Gardai join mast battle

Southside gardai are opposing the erection of a mobile phone mast at their station in Shankill over health fears.The Garda Representatives' Association (GRA) is to raise officers' concerns about the possible health implications with its national executive. The move comes after gardai confronted over 100 angry locals last week who were protesting against the erection of a new mobile phone mast adjoining Shankill Garda Station. The mast caused a storm of controversy and local residents prevented Vilicom - telecoms consultants for the Office of Public Works - from carrying out work on the structure at the Garda station. Last week, residents of Dorney Court blocked the entrance to the site with their cars, leading gardai to threaten to haul the vehicles away. The mast, which is situated beside the Garda station, is located in the Dorney Court Estate where hundreds of residents live within metres of it. St Anne's School, Scoil Mhuire/Rathsallagh Primary School and Rathmichael School are also located within 500 metres of the structure. Garda John O'Brien, who is a representative of the GRA for the South Dublin area, is to raise the matter at the national executive of the association at its next meeting after 47 local gardai signed a petition stating their own opposition to the mast. In a statement last week, Garda O'Brien said: “As a result of the imminent erection of a new telecommunications mast, I have written to the district officer. It's going to be a matter for the national executive. This matter is not just a Shankill problem, but a matter for every station in the country.”

Under the 2001 Planning and Development Regulations, a replacement mast with up to 12 additional antennae may be erected without planning permission. Currently only one mobile phone company operates equipment on the existing mast. However, Meteor, Vodafone, and Hutchison 3G are to install their equipment on a replacement mast under the exemption while the existing mast is to be decommissioned. The protests followed a request from Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council last week to the OPW and Vilicom to cease work immediately on the site “until the overall planning status of the development is determined and in full accordance with procedures laid down within the planning and development Act 2001”. However, the OPW and Vilicom failed to heed the request, provoking residents' anger and prompting them to block the entrance to the site. Cllrs John Bailey, Maria Bailey (FG), Dennis O'Callaghan (Lab) and Tom Kivlehan (GP) raised the issue of the mast at the Dun Laoghaire area committee meeting on Monday, January 6. Following the meeting, officials in the enforcement section of the council again sent a fax to the OPW instructing the contractors to cease work, but these instructions were ignored. By Friday morning last contractors were still attempting to work on site but were prevented from doing so by locals. Eamonn Keogh, a spokesperson for the Dorney Court Residents' Action Group, who lives within 30-metres of the mast, said the community was gripped with fear at the prospect of a new mast. Mr Keogh also said locals were very upset because Garda authorities did not show “courtesy and respect” by informing them that the mast was being erected. “That is totally against the Garda charter,” he added. “We are calling on the Garda authorities to explain themselves.” He added that residents are determined that the new mast will not be erected and that the existing one will be decommissioned indefinitely. Declan McCullough, senior executive officer in the enforcement section of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, said last week that the mobile phone companies and the OPW were acting in accordance with the planning and development regulations. They would also be exempt from having to remove the existing structure and erect a new one, he said. “We have been presented with a set of drawings by Vilicom and it would appear that this is an exempted development,” he told Southside People last week. The enforcement section of the council has also asked Vilicom to supply additional information regarding the equipment cabin at the rear of the Garda station. Meanwhile, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment Heritage and Local Government has summoned the OPW before the committee over the erection of the mast. George Moir, a spokesperson for the OPW said last week: “The council has asked us to cease working on the site but that is with our legal department at the moment so we cannot comment on that.”



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