The confrontation at the 30-metre ESB mast in Johnstown Glebe, Rathdowney, ended at around eight o’clock on Monday night after gardaí warned protestors that they could be arrested.
Residents had prevented workers and vehicles from vacating the site. Apparently, the gardaí, under Supt Maurice Regan, regarded this as a “hostage situation”.
They advised the residents accordingly and cautioned them that they could leave themselves open to legal action by the ESB or contractors.
Now, reveals spokesman Eugene McDonagh, the resident s intend to sue Laois County Council for allegedly devaluing their houses by granting planning permission to the ESB for the mast.
Furthermore, he states, they are awaiting the ombudsman’s adjudication on whether or not the planning process was in order. He “reckons” that there are 13 “discrepancies” on the relevant planning file.
Mr McDonagh says protestors were “dumbfounded” by the number of gardaí at the scene. He adds: “People were emotional. Some are really terrified by what they see as the health risk from the mast.”
Contractors arrived at Johnstown Glebe at about 5.55am on Monday morning to complete the installation of O2 and Vodafone telecommunication equipment on the mast, and to repair buildings that had been damaged by fire earlier this year.
Within 20 minutes or so, residents were at the site, gardaí followed, and the day-long confrontation began.
The ESB insists that it conformed fully with planning regulations for the mast, including the display of site notices.
Not so, retort the residents. They say site notices seeking planning permission were not prominently shown, thus depriving them of the opportunity to object to the mast.
“We went through all the proper planning regulations,” says an ESB spokeswoman. “One of the site notices was pulled down. When that became apparent, we put it back up again.”
She adds: “ESB management have met the residents and their representatives on a number of occasions over the past 12 months. We also suspended work on site for that period while we were meeting to resolved the situation.”
Deputy Sean Fleming stresses that Rathdowney residents are law-abiding people. While recognising that gardaí have to do their duty, he hopes that they have not been put into the situation of having to provide a security service for private contractors.
Senator Kieran Phelan describes the ESB’s action as “very heavy-handed”. He adds: “I am 100 percent opposed to the mast. It’s in the wrong place.”