It was a cold spring morning on Dublin’s Marlborough Street, but spirits were high among the people who had arrived from Knocknagoshel.
They’d left the Kerry village before dawn to get to Dublin just after 11am, for a protest date at the offices of An Bord Pleanála, the State’s planning authority.
There was an element of theatre to proceedings, between organiser Michelle Keane invoking the People’s Republic of Knocknagoshel in a brief speech outside the offices, to the gathering’s main banner, which cheerfully quoted another famous rebel, Charles Stewart Parnell: “Arise Knocknagoshel and take your place among the nations of the earth.”
Ms Keane had ended the merry protest by officially delivering her objection to mobile operator Eir’s application to build a “monstrosity” mobile communications mast in her village to An Bord Pleanála's reception staff.
Theatrics aside, however, there was an important point being made, and one which could spell a significant headache for An Bord Pleanála in the not-too-distant future.
Knocknagoshel may be small — population circa 750 — but its residents’ actions in protesting an application to build a 15-metre high telecoms mast in the heart of their village are noteworthy.
While An Bord Pleanala’s decision has not even been made yet, its recent history with this type of application is a problematic one.
In May of 2022, this paper reported that Paul Hyde, the former chair of the planning body had been approving mast appeals, notably by Eir, over the previous 20 months.
Of the 102 such applications we looked at, Mr Hyde had been involved in 77 of them, beating the law of averages by a distance (applications are supposed to be randomly dispersed among board members).
He approved 72 of them, and overruled his own inspectors’ recommendations of refusal at a rate 9 times greater than the board's average.
For applications by Eir, the figures were even more striking. Mr Hyde, who resigned from the board last July and is facing a criminal investigation, was involved in 42 such appeals during the period in question. He approved all 42.
Of those, 35, or 83% of them, had initially been refused at local authority level.
Those eye-catching statistics recently formed the basis for the judicial review of a mast decision made in 2021 for another rural village, Kells in Co Kilkenny.
Despite the appeal being well outside the statute of limitations of 8 weeks for such an action, leave was granted for the case to proceed.
understands that numerous similar actions are in gestation. Should they succeed en masse, and there is a distinct possibility the masts in question will have to go, and An Bord Pleanála will have to foot the legal bill.
This brings us back to Knocknagoshel.
Ms Keane and her co-protestors have put it up toA n Bord Pleanála's new interim chair Oonagh Buckley and asked her to take note of the fact Eir’s application for the village had already been refused by Kerry County Council three times.
“It’s not as if we don’t want the mast at all,” local Donal Falvey, whose property borders the planned site of the monopole at the old Eircom exchange in the village, said.
“We couldn’t have been more accommodating. We just don’t want it in the centre of the community. We don’t want it beside the school.”
In its refusal, last January, Kerry Co Council said the mast would contravene the telecommunication policies set out in its most recent county development plan. An Bord Pleanála has lost countless strategic development cases in court for dismissing those development plans.
Should the authority decide to ignore the decision by the local authority and grant permission anyway, you suspect it may have another legal case on its hands. And others who have come out on the wrong end of these mast decisions are likely to be watching.