Lecale Lightkeepers concern at ‘secrecy’

Lecale Lightkeepers concern at ‘secrecy’

10 July 2019

THE campaign group lobbying for the retention of the iconic sweeping beam at St John’s Point Lighthouse near Killough has expressed concern that no one from the community is being included in discussions on its future.

The Lecale Lightkeepers expressed their concern after they were involved in a behind-closed-doors meeting on the future of the lighthouse with local politicians last week.

Despite campaigners asking for the press and public to be allowed to attend the meeting at the council’s headquarters in Downpatrick last Thursday morning, the request was refused.

A number of politicians have also expressed concern at the press being banned from a debate on a non-contentious issue and say they “await with interest” the report from the meeting which was the second on the lighthouse to be held in secret.

In January, a meeting between councillors and senior officials from the Commissioners of irish Lights — who are responsible for the Killough lighthouse — were also held in private. 

Campaigners say they are grateful to councillors for their support and encouraging comments last week and that they found a presentation by one of their members, Hugh O’Donnell, to be interesting and informative. 

“Hugh’s presentation was followed by a good question and answer session so we hope that the myths about the use of mercury in the lighthouse will be dispelled,” said a spokeswoman for the campaign group.

But she expressed concern that no one from the community is involved in discussions between the local authority and other organisations on the future of the lighthouse. She explained they include the Commissioners, Great Lighthouses of Ireland, the Landmark Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund.

“We have had confirmation of these meetings as a result of Freedom of Information requests and are particularly concerned that those involved do not appreciate the intangible heritage of the lighthouse. There seems to be no one included who represents the local community and its aspirations for the light,” the spokeswoman declared.

“The information obtained via the FoI request also suggests that there has been no mention of the sweeping beam in the various discussions about the future of the lighthouse which is concerning.

“In April last year, Newry, Mourne and Down Council unanimously agreed to protect the sweeping beam in its present mechanism and we are confident that the organisation will ensure that the Commissioners will not be able to proceed with its plans to change it.”

The campaign spokeswoman said the Lecale Lightkeepers also welcome a suggestion by Rowallane councillor Patrick Brown, that the local authority should further investigate the running of Loop Head Lighthouse in Co Clare and potentially replicate it at St John’s Point.

Also during last week’s meeting, Cllr Declan McAteer — who has recently visited the Old Head of Kinsale and other lighthouses in West Cork, said he found them to be “well-run tourist venues”, suggesting that enquires could be made about their respective management regimes.

The campaign spokeswoman said those who attended last week’s meeting were disappointed that they did not meet with members of the Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee. However, they were informed that they might have an opportunity to do so in the future.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard, who attended last week’s meeting, has called on the local council to become a “proactive guardian” of the St John’s Point Lighthouse. 

He is opposed to the controversial plans and welcomed the presentation made by campaigners last week.

“It was a productive session and I trust that council management have taken on board the various arguments for the protection of this very special local heritage at St John’s Point,” said Mr Hazzard.

“Moving forward, Newry, Mourne and Down Council should not only reject any and all controversial plans to modify the lighthouse, but should now become a proactive guardian of this iconic local landmark.”

In addition, Mr Hazzard also said the local authority should look to emulate Clare County Council which has in recent years taken guardianship of Loop Head Lighthouse and developed it appropriately as a visitor attraction, bringing tens of thousands of visitors to a remote coastal area to enjoy the its history.