The Angry Corrie 43: Oct-Nov 1999

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Mick Furey

SOME FRIENDS over in County Donegal tell me they're involved in a row over the siting of masts for mobile phones in their area. These aren't eyesores in prominent places on hills though. The company negotiated a contract with the government to erect them alongside the radio masts at Garda stations. All fairly inconspicuous, blending in well with the usual clutter in any town.

When the locals realised what was going on, they went nova. Not at the visual intrusion, but at the possibility of danger to health from radiation from the phone company's masts. In spite of reassurances that 'there is no evidence of any danger to health', they demanded that the work not go ahead.

As Liam said, 'There might well be no evidence, but that doesn't mean there's no danger. I might be having an affair with a neighbour's wife; just because he has no evidence doesn't mean it's not happening. So until we're convinced, we'll have no mast here.'

The local people took out a court injunction barring the company from proceeding with further installations. Everybody applauding this sensible reaction to the growing proliferation of phone masts? Good; now read on.

Maire, Liam's wife (surely 'Patsy, Liam's wife'? - Ed.), is like most Ulster people: she thinks before she speaks. When she says something, she means it.

'We're not prepared to risk our children's health for the sake of their profits. Why should we have this danger in the town, when they can quite easily build the mast on one of the hills? God knows, there are plenty of them around.'

That's where I gulped, visualising masts sprouting on every other hilltop in the Blue Stack mountains. They're not the most impressive hills in Ireland; they certainly don't rank with the Highlands for height or beauty, but I still don't want them spoiled by lumps of Meccano. I feel strongly about Donegal; I feel strongly about a similar scenario in the Highlands and Islands.

My first reaction is that the increased use of mobile phones is a damned nuisance. My second, more considered, is that they're here to stay. I could cheerfully strangle every one of the loud-mouthed posers I hear using them in public places, even including pub lavatories, but I still recognise that they are a great help to some people. If you're the only plumber/electrician/vet in a rural area, a mobile will keep you in touch with possible customers. They're not going to go away, no matter how much some of us might wish it.

So here's the dilemma: do we accept masts here, there and everywhere in the name of progress? Do we accept them close to habitations, with the risk of radiation? Do we confine them to isolated areas, where they are a visual blight? Which comes first, a public health risk or an unaesthetic eyesore? We've had to come to terms with power lines, telephone poles, TV masts; can we come to terms with mobile phone masts? For once in my life, I can't make up my mind about a situation.

Ed. - Phone masts are very much a TAC-type issue given their tendency to sneak in unopposed on the lower or less spectacular hills. The moment any phone company tried to build a mast on a Munro, there would be a huge outcry and it wouldn't happen. But the main outdoor press and a depressingly large proportion of hillgoers still seem to regard lower hills as somehow disposable, at least in contrast to the bigger things. Yet we all know (hopefully) that many of the country's best hills are the tiddlers - where 'best' is defined far more widely than just 'big' or 'photogenic'. Mast intrusion on these hills is already happening - anyone who visits lower Marilyns, those below 600m, will be familiar with the phenomenon. A good example is Broomy Law near Biggar, nowadays bemasted and a very different hill from the quiet green dome that I skirted - for farming reasons - back in 1987 when walking the watershed.

Two other observations. The latest Friends of the Ochils newsletter echoes Mick Furey's Donegal friends in noting that 'Clackmannanshire Council has already taken the decision not to site mobile phone masts on any of their own buildings because of the possibility of damage to people's health.'

And when researching a Scotsman piece on paragliding, I was told that while hang gliding is on the decline in Scotland, various arrangements now exist for hang glider pilots to drive their vehicles up phone mast roads such as that on the north-western side of the Graham Meall Buidhe above Glen Ogle.

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