No moral high ground for nimbys who hit the roof over missile plans

THE Government may want to put water meters in every home in the country, but look at it this way: At least they don’t have plans for putting surface-to-air missiles on the roof of any of our negative equity homes.

The British government, in contrast, has active plans in that direction, because of hosting the Olympics. The chosen homeowners have been contacted by the powers that be through the pleasingly old-fashioned medium of a leaflet. This leaflet notifies the residents in a high-rise apartment building that their edifice has been chosen by virtue of height and location as the place where soldiers will be billeted during the Games and on top of which surface-to -air missiles will be placed, all the better to protect London and its environs from any terrorist attacks which might happen during such a globally high-profile event.

The buildings apparently boast an uninterrupted view of the sky, thereby providing just the right environment for weaponry designed to take out incoming armaments or rogue planes.

Makes you glad to live in Ireland, does it not? Here, the only people interested in your roof (and then only if it’s a special kind of roof) are gangs with a tendency toward the purloining of lead or copper. Nobody in Government cares.

Alan Shatter, as minister for defence, may be recruiting several hundred new army employees, but he clearly lacks the vision to position any of them on a roof. You might think, since he’s closing barracks, that he could do with unused space for the storage of weaponry and personnel, but his gaze never goes to roof height.

Given this earth-bound vision, can you imagine what would have happened if Gay Mitchell had been successful in his attempt to bring the Olympics to this country? We did a bit of roof-reconnaissance during the visits of the Queen and Potus, but even then, Liberty Hall’s frilly little roof was pretty much left to the seagulls. Maybe, if we were hosting the Olympics, someone in authority might have spotted the possibility of making a national statement in irony by putting Scud missiles on the top of the Central Bank. But since it was forced to lower its height by two floors, that architectural wonder might not have been tall enough to be the roof of choice anyway, especially once environmentalists got going on the threat posed by rocket launchers to the falcon living on the top of the bank.

The residents of the estate in east London heard about the arrangement through their property management company. You might have thought property management companies had enough to be doing, but no, in this case they lashed up Ministry of Defence posters and distributed leaflets saying that the MoD is going to work up to the real thing by using the neighbourhood as the base for a major military exercise in the first week of May. This is to test out the army’s capacity, and presumably also, to check if the view from the roofs is good enough for accurate shooting.

THE 700 people living in the estate are expressing their outrage to the world, not least because a journalist lives there. Said journalist, one Brian Whelan, must think all his Christmases have come together. Overnight, courtesy of the MoD, he’s a household name.

“They are going to have a test run next week,” he says, “putting high velocity missiles on the roof just above our apartment and on the back of it they’re stationing police and military in the tower of the building for two months.”

Dogs and police and army officers around the place 24/7. You’d think the residents would be thrilled. After all, what purloiner of lead, copper or piggy-bank contents would dare to go near that particular gated community until well after the Olympics?

The residents, however, are not thrilled. Rather, they are furious. First of all, because they weren’t consulted. Consultation on everything has become such a basic human right, it’s just amazing, the MoD deciding to skip a process that would, of course, have made residents love being surrounded by huskies, guns and army officers.

The most interesting aspect of the episode is the absolute absence, in the residents’ response to the news, of any sense of the public good. Nope. Their response is wholly negative and does not seem to go even a millimetre beyond self-interest.

Their collective underwear seems to be knotted because of the inconvenience (of falling over dogs and encountering fatigue -clad folk) and the possibility of weapons on their roof attracting attack from others.

This last worry is logical. If you are al-Qaida and you have notions of making a big vicious impact on the city of London during its Olympics extravaganza, the first thing you need to do is take out any defensive weapons they may have lined up in their own protection. So it was somewhat disingenuous of the MoD to suggest that the deployment of this firepower will not pose a hazard to the east Londoners whose estate has been chosen as a base for the protection of the city.

That said, the parochial; not-in-my-gated -community response of the residents is a quantum leap away from the response in similar circumstances, of a Swiss town.

In Michael Sandel’s newly published What Money Can’t Buy, he tells of Switzerland’s efforts to find a permanent home for the radioactive nuclear waste generated by the country’s heavy reliance on nuclear energy. Eventually, a small mountain village was selected. Before the inevitable referendum decided the issue, a survey was done in 1993 among the residents, asking if they would accept a nuclear waste repository in their community, if the Swiss parliament decided to build it there.

“Although the facility was widely viewed as an undesirable addition to the neighbourhood, a slim majority (51%) of residents said they would accept it,” writes Sandel. “Apparently their sense of civic duty outweighed their concern about the risks.”

Those conducting the survey went further, and addressed the compo issue. Villagers were asked how they’d feel if the Government provided a financial sweetener, in the form of an annual payment to each resident.

Badly, was the response. The inducement cut the approval rating in half. The residents stood firm even when offered yearly cash payments as high as $8,700 (€6,500) per person, well in excess of the media monthly income.

“For many villagers,” Sandel observes, “willingness to accept the nuclear waste site reflected public spirit — a recognition that the country as a whole depended on nuclear energy and that the nuclear waste had to be stored somewhere. If their community was found to be the safest storage site, they were willing to bear the burden. Against the background of this civic commitment, the offer of cash to residents of the village felt like a bribe, an effort to buy their vote”.

Nobody has offered a commensurate bribe to the east Londoners, so they’ve missed that chance to be high-minded.

But then, high-minded willingness to bear a local burden in the interests of their city as a whole and their country as a whole doesn’t seem to be on their agenda at all.

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