Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A LOCAL community has been left incensed by a decision from An Bord Pleanála (ABP) to allow a 24-metre telecommunications mast in their village – just 500m from the local school.

Planning permission has been granted to telecommunications company Cignal Infrastructure Ltd for ‘a monopole 24-metre multi-operator with antenna and dishes’ at Knockroe, Rathvilly, despite Carlow County Council initially refusing it permission and a report by an ABP inspector also recommending its refusal.

This latest development has led to uproar among some Rathvilly residents, with locals this week ramping up their campaign to stop the mast. A public meeting has been planned for tonight (Tuesday) at 8.45pm in the Phoenix Centre, Rathvilly, while a Facebook page ‘Stop the Mast Rathvilly’ has garnered considerable social media reaction.

The chief executive of Cignal Infrastructure Ltd is Rathvilly native Colin Cunningham, on whose family land at Knockroe the controversial mast is proposed.

In a statement to The Nationalist yesterday (Monday), Cignal Infrastructure Ltd pointed out that ‘the tower is fully compliant with all health and safety and planning regulations and was granted planning by ABP in February 2019. An Bord Pleanála is the independent national body established to decide on planning matters in an impartial, efficient and open manner’.

However, not all locals are in agreement.

“This mast is 24m – that’s 78ft, the size of a six-storey building on the edge of a small village … we’re just in shock,” said Martina Elliott Block of the Stop the Mast Rathvilly campaign.

“We couldn’t believe that An Bord Pleanála would grant permission just 500 metres from a school. We are very upset and very angry about this and the potential health risks of having such a huge mast in Rathvilly,” said Martina. “We’re not anti-technology or anti-progress. We all have mobile phones and broadband in our homes, but we can always turn them off. We have absolutely no control over this mast, in what’s a small residential area.”

Cignal also confirmed to The Nationalist that it has agreed to facilitate a meeting with the committee of Stop the Mast Rathvilly, where their concerns can be addressed in a forum to be attended by operators planning to offer services in Rathvilly. ‘This meeting will be co-ordinated in conjunction with representatives of Carlow County Council. Cignal have spoken to a number of the committee members and they have agreed that they will attend the proposed meeting,’ its statement read.

The company also points to the Department of Communications’ current advice to those living in close proximity to mobile masts or base stations, based on the conclusions of an expert group, ‘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 below ICNIRP levels. This applies irrespective of the location of the mobile phone mast’.

In late 2018, Cignal Infrastructure Ltd revealed its plans to invest €25m in 300 locations nationally over the next two years to address coverage blackspots across rural Ireland. In what’s considered the biggest roll-out of new towers in the last decade, this investment was heralded as a huge benefit to mobile operators as well as to wireless internet service providers.

Yesterday’s statement by Cignal Infrastructure Ltd also indicated that ‘Rathvilly has been identified as one of the most poorly-served areas in the county for mobile and broadband services. The proposed installation will address this issue for the entire community, helping to improve mobile reception and allow operators to provide high-speed fixed wireless broadband services’.

The decision by ABP to grant permission to the mast at Knockroe now leaves just one legal option open to local objectors, a potentially expensive and prolonged High Court judicial review.

“We are asking for the support of solicitors and barristers – we would really welcome it,” stated Martina.

“The purpose of our public meeting tonight (Tuesday) is to inform people in Rathvilly of the potential risks and also to discuss what further action we might pursue,” she added.

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By Suzanne Pender
Contact Newsdesk: +353 59 9170100

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