Campaigners welcome opportunity to discuss lighthouse beam future

Campaigners welcome opportunity to discuss lighthouse beam future

19 June 2019

SENIOR Newry, Mourne and Down Council chiefs have finally bowed to pressure and are to allow the group campaigning to retain the iconic sweeping beam at St John’s Point Lighthouse in Killough to address politicians.

The local authority initially refused a request by the Lecale Lightkeepers to meet with elected representatives who at the start of the year met with officials from the Commissioners of Irish Lights which is planning to replace the six ton Fresnel lamp at the lighthouse with a modern LED light.

The press and public were banned from the January meeting attended by the Commissioner’s most senior official, Captain Robert McCabe.

The Commissioners has argued the current lamp at the Killough lighthouse rotates in a bath of mercury and poses a health and safety risk and is looking at designing a new mechanism which would allow the mercury to be removed. 

However, campaigners have warned such an option would be expensive to operate and, most significantly, alter the character of the light. They have also branded claims the mercury bath poses a health and safety risk as a “red herring” and fear that replacing the existing mechanism could potentially damage the Fresnel lens.

Described as a “workshop”, the January meeting lasted over one hour with the official council record of the debate that ensued only amounting to a paltry two and a half lines.

The Lecale Lightkeepers vehemently argued that they had a case for briefing councillors on the impact the loss of the beam would have but, surprisingly, the request was initially rejected.

Instead, council officials insisted that officers from the the Commissioners of Irish Lights would be invited to future meetings of the district’s respective DEA Forums to discuss the future of the lighthouse.

The local authority said this was to ensure that information could be shared and that local stakeholders and communities were fully consulted on any proposals for the lighthouse in the immediate future, before any plans are finalised.  

Council officials also insisted that wide ranging public consultation on the future of the lighthouse would take place.

Campaigners — who were at a complete loss to understand why they were initially refused an opportunity to meet directly with councillors over five months ago — have now been told they will get a chance to brief them and outline their case for the retention of the beam.

The Lecale Lightkeepers have described the plan to remove the beam as “totally inadequate and unacceptable” and are looking forward to outlining their case for its retention.

They are also pleased that having heard from the Commissioners, politicians can now have face-to-face dialogue with campaigners.

Campaigners have held several discussions with the Commissioners and frequently engage with the organisation as part of the bid to retain what they have described as a key facet of Lecale’s heritage.

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with councillors to demonstrate just how passionate people are about the retention of the beam,” the spokeswoman declared. It is a symbol of unity in Lecale and has brought together all sides of our diverse community. It must be retained.

“Meeting with councillors is particularly important for us. We have put together a detailed presentation on the lighthouse issue and will outline our concerns about the future of the beam which we cannot afford to lose for a whole host of reasons.”

The spokeswoman said that in the interests of fairness and given the sensitive nature of the beam issue, it was important that they meet with local politicians.

“Councillors have had the opportunity to hear from the Commissioners and it is important that they hear what we have to say as the group representing those opposed to this controversial proposal,” she continued.

“The beam must be retained for future generations given that it is an intrinsic part of the maritime history and heritage of the area and is a stunning feature of the Lecale landscape.”

The spokeswoman added: “Newry, Mourne and Down Council is backing the campaign to retain the sweeping beam and it is it important that councillors hear directly from campaigners. The beam must be retained; we simply cannot afford to lose it from this area and see it consigned to the pages of history.”