Some people were suggesting they bring in a digger and remove the base. Lets go through the proper process,"Cllr McGarvey concluded.
Tirconaill Tribune, 16/07/2009
Ramelton parents threaten school boycott
As controversy and opposition mounts over the location of a Tetra Mast at Ramelton, parents attending a community meeting on Tuesday night said they will not allow their children to return to St. Mary's National School in September because of the health fears involved.
Some 75 members of the public attended Tuesday's meeting to express their anger and frustration at the decision by Eircom to locate the twenty metre mast within 350 feet of the local school and 100 feet from a housing estate. The meeting heard stinging criticism of the politicians who were accused of ignoring the fears of the community and afraid to confront officialdom or Eircom. At the same time Eircom has been given permission to construct a 25 metre tall mast on their site at Tamney in Fanad. Permission for this structure was granted in June of last year.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson 3G Ireland Ltd. has lodged plans with Donegal County Council to construct a 24 metre high antenna mast and transmission dishes for a broadband scheme at Ards Forest Park in Creeslough. The Council is due to make their decision on the 7th of September.
A deputation from Ramelton met with Eircom representatives this week without any conclusive confirmation that the concerns of the community would be taken on board. The deliberations were later considered at a public meeting in St. Mary's national school when many speakers expressed anger and frustration with the lack of progress in getting the mast site changed to a more considerate location.
This was the fourth public meeting in the town to debate the issue within the past fortnight and while caution was urged whilst a final response was awaited from Eircom, those present were very pessimistic that the company would listen to their protests or concerns for their children.
Cllr. Ian McGarvey who is Chair of the community group gave the meeting a detailed briefing on their meeting earlier in the day with Eircom and there was a degree of consternation that there was no official response from the company.
The County Council came under the hammer and they were accused of being tied into accepting whatever Eircom or other phone companies wanted without any proper debate or acknowledgement that there was an urgent need to keep the electorate fully informed about planning applications and granting of permission for these structures.
There were calls to seek a meeting with the County Manager and the planners who saw fit to grant the permission. A petition is now being circulated and already it has attracted over a thousand signatures.
The meeting heard from parents of young children at St. Mary's NS. The school has an enrolment of 179 and parents made it clear that if Eircom constructs the mast they will be forced to boycott classes when the new school term resumes in September. This message is now being conveyed to the relevant authorities.
Speakers at the meeting continued to seek clarification about the Department of the Environment Guidelines for Planning Authorities on the Telecommunications Act 1996 states that ‘only as last resort...should free standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools.
The proposed mast on the junction with the Ards road is approximately
30 metres from the nearest housing estate (100 feet): 140 metres from the nearest school (460 feet): 183 m from nearest nursing home (600 feet): 103 m from the local Chapel and parochial hall (340 feet): 264 m from the local Churches and hall (870 feet).
Ramelton is a Fáilte Ireland designated Heritage Town; chosen because of its Irish Georgian architecture and the beautiful Irish Georgian Mall that stretches along the river Lennon, yet this extremely unsightly structure has been located directly adjacent to these features, and on the busiest main approach road to the town. This mast will be the first structure seen by visitors entering the heritage town.
The community is unsure, but deeply concerned about the Health implications. It is felt the mast will have a very definite and detrimental impact on the visual approaches to the town, and will also have a very definite detrimental impact on property values in the locality. The meeting considered a large number of issues and there was a feeling of deep scepticism about claims that the emissions from these masts cause no threat.
It was said that people can choose whether to use a mobile handset, but where is the choice in whether a base station is put up nearby and have houses, families, children, schools and a nursing home being covered 24 hours a day by mast emissions and having their properties devalued and their views and landscape spoiled?
The mast controversy was also debated at Wednesday's Letterkenny electoral area meeting with Cllrs. pledging to work with Eircom to identify a new site away from centres of population or utilities.
Tirconaill Tribune, 09/07/2009
Ramelton group to meet Eircom
As criticism intensifies over the decision to locate a 65 feet tall mast in a built up area in Ramelton, officials of Eircom are to meet with a delegation from Ramelton next Tuesday. The meeting in Letterkenny will consider the building of a Tetra communications mast at the entrance to the town on the Ards Road.
A number of community meetings have already taken place at St. Mary's National School with many residents expressing health fears, devaluation of property and scenic impairment as a consequence of the mast location. Ian McGarvey who's chairperson of the group has already been in contact with the office of the Minister for Communications: the Donegal County Manager and Planning Office along with having talked to officials at Eircom.
Cllr. McGarvey said that he'd been given guarantees that no further work would proceed on the mast site in the interim and he was optimistic that next week's meeting would explore ways towards a resolution to the crux.
Already there have been three meetings in the national school with calls for Eircom to relocate the mast away from the built-up environment. It is claimed that there should not be masts of any kind in proximity to built up areas and only as a last resort should this be contemplated. On Tuesday evening a meeting decided to formulate a petition to Eircom and a number of other suggestions were considered by the sixty strong crowd.
The meetings have heard concerns that 'Tetra emergency service masts' can have a detrimental effect on television reception. Planning permission for the mast was granted by Donegal County Council on July 8th last year and according to their detail on the planning application, the copy site notice was erected on site on March 31st 2008.Questioning the granting of the application, local residents say that if the construction goes ahead it compromises Dept of Environment guidelines set out in 1996 saying that 'only as a last resort' should such masts be located in a residential area or in the vicinity of a national school.
In a statement sent to the Tribune a number of health and environmental queries were raised by residents in Ramelton. 'How can this location be described 'as a last resort' and be the only location that Eircom could find'? We are informed that the mast is 30 feet from the nearest housing estate: 140 metres from the nearest school: 103 metres from the church and parochial hall: 264 metres from other churches and hall.
Questions are being raised as to why local politicians and members of the local community were not made aware of planning application and subsequent granting of permission and it is claimed that the general public in Ramelton was not aware of the proposal until work commenced on the site on the Ards Road in June.
The twenty metre tall mast is scheduled to carry three radio aerials for the Gardai, Ambulance and Fire Services along with a cable ladder to facilitate a national digital radio service. Opponents of the mast have queried the veracity of Eircom's claim that the emergency services use is the primary and intended use of the proposed structure.
It is alleged that the mast will be used for 'duplex communications' allowing digital radio terminals to access mobile and land based telephone systems.
According to local residents in the Ramelton area it is believed the coverage map submitted with the planning application appears to indicate the equipment will have a capacity for broadcasting as far as Buncrana.
Letterkenny Post, 03/07/2009
Concern over Ramelton mast
Residents of Ramelton will hold a second public meeting tonight (Thursday) in St Mary's school to express concerns about the construction of a 20 metre mast to carry signals for the emergency services.
Local residents are concerned about the proximity of the mast to the local school and have also questioned whether there was public notice seeking planning permission displayed on the site. Local councilor Ian McGarvey told the Post that he had been in contact with the County Manager in relation to the issue. Planning permission has already been granted for the construction of the mast but there are concerns about the possible effects on the health of local people.
“The proximity to the flats and the school is a major concern for the parents there,” said Cllr McGarvey.
“I know there are all kinds of stats saying that they're not harmful but one thing is for sure. There is lots of other evidence that proves it can be harmful,” he claimed.
He also pointed out the visual impact that the mast would have on the Heritage Town and asked whether the presence of the mast would lead to devalued house prices in the immediate area.
Residents expressed concern over whether the use of the mast would be restricted to the three emergency services – the Gardai, the ambulance and the fire services. It is alleged that the mast could be used for commercial purposes and Cllr McGarvey claimed that it was a “nonsense” that the mast would simply be used for the emergency services.
“Any company will be able to locate on the same mast,” he stated.
The Post attempted to contact the Planning Services for a comment but were none was available at the time of going to press.
Tirconaill Tribune, 02/07/2009
Ramelton meeting to address Eircom mast concerns
A public meeting will be held on this Thursday night at eight o'clock in St. Mary's National School Ramelton to discuss further the implications of a 65 feet tall Tetra communications mast. Eircom owns the site and it is on the Ards road adjacent to housing estates and a number of public utilities including the national school, community hospital and churches.
A group of thirty attended an 'information evening' at the school on last Thursday and ironically no real information was available. It was claimed that Eircom is using the justification that this mast is necessary for Emergency Services.
Cllr. Ian McGarvey who was elected as Chair of the new committee said: "Eircom, by their own submission for the planning application states the following: The Emergency Services use is the primary and intended use of the proposed structure. The mast will be used to provide duplex communications allowing digital radio terminals to access mobile and land based telephone systems. (In other words it is likely that this is a dual Purpose Mast, and can be used in the future for other purposes). Their own site assessment states that regular measurement of emission levels will be required to comply with the International Radiation Protection Association Guidelines. The Coverage Map submitted with the planning application appears to show the mast broadcasting as far as Buncrana. (NOTE: This claim is based on the planning documents on the internet and the map is unclear. Need to see original file before this claim can be used).
In reality this mast is principally a commercial profit making Venture for a consortium of communications companies including; Eircom, Threefold Project Management Limited and TETRA Ireland Communications.
Department of the Environment Guidelines for Planning Authorities on the Telecommunications Act 1996 states that only as last resort... should free standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools. (How can this location be described 'as a last resort' and be the only location that Eircom could find,"
The meeting heard and saw that this mast is approximately 30 m from the nearest housing estate: 140 metres from the nearest school: 183 metres from nearest nursing home: 103 metres from the local church and parochial hall and 264 metres from the local Churches and hall.
The meeting heard that Ramelton is a Fáilte Ireland designated Heritage Town; chosen because of its Irish Georgian architecture and the beautiful Irish Georgian Mall that stretches along the river Lennon, yet this extremely unsightly structure has been located directly adjacent to these features, and on the busiest main approach road to the town.
'This mast will be the first structure seen by visitors entering the heritage town,' said Mary Haggan who was secretary to the meeting.
Other speakers said they are unsure of the health implications, but in any case this mast will have a very definite and detrimental impact on the visual approaches to the town, and will also have a very definite detrimental impact on property values in the area.
M/s Haggan said: "People can choose whether to use a mobile handset, but where is the choice in whether a base station is put up nearby and have houses, families, children, schools and a nursing home being covered 24 hours a day by mast emissions and having their properties devalued and their views and landscape spoiled?"
Claims were made that these TETRA masts have also caused severe interference to local television reception. Recent problems have been experienced in Kinsale, in Cork and Dunleer in Dundalk.