TITHE AN OIREACHTAIS
Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport
Non-Ionising Microwave Radiation Emissions from Communication Masts
TITHE AN OIREACHTAIS
Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport
Non-Ionising Microwave Radiation Emissions from Communication Masts
Members of the Joint Committee
Deputy Seán Doherty, Chairman
Deputy Brendan Daly, Vice-Chairman
Deputy Liam Aylward
Deputy Martin Brady
Deputy Michael Creed
Deputy Austin Currie
Deputy Philip Hogan
Deputy Liam Lawlor
Deputy Jim Mitchell
Deputy Noel O’Flynn
Deputy Dick Roche
Deputy Trevor Sargent
Deputy Emmet Stagg
Deputy Ivan Yates
Senator Peter Callanan
Senator Liam Fitzgerald
Senator Des Hanafin
Senator Fergus O’Dowd
Senator Shane Ross
The Joint Committee appointed Deputy Noel O’Flynn as rapporteur for the purpose of this report. The Joint Committee wishes to express its appreciation for the invaluable assistance given by Deputy Noel O’Flynn in the preparation of the report.
The Joint Committee also wishes to thank the various individuals, organisations and groups, listed below, for the assistance they gave in the preparation of this report, by making written submissions and attending public meetings of the Joint Committee to give evidence to members and to discuss their written submissions with members.
Individuals and organisations who assisted the Committee:
Mr. Stephen Brewer, Chief Executive, Eircell
Mr. M.P. Byrne, Garda Commissioner
Mr. Tim Dalton, Secretary General, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Ms. Gerardine Delorey, Carrick-on-Shannon Concerned Residents
Ms. Etain Doyle, Director of Telecommunications Regulation
Mr. John Doyle, Cavan/Monaghan Anti-Mast Group
Mr. Raymond Ellard, Chief Environmental Health Officer, Department of Health and Children
Mr. Jimmy Farrelly, Secretary General, Department of the Environment and Local Government
Mr. Liam Hamilton, Head of Telecommunications Planning Section, An Garda Síochána
Mr. Seamus Hughes, Electricity Supply Board
Mr. Fergal Kelly, Head of Technology, Eircell
Mr. John Loughrey, Secretary General, Department of Public Enterprise
Mr. Barry Maloney, Chief Executive, Esat Digifone
Mr. Vincent Manning
Mr. Brian McMahon, Cypress Grove Residents Association
Dr. Tom McManus, Chief Technical Adviser, Department of Public Enterprise
Ms. Sheila Meehan, Moville Radiation Protection Group
Mr. Eamon Molloy, Principal Officer, Department of Public Enterprise
Ms. Mary Moylan, Principal Officer, Department of the Environment and Local Government
Ms. Colette O’Connell, Communities against Microwave Radiation
Mr. Jerry O’Dwyer, Secretary General, Department of Health and Children
Mr. Alan Peacock, Dunmore East Anti-Mast Group
Mr. John Royds, Community Groups Representative
Dr. Anthony Staines, Eircell and Department of Public Health, University College Dublin
Mr. Brendan Tuohy, Assistant Secretary, Department of Public Enterprise
Professor Philip Walton, Esat Digifone, and Department of Environmental Physics, University College Galway.
The minutes of evidence taken in public and the related written submissions are included in the report.
The Joint Committee also wishes to thank the following individuals and organisations for submissions received after it had completed taking evidence in public:
Dr. Elizabeth Cullen, Thomastown, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare
Garda Representative Association
Mr. Donal O’Riordan, Bandon, Co. Cork.
These submissions were considered by the rapporteur and the members in the preparation of the report.
In deciding to prepare a report on Non-Ionising Microwave Radiation Emissions from Communication Masts the Joint Committee were acutely aware of the genuine concerns of the public in this area. Chapters 1 to 7 are a brief synopsis of the key issues, views, concerns and recommendations taken from the written and oral evidence received. Chapters 8 and 9 of the report set out the conclusions and recommendation of the Joint Committee following careful consideration of all the written and oral evidence.
Non-Ionising Microwave Radiation Emissions from Communication Masts
Chapter 1 – Introduction
1.1The use of a mobile phone is a personal decision. In contrast exposure to a mobile phone mast is not. It is the involuntary nature of exposure to mobile phone masts which is the cause of peoples concern.
1.2The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) are the advisers to the W.H.O. on matters of non-ionising radiation and health and have published new exposure recommendations in April, 1998. The European Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (Ohz to 300 GHz) was circulated on 18th June 1998. This proposal recommends adoption of the ICNIRP guidelines.
In the United States, the American National Standards Institute standards were re-endorsed in 1996 and adopted by the Federal Communications Commission for licensing mobile phone towers. In February 1997 the US Environmental Protection Agency added its endorsement to the FCC radio frequency guidelines.
In December 1996 the German Federal Government issued new regulations restricting public exposure to radio frequency emissions.
The ICNIRP and health advisory authorities in Australia, Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom have recently issued statements concerning the risk to health of exposure to phone towers.
In none of these standards, guidelines, recommendations or statements is any government or health advisory authority suggesting that the radio frequency emissions from mobile phone base stations represent a hazard to health.
1.3The strength of the signals are of the order of one-thousandth the strength that would be considered safe by the standards and signal strengths from phone masts are becoming progressively weaker as the years go by.
1.4In Ireland signals from television and radio stations are quite often much higher than those from mobile phone masts but are still well within safe levels and generally accepted as such. Initial measurements undertaken on behalf of the Telecommunications Regulator has indicated high-ish levels in the immediate vicinity of some RTE television transmitters. The implications of these measurements are being assessed.
1.5The present Irish mobile phone market consists of approximately 533,000 subscribers which represents just under 15% of the total population. International research suggests a total market of 50% of the population. Projections for the year 2005 suggest 1.7 million mobile phone users in Ireland. Finland and Sweden lead the EU at present with 40% and 37% market penetration respectively.
1.6An increase in mobile phone use will affect the need for masts. It is estimated that in a rural area a trebling of mobile phone use will result in the need for another mast. In urban areas, as cells get smaller, it will be possible to erect very small masts with reduced visual impact. An 1800MHz system requires 40% more masts to cover the same area as the 900 MHz system.
1.7Number of licences for mobile and personal services can only be limited by the availability of frequency spectrum (Directive 96/2). Radio frequency spectrum set aside for mobile telephony in Ireland can accommodate 3 to 4 operators.
1.8Powers to issue telecommunications licences, including those for mobile phones, now rests with Director of Telecommunications Regulation.
1.9The Minister for Public Enterprise retains consensual role in relation to issuing a licence for the use of radio frequency spectrum.
1.10Responsibility for ensuring compliance with conditions of licence, including non-ionising radiation emissions lies with the Director of Telecommunications Regulation.
Chapter 2 – Current Planning Position
2.1The erection of a telecommunications mast requires planning permission unless specifically exempted under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Regulations, 1997.
2.2Granting planning permission is a matter for the planning authorities and, in the event of an appeal, An Bord Pleanala.
2.3Following a public consultation process the Department of Environment and Local Government issued Guidelines on Telecommunications Antennae and Support Structures in 1996.
2.4The guidelines are intended to cover all relevant planning issues including reference to visual impact and health and safety.
2.5The guidelines require operators to furnish a statement of compliance with IRPA Guidelines (International Radiological Protection Association) or other relevant standards and evidence that installation applied for complies with these standards.
2.6The guidelines advocate the sharing of masts in order to reduce the number of masts. Planning authorities should be satisfied this is adhered to.
2.7Exempt developments include the attachment of antennae for mobile phones to an existing radio mast and the replacement of an existing mast subject to restrictions on size, number and type of antennae. One cannot attach more than 12 additional antennae to existing masts and replacement of same.
Chapter 3 – Current Health Position
3.1The planning guidelines include a health statement agreed by the three Government Departments involved. The health statement was also endorsed by Dr. Michael Repacholi of World Health Organisation.
3.2All significant research in the area is monitored by the Department of Public Enterprise with whom the Department of Health and Children consults regarding human health aspects. The Department must rely on what would be described as peer reviewed scientific research as the basis for any action.
3.3To date the general body of scientific evidence has not established a link between non-ionising radiation at intensities corresponding to the IRPA guidelines and human health.
3.4Research and studies in this area are on-going. The W.H.O. in 1996 launched a five year research programme The International EMF Project to assess the health and environmental effects of exposure to electric and magnetic fields.
3.5Should evidence emerge that this form of radiation is causing an unacceptable public health risk appropriate remedial measures will be put in place immediately by the Department of Health and Children.
3.6The Department of Health and Children are preparing a national environmental health action plan which it hopes to publish before the end of 1998.
Chapter 4 – Current Monitoring of Licensed Operators
4.1The Director of Telecommunications Regulation, whose office was set up in June 1997, is undertaking an audit of the procedures of operators to ensure non-ionising radiation emissions are not exceeded.
4.2The audit includes on-site measurements on sites throughout the country, chosen by specialists, to validate their examination of the operators management systems.
4.3Operators have been requested to prepare themselves by way of internal audit.
4.4The audit will be undertaken by independent specialists.
4.5The Director will have audits carried out on an annual basis.
4.6The Director will publish the results of these audits, on all masts which should be numbered and identified.
Chapter 5 – Community Groups Concerns include:
5.1Lack of consultation in relation to the location of masts;
5.2The information made available on health hazards is not complete;
5.3The erection of masts in close proximity to private dwellings or property, will result in monetary devaluation of the property;
5.4The visual impact of the masts are not acceptable;
5.5The siting of the masts in urban settings may be in breach of County/Town or other development plans;
5.6Masts which are over 100 feet high and situated only thirty or forty feet from private property give rise to concern, for the safety of the property and anybody living therein;
5.7The masts groan and whistle during high winds and are a source of annoyance to anybody living in close proximity;
5.8If masts should collapse during a storm or for any other reason, naturally the destruction of property and the loss of life is a real possibility;
5.9Lack of information in relation to the level of emissions from masts.
5.10Reservations about the use of another State agency to carry out the independent monitoring system.
Chapter 6 – Community Group Recommendations include:
6.1The Government should adopt a level of electromagnetic radiation exposure not exceeding 0.001 microwatts per cm▓ in the vicinity of house(s), school(s), hospital(s), etc., receiving the maximum field strength from a transmitter;
6.2No base station transmitter/MMDS transmitter be allowed to be sited nearer than one kilometre from any residence or building where people congregate;
6.3Installations be limited to areas where people do not have to spend more than a working day;
6.4Consideration be given to the use of modified high mast lighting columns as a suitable structure for use on roads but away from residential areas and schools;
6.5Monitoring equipment, financed by operators, shall be permanently available to those exposed to the maximum held strength so that a continuous record shall be available for inspection by Government personnel and local residents;
6.6A public health indemnification policy be provided by operators;
6.7A formal method for determining objectively that any particular location is one of LAST RESORT be established;
6.8Consideration be given to the question of compensation for disaffected property;
6.9Planning laws should be strictly observed and that in cases of flagrant violation of planning permission demolition rather than retention be required;
6.10The consent of residents must always be sought and granted before any base station is erected;
6.11There must be uniformity throughout the country in companies' applications to install base stations;
6.12Planning permission must be required in all cases;
6.13Co-location should only be countenanced in remote locations;
6.14A truly independent monitoring system of exposure levels must be put in place and monitoring carried out on a regular basis;
6.15Efforts should be made to conceal base stations to reduce the visual comfort;
6.16Microwave screening for homes, schools, hospitals near base stations be provided;
6.17A responsible, independent body to advise both central and local government, and communities on the various aspects of the telecommunications industry and the technology being used is needed;
6.18Regulations should replace the present guidelines prepared by the Department of Environment and Local Government.
Chapter 7 – Views expressed by mobile phone licence operators include:
7.1Policy commitment to:
(i)minimising the number of masts,
(ii)minimising the visual impact of masts,
(iii)consulting with local communities, and
(iv)accommodating local concerns while keeping in mind licence obligation to State and duty to customers.
7.2Recommendation that the Director of Telecommunications Regulation put in place independent procedures for the monitoring of emissions from equipment used in radio based technologies, including mobile phones.
7.3Recommendation that the State should meet the public’s need for information by drawing up a panel of State accredited experts in this area and that these scientific experts be made available on a needs basis to local communities to answer genuine questions and concerns on the issue.
7.4Recommendation that the State should take a position on the health issue on the basis that if it is happy to licence radio based technologies it should let the public know that it is doing so in the belief that the technologies pose no known health fears.
Chapter 8 – Conclusions of Joint Committee
8.1The Joint Committee considers that the evidence available at present does not indicate an unacceptable health hazard from microwave (300 MHz to 300 GHz) emissions within IRPA guidelines from telecommunications masts and does not consider that the precautionary principle should be invoked in this instance.
8.2The Joint Committee accepts that should any such evidence become available the appropriate remedial measures will be put in place immediately by the relevant Department.
8.3The Joint Committee should ensure that any recommendations it will make should have a minimum impact on increasing expenditure and liability on the part of the State.
8.4The Joint Committee are of the opinion that a significant element of the anti-mast movement has arisen due to a lack of consultation with the local people particularly in relation to exempted mast development. Obligations to have sufficient masts in place at certain times to meet licence conditions are not acceptable reasons for this lack of consultation.
8.5The Joint Committee also are of the opinion that the lack of a public information programme in this area has led to unnecessary fears and anxiety and false beliefs such as suggestions that the levels of microwave emissions can be turned up or down by significant amounts.
8.6The Joint Committee considers that a comprehensive, up-to-date mobile phone network is essential to the continuous economic growth of the country and will be particularly beneficial to the on-going development of employment in the services sector. The Joint Committee also considers that the health and well-being of the population are of paramount importance.
8.7The Joint Committee considers that there is prima facie evidence of breach of planning permission in some cases and are not satisfied with the stated response of planning authorities in this area.
8.8The Joint Committee considers that maximum use of co-location should be made and that any planning application for a new mast should clearly state that co-location use in the area has been maximised. The Department of Public Enterprise should give serious consideration to creating a situation where co-location is the norm provided that exposure to microwaves is within IRPA guidelines.
8.9The Joint Committee fully agrees with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform policy to ensure that the Gardaí:
(i)are supplied with the equipment they require for the effective conduct of their operations to prevent and detect crime;
(ii)are at least as well equipped technically as those whose activities represent a threat to their fellow citizens; and
(iii)do not find themselves tackling crime with one hand tied behind their backs.
8.10The Joint Committee fully endorse the Garda Commissioners' belief that the future policing of this country requires that the Gardaí have the infrastructure, framework, wide area and local area networks to provide communications systems for the next millennium and consider that the threats of transnational organised crime, including illicit drug trafficking, money laundering, computer crime, illegal movement of persons, from which this country is clearly not immune have made this requirement a priority.
8.11However the Joint Committee considers that it is not necessary to build hundreds of masts that are unsightly and may be physically dangerous in storms, etc., at every Garda Station in every town and village in the country. The required masts should be sited outside the towns and villages and as far as possible from any occupied houses.
8.12The Joint Committee considers that a demonstrable independent monitoring system should be put in place in compliance with the public service tendering procedure and notes the concerns expressed by Community groups about the involvement of a State agency for this purpose.
8.13The Joint Committee considers that provision for indemnification by licence holders would alleviate some of the concerns of the public.
Chapter 9 – Recommendations of Joint Committee
Planning and exempt developments
9.1Statutory provision for mandatory guidelines should be made at the first opportunity. These guidelines should have regard to the fact that health and the well-being of the population are of paramount importance.
9.2The mandatory guidelines should require B.A.T.N.E.E.C. (Best available technology not entailing excessive costs) in each case where a new mast is being constructed or an existing mast is being amended substantially.
9.3In cases of breaches of planning permission the guidelines should provide for a substantial fine and the replacement of the structure with the best available technology.
9.4The mandatory guidelines for erecting new masts should include the requirements:
(i)to minimise the number of new masts;
(ii)for statement that co-location of the base station or transmitter is not possible/available;
(iii)for minimum visual impact having regard to B.A.T.N.E.E.C. for all planning permission cases.
9.5There should be provision in the planning guidelines, where a local community is not getting a satisfactory reply from a local authority in relation to complaints.
(i)To have better information on how the local authority deals with complaints, objections and that the planning files be available to the public at all stages of the planning process.
(ii)While accepting that the primary responsibility for enforcement of the planning regulations rests with the planning authority, a complainant should know on what basis the planning authority decided whether or not to proceed in any breaches of the planning acts.
9.6The mandatory guidelines should provide for the following in relation to exempt developments:
(i)consultation with the local community on location, if possible, height, design, disguising, colouring and camouflaging;
(ii)accommodation of local concerns, if possible, having regard to licence obligations and duty to customers; This does not free the companies of their common law obligations not to endanger, damage or cause nuisance to the general public and to property;
(iii)a code of practice should be drawn up for mobile phone mast development, which is exempted under the planning acts;
(iv)provision that masts over ten years old should be replaced by B.A.T.N.E.E.C. where local community requests this.
9.7The Director of Telecommunications Regulation should appoint an independent body/organisation from 1999 onwards to monitor all communication masts and the non-ionising radiation emissions from them. The Director should satisfy the reservations of Community groups if another State agency is being used for this purpose. The costs of monitoring shall be borne by the licence holders.
9.8The number of masts to be monitored each year by the independent body appointed should be such as to ensure that all masts can be monitored on a random basis in a five year period.
9.9The Director should make arrangements so that the independent body is available to any community group/individual to measure emissions from a mast on payment by that group/individual of an appropriate fee to cover the costs involved.
9.10The Director should establish a database of all masts to which the public shall have access having regard to any security considerations, if considered appropriate, after consultation with the relevant Departments.
9.11The Director’s annual report on monitoring by the independent body should include information on the number of masts in each local authority. The Department of Health and Children should supply the Director with the latest public information in relation to health risks for inclusion in her annual report.
9.12The Director should make a database on masts located in each local authority available to that authority to which the public shall have access at local level.
9.13The Director should obtain copies of the internal monitoring reports which each licence operator prepares. These should be compared with reports prepared by the independent body.
9.14The Director and the Department of Public Enterprise should take whatever steps necessary to ensure that maximum use is made of co-location.
9.15The Department of Health and Children should examine the report commissioned by the E.C. on electrosensitivity and advise if its recommendations could be usefully implemented in Ireland.
9.16The Department of Health and Children should set up a panel of medical experts from which individuals, who consider their health is affected by masts, may select three to carry out medical examinations on payment by the individual of an appropriate fee. This fee will be refunded to the individual in a case where the medical experts agree that health problems are attributable to masts.
9.17The Department of Health and Children should include a statement in its forthcoming national environmental action plan setting out clearly the up-to-date position in relation to microwave radiation and human health.
9.18The Department of Health and Children should supply the Director of Telecommunications Regulation with the latest public information in relation to health risks for inclusion in her annual report.
9.19The Department of Public Enterprise should put in place a suitable public information programme to inform the public on the facts concerning microwave emissions from communication masts and their compliance with IRPA guidelines.
9.20The licence operators should immediately adopt a policy of consultation in all cases of developments which are exempt from planning permission.
9.21The licence operators should examine the issue of indemnification with a view to providing same as soon as possible and where possible.
Seán Doherty, T.D.
Chairman of the Joint Committee
Imeachtaí an Chomhchoiste
Proceedings of the Joint Committee
Thursday, 12 November,1998
1.Chruinnigh an Coiste ar 2.35 p.m.
2.Comhaltaí i láthair.
Bhí na comhaltaí seo a leanas i láthair:-
Na Teachtaí Seán Ó Dochartaigh (i gCeannas), Máirtín Ó Brádaigh, Aibhistín Ó Comhraí, Breandán Ó Dálaigh, Nollaig Ó Floinn, Trevor Sargent, Emmet Stagg, Ivan Yates agus an Seanadóir Seán Ó Críogáin*.
3.Dréacht-Tuarascáil maidir le hAstaíochtaí Radaíochta Micreathonnaí Neamh-Ianaíche ó Chrainn Chumarsáide.
Chuir an Cathaoirleach an Dréacht-Tuarascáil faoi bhráid an Choiste chun a breithnithe.
Aontaíodh an Dréacht-Tuarascáil.
Ordaíodh: Tuairisc a thabhairt dá réir sin.
Chuaigh an Coiste ar athló ar 4.50 p.m. go dtí 2.30 p.m. Déardaoin, 26 Samhain, 1998.
1.The Joint Committee met at 2.35 p.m.
The following members were present:-
Deputies Seán Doherty (in the Chair), Martin Brady, Austin Currie, Brendan Daly, Noel O’Flynn, Trevor Sargent, Emmet Stagg, Ivan Yates and Senator John Cregan*.
3.Draft Report on Non-Ionising Microwave Radiation Emissions from Communications Masts.
The Chairman brought forward the Draft Report for consideration.
Draft Report agreed to.
Ordered: To report accordingly.
The Committee adjourned at 4.50 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Thursday, 26 November, 1998.
AN COMHCHOISTE UM FHIONTAIR PHOIBLÍ AGUS IOMPAR
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ENTERPRISE AND TRANSPORT
Déardaoin, 26 Márta, 1998
Thursday, 26 March, 1998
The Joint Committee met at 2.30 p.m.
Deputy Martin Brady,
Deputy Austin Currie,
Deputy Brendan Daly,
Deputy Noel O’Flynn,
Deputy Ivan Yates.
Senator Enda Bonner_,
Senator Peter Callanan,
Senator Frank Chambers_,
Senator Willie Farrell*.
Deputy Seán Doherty in the Chair.
Chairman: I welcome the Secretaries General of the three Departments. Perhaps you could introduce your officials and make your presentations. This will be followed by a question and answer session.
I thank you all for coming here today. This is a matter of considerable public importance. It has been agreed that you will make your presentation today and some time in the future we will invite Esat Digifone, Eircell and any other interested parties to attend to give their views.
Mr. Loughrey: I have brought along all the relevant departmental officials so we should be able to answer any questions posed by the committee. My officials include:
Dr. Tom McManus is Chief Technical Adviser to the Department, Mr. Brendan Tuohy, Assistant Secretary in charge of telecommunications and Mr. Eamon Molloy, Principal Officer who looks after the desk.
Mr. Farrelly: I am accompanied by Ms Mary Moylan, Principal Officer in the planning section of the Department of the Environment and Local Government.
Mr. O’Dwyer: I am accompanied by Mr. Ray Ellard, Head of the Environmental Health Unit in the Department of Health and Children.
Mr. Loughrey: I suggest that we keep our presentations brief to allow enough time for a question and answer session.
The mobile phone industry has resulted in the rapid development of infrastructure in line with legal stipulations for each of the licences on requirements of coverage both in terms of population and the geographic cover in the country. The Department has been surprised by the astonishing demands for mobile phones. There are approximately 535,000 mobile phone users in Ireland today. Having worked in the Department of Agriculture I can put this in perspective by saying there are more than three mobile phone for every farmer here. There are more mobile phone users than there are registered trade union members. If we accept that demand is running at 30,000 new subscribers per month, by the end of 1999, unless there is a significant tapering off in demand, there will be more mobile phone users than there are PAYE taxpayers, individual car owners or even householders. If this target is not achieved by the end of 1999 it will be six months later. Where will it all end? International research suggest that it might be up to 50 per cent of the population penetration. Perhaps by the year 2005 we could envisage a situation where there will be 1.7 million mobile phone users here. I am only giving you these details to enable you to get this phenomenon into perspective. The infrastructure to support this must be comprehensive and has already encroached into people’s consciousness both in terms of visual impact and misgivings people may have on other aspects such as radiation. I will allow the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment and Local Government to speak to you on the planning aspect.
Mr. Farrelly: My Department is mainly involved with the planning side of things. The erection of telecommunication masts comes within the remit of my Department under the Planning Acts and requires planning permission. As you will be aware, it requires a decision from the planning authority or on appeal from An Bord Pléanála. The most important consideration is the visual impact of such masts. Some years ago we issued guidelines which provided that as part of the planning application operators are required to furnish the planning authority with statements of compliance with the International Radiological Protection Association guidelines or other relevant international standards. Issues arising with different concerns in that field are not dealt with under the planning requirements which areconditional on the licence being granted by the Department of Public Enterprise. The speedy introduction of mobile phones and the difficulties associated with telecommunication masts was discussed in detail some years ago and resulted in planning regulations being amended to provide specific exemptions for two classes of exempted development to cater for this situation. First, in 1997 an amendment provided for the attachment to an existing radio mast of antennae for mobile phones subject to certain conditions. There are numerous conditions but two of the most important were that you could attach not more than 12 additional antennae to an existing mast and the replacement of same. Except for cases exempted from planning permission under these regulations, planning permission is required. We deal mainly with the physical planning, visual impact, etc. In amending the regulations we tried to ensure we met everyone’s concerns. There was considerable consultation. We also tried too, within reason, to maximise the use of existing masts.
Mr. O’Dwyer: As Deputies will be aware, over the past few years the Minister and his predecessors have received numerous inquiries and representations from individuals and community groups regarding perceived human health risks from telecommunication antennae and structures. Deputies have regularly tabled parliamentary questions on this issue. First, the Department of Public Enterprise and the Department of Health and Children monitors the extensive research being done into this issue on an ongoing basis. Second, directors of public health have reported no adverse affects being caused by such masts. We have no scientific evidence to date which establishes a definite link between radiation emissions from such masts and human ill-health. As Members will be aware, there is a major collaborative international research study being undertaken by WHO. It is probably the largest single definitive study that has been undertaken into this form of radiation in this part of the world.
At a recent conference the scope of that study was outlined, as were the details of the fact sheets published by the WHO as part and parcel of that project. The Department has no evidence of any connection between this form of radiation and human ill-health. However, we continue to monitor the situation very closely. We are in very close association with everyone who is in a position to know and our position remains that if at any stage conclusive evidence emerges that there is a health risk from this form of radiation, we will immediately put in place the appropriate measures to ensure public health is protected. It is perceived that with this phenomenon, as with other phenomena, there is a danger to health from a range of issues outside the control of the Department and the Minister for Health. We are in the process of preparing a national environmental health action plan which we hope to publish before the end of the year.
Chairman: Does Mr. O’Dwyer understand the growing concern throughout the country? There are very eminent people involved with protest organisations, groups and individuals claiming to have evidential support from Sweden and other countries that there is a risk involved. Have you evaluated that situation?
Mr. O’Dwyer: We are aware of the concerns of these groups and individuals. We must rely on what would be described as peer viewed scientific research as the basis for any action. Despite the measures outlined, we have not been able to identify any basis on which we should or could take action. The perception of risk is a factor as has been the case in relation to what occurred on farms from time to time. Despite extensive research it is sometimes impossible to establish any cause. At this stage we must ensure that we are aware of what is happening locally, what the research shows internationally and raise the awareness of directors of public health and others involved in the field.
Deputy Yates: Could I put it to the members collectively that there is no evidence to object to these masts on health grounds, whatever about their unsightly feature in scenic locations. In effect the State has been very cowardly in not saying publicly that these masts are safe. If they are not safe why licence them? In other words, you have already bought into the process by licensing these masts and by not saying definitively that they are safe you are, in fact, fuelling these doubts and these objections and making the position worse. Eircell and Esat are the meat in the sandwich and are left hang out to dry in that when people complain their reception is not good the response of these companies is that they need to erect more masts. You cannot say, on the one hand, it is safe, and, on the other, research is ongoing. It would be better to be more definitive.
I wish to make a point to the Secretary General of the Department of Public Enterprise. At present monitoring the levels of radiation is a matter for the company who erects the mast. One of the difficulties those companies experience is that the general public have doubts about the credibility of the monitoring because it is self-monitoring. The public feel that the company will say it is within safe limits. In the interests of public health and credibility it would be prudent to have independent monitoring. When this issue was raised, the Director of Telecommunications Regulations, who seems to be answerable to no one, said she would do random checking as is done by the mobile phone companies. If this issue centres around credibility, either the Regulator, Department or an independent body should carry out this monitoring and charge it to the companies. I am not suggesting we give the company something for nothing but it is not a money issue, it is a credibility issue.
Regarding Garda masts, I understood the solution to this problem in terms of the roll-out plans of Eircell and Esat was that they would piggyback on to the Garda masts and the locations where there were already antennae for their own security communications systems. Are these antennae exempt from planning permission? I believe there are more problems with Garda sites than with other sites, because there is allegedly a concentration of antennae for both the mobile telephony companies and for the Garda. This means they have become a focal point for objections. I would like some briefing material on whether it is still the case that co-location sites are seen as the preferable solution to this or if they have run into more difficulties now that people are raising questions about these masts.
In summary, you should come out straight and say these masts are safe and face down objectors in terms of State apparatus. Secondly, given the failure of the Director to do so, will you put in place an independent monitoring system which the companies should pay for? Finally, what is the position about co-location, is there agreement between the companies and is that likely to proceed on Garda locations?
Mr. Loughrey: Deputy Yates mentioned that we may be part of the problem by allowing perceptions to grow by being a little too timid, Esat and Eircell being the meat in the sandwich and concentration of the masts, notably on Garda sites. I will ask Dr. McManus to address all elements, particularly the technical elements, but in order not to pass the buck, I will give a quick response. Deputy Yates may well be right. Perhaps we have not been quite as affirmative in public as we should have been. We had a conference earlier this month and I thought we came out affirmatively afterwards, but if there is a perception problem we must look at that.
Deputy Yates: The point was put to me that if you are so sure why have a conference? The conference and the tone in which it was introduced suggested that this matter is something that must be looked into. In fact, the conference created more doubts.
Mr. Loughrey: It would sound arrogant and perhaps be objectively wrong if we were we to slam the door and say that, regardless of the fact that research is being carried out on this issue world-wide, we know more than the World Health Organisation. We keep monitoring the cumulative evidence in this area and we must keep an open mind on this issue as we, too, are seeking the truth. If anything arises which causes a scintilla of doubt in our minds, we will be the first to blow the whistle. Perhaps we have not been informative enough to date.
The Deputy asked whether we were throwing too much back on the two companies which exist at present or any others which might be in the market in the future. I am not here on behalf of the Director as she can answer for herself but she has put in place something akin to an audit. If KPMG or Price Waterhouse are asked to carry out an audit, they do not look at every invoice, rather they look at a random sample of invoices. Such an audit trail usually stands up to scrutiny if it is soundly based statistically. That is analogous to the system which the Director, who acts independently, is putting in place. If it proves to be inadequate, the Director will, I am sure, recognise that and we will able to discuss the issue openly with her without compromising her independence.
Deputy Yates: The fact that the random audit relates to data compiled by the companies is the one which gives rise to the credibility gap. Objectors point out that the original data was issued by the companies rather than independent sources. There is a fundamental weakness there.
Mr. Loughrey: Monitoring can form part of the cost passed on to the industry.
I am aware that Dr. McManus has carried out his own independent testing and I will let him answer the Deputy’s concerns in that regard. The issue of concentration levels, most notably in regard to Garda masts, was also raised. I will ask Dr. McManus to address whether the concentration levels allowed on the recommended co-location policy of the Department of the Environment and Local Government stand up to scrutiny.
Mr. Farrelly: On the planning requirements for Garda masts, our policy was to encourage the joint use of existing masts. The companies themselves also raised that issue. Hence, we amended the exempted development regulations to provide that whether a mast was a Garda one or otherwise, up to 12 additional antennae could be provided to meet the requirements of separate companies. Therefore, this is exempted development in urban or rural areas subject to various conditions being met. The main condition is that no more than 12 separate antennae can be added to an existing mast. If a company wishes to add more than that, it must seek planning permission.
Deputy Yates: Would most of these mastheads already have 12 additional antennae?
Mr. Farrelly: The Garda mastheads would not be equipped with 12 additional antennae.
Deputy Yates: Would additional antennae on Garda mastheads not answer the planning problem?
Mr. Farrelly: I cannot answer for the Garda or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This is a matter for the companies themselves to negotiate.
Deputy Yates: Is there a problem in regard to resources?
Mr. Farrelly: I would not consider it to be a money problem or a problem with resources. I am sure the companies would be very happy to add extra antennae and pay for the cost of doing so.
Dr. McManus: I will deal briefly with Deputy Yate’s questions. He asked why we cannot admit these mastheads are safe. The problem is that people continuously seek reassurance on this matter. I am sure that if 11 of the 12 apostles were to reassure everyone masts were safe, there would still be a large number of people who would not believe them. The mobile phone user uses his or her phone voluntarily-----
Deputy Yates: I never referred to a civil servant as an apostle.
Dr. McManus: -----but exposure to phone masts is something which everyone experiences, whether they want to or not. It is the involuntary nature of exposure to phone masts which causes people concern.
A strong historical parallel can be drawn here with exposure to high tension power lines. No really strong evidence was ever provided that these posed any hazard or danger. Nevertheless, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research was carried out in this area which is just now coming to a close. The net result of that research is that an announcement will probably be made by the end of this year or the beginning of next year that electromagnetic fields from high voltage power lines do not present any hazard to people’s health. If one observes pigs for a period of 20 years and does not witness one flying, one can safely state that pigs cannot fly. Similarly, on the basis of spending $100 million dollars on research and finding no adverse effects, one must say “enough is enough“ after a while. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to say that yet in regard to mobile phones.
There are two aspects to the mobile phone question; one relates to the mobile phones themselves and the other to the general public which experiences the fields emitted by the mobile phone masts. The mobile phones themselves generate fields which are easily 1,000 to 10,000 times stronger than the fields being experienced in this room from mobile phone masts.
The concern here is that the fields experienced by the mobile phone user are actually quite new. Prior to the advent of mobile phones, the only people who ever approached exposure to fields of these strengths were people who worked as repair men for television companies whose work took them near masts and military personnel who spent time in jets or on warships bristling with radar, guided missile systems and so on. The various safety standards which have been developed over the years were based on animal exposure studies which were basically initiated by the military because it was worried about its pilots. The first such studies aimed to find out what safe levels of exposure were for military personnel.
By applying huge safety factors to this, we have now derived current safety levels. At Mobile phone frequencies these safety levels are 4.5 watts per square metre. A typical exposure from a mobile phone mast is one millionth of a watt per square metre. However, the first mobile phones produced fields of approximately 4 or 5 watts per square metre. Six years ago, a Florida man sued NEC America for his wife’s death as a result of a brain tumour, which he attributed to overuse of a mobile phone. The man was subsequently interviewed on the Larry King Liveshow and the following day the stocks in Motorola and all of the other big phone companies plummeted. The lines to all of the health advisory authorities in the United States and Canada were jammed with people calling to find out whether mobile phone use was dangerous or not. Within days, the Food and Drug Administration had to issue an announcement stating that no real evidence was available to indicate that mobile phone use was harmful. However, the exposures were sufficiently close to the standards which existed that the regulatory authorities and the governments were obliged to check out the matter and elicit whether the standards were actually safe enough and whether there were possible hazards associated with mobile phone use. That research is still ongoing. At this stage, we can say quite clearly and categorically in response to the many inquiries received that the strength of fields produced by telephone towers are no different and often a great deal less than the signals produced by television and FM radio. We have just completed a small survey of three different locations; one involving a person who lives near a hill in Cavan which is bristling with masts. About 90 per cent of his exposure comes from an FM radio transmitter. Interestingly, we detected 40 to 50 significant radio signals at each of these locations between 30 megahertz and 1,000 megahertz. We only have equipment to cover that range. We detected about 50 broadcasters. In each of these three cases one of the signals represented 90 to 95 per cent of the total strength. In County Cavan it was an FM radio.
At another location, a horse racing stable complained that the performance of its horses on the track had not come up to expectation and we found that the strongest signal was from a UHF televisiontransmitter. In the third case it was the telephone mast which provided the strongest signal. In absolute terms, the strongest of the signals we measured was the FM radio, the next was the UHF television and the third was the telephone mast.
One of the things which is happening with mobile telephone masts is that there are so many people using them and so many being purchased. By the year 2000 or 2003 there are expected to be more mobile telephones in use than those with a wire into the wall. The masts can only handle a certain number of simultaneous calls. In Dublin a single mast can handle about 40 calls. This could rise to 80 if there is a doubling up of aerials - this would mean that one would have an Eircell and an Esat. In country districts one might only be able to handle seven calls simultaneously where one has a mono-pole mast. The problem is that as more and more people wish to use these telephones and the size of Ireland does not change, the cells have to get smaller. This means that more cells have to be put in. Where once there was a mast covering an area of 2 kilometres in diameter, more masts have to be put in, each one covering a smaller area. There are only a limited number of frequencies and the same frequencies are used over and over again. In order to prevent signals from one cell getting into another cell which is operating on the same frequency, it is important that the signal strengths are kept as low as possible so that they are confined largely to the cell in which the mast is centred. As a result we have noticed with our measurements that the strength of fields from the mobile telephone towers in Dublin is declining and will continue to do so.
Senator Bonner: I have a particular interest in this issue as I was the Fianna Fáil candidate in the general election who lost the safest Fianna Fáil seat in Ireland. I do not believe that a Minister would have retained the seat had he stood in the situation with which I was faced. I always had a great interest in this area since I went back to Donegal over 20 years ago to open an accountancy practice. At that time I professionally helped the original properly-constituted friendly societies formed to assist the local communities with deflector television systems when there was no alternative as the mountains in west Donegal blocked the signal from Northern Ireland. Poor legislation was enacted. Good legislation was enacted in the Houses of the Oireachtas for the majority of rural areas all the way down to Kerry which could not get the British stations. However, no one stood up and said that there were parts of Donegal and north Mayo which have helped themselves. I still believe that something should be done within the Department. Deputy Yates referred to the regulator’s report, which I have not yet received, and stated that the report has not dealt with this situation. This situation will not be improved when digital television is introduced.
Chairman: Does the Senator have a question?
Senator Bonner: Having attended the conference from start to finish I am far more aware of what is involved. I went into the conference with doubts and came out of it reassured in many ways, particularly by Mr. John McAuley, the Irish person who spoke. He raised one issue about which I would like to ask Dr. McManus. He stated that as a result of the studies he has done on emissions from masts he can categorically state that they are well below the accepted standards. He did not confirm that those standards were acceptable. In other words, he could only deal with his area.
I would also like to ask a question about the planning or lack of planning requirements. Today I was with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he met a delegation from Castlefin which has a major problem. I understand that it is possible to double the width of the base on an existing mast. I understood that if an existing mast was above a certain height, one still had to seek planning permission. Can this be clarified?
Dr. McManus: I can answer the question on standards but I will pass on the other question. The Senator asked if the standards were adequate. This is something which everyone asks and regulatory authorities around the world are forever revising their standards as a result of the interest in mobile telephones and masts. A number of august organisations have been revising their standards in recent months and are in the process of issuing their revisions. For example, the IRPA standard mentioned this afternoon was published in 1988 which pre-dated most mobile telephones. IRPA’s responsibilities for the non-ionising radiation area have been taken over by another WHO organisation called the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. This organisation was formed four or five years ago and has been working on a revision of the IRPA standards. These have been revised and are due to be published next month so they will be available for any further meetings of the committee.
In 1996 the US re-endorsed its standards. In February last year the US Environmental Protection Agency looked at these re-endorsed standards as they related to radio telephone masts and gave them its blessing. In December 1996 the German Government issued new standards. The EU Commission is not planning to issue standards but is putting a recommendation to the council setting limits for public exposure to electromagnetic fields. This will go before the Council of Ministers for approval on 30 April. This will be another important document which will contribute to this debate.
It is interesting that none of these standards guideline recommendations suggest that there is any hazard from exposure to telephone masts. Some countries such as Sweden, Canada and Australia categorically state that there is no risk to health from emissions from telephone masts. They do say, as far as the phones are concerned, that we need to reassure people. Meanwhile, the mobile phone companies are designing better phones which produce the same result with less power.
Mr. Farrelly: I will ask Mrs. Mary Moylan to deal with the Senator’s questions on dimensions of antennae. They are dealt with in very great detail in the regulations.
Mrs. Moylan: As I understand the question, it related to the replacement of an existing mast. The regulations provide that the height of a new mast cannot exceed the height of the existing structure.
Senator Bonner: If the previous mast was 100 metres high can it be replaced by a mast of similar height without planning permission?
Mrs. Moylan: Yes, that is correct.
Senator Bonner: I went to the conference in a doubting frame of mind but I left feeling reassured. With other Oireachtas Members I must now reassure the public. Doubt still exists. Experts, speaking at the conference, recommended that the sensitivities of local communities be taken into account. I suggest that the Departments of Public Enterprise, Environment and Local Government and Justice come to an agreement with the mobile phone companies to defuse the issue. Experts have recommended that masts not be erected in built-up areas. I feel there could be some flexibility on this question.
Dr. McManus: I am a fairly minor cog in the Department of Public Enterprise.
Chairman: We will leave that question until later.
Deputy Daly: I welcome the delegation and thank them for their informative documentation. In the light of continuing consumer demand for mobile phones, how many more masts will be necessary? Is it possible to co-ordinate TV, electricity and mobile phone masts?
Mr. John Loughrey: The Committee has heard from the Secretary General of the Department of Environment and Local Government. It has always been policy to limit the number of masts, if only for reasons of visual impact. The Departments have always sought co-location wherever possible and we have encouraged and facilitated co-operation between the two main companies. Demand is booming. If this were not so, a finite estimate could be put on the number of masts. Unfortunately, despite technological breakthroughs, a limited number of cells can be accommodated on each antenna. It would not be fanciful to say there will be at least 1.5 million mobile phone users by the year 2005. That estimation allows for a dramatic tapering off in demand because, at present demand levels, we will pass the million mark before the end of next year. Extra demand will put a high premium on squeezing more cells onto existing masts or having more masts. Perhaps Dr. McManus would add to that.
Dr. McManus: In rural areas the number of masts will increase in proportion to the number of phones used in those areas. A trebling mobile phone usage in a rural area would probably call for another mast. In urban areas, as cells get smaller, it will be possible to erect very small masts which will hardly be noticed. There are two cells operating, for example, in Dublin Airport - one is in the arrivals hall and one in the baggage hall. If anyone can spot the antennae we have not hidden them as well as we thought.
Mr. John Loughrey: We might be accused of being disingenuous if we did not mention the possibility of a different type of technology licence - the DCS 1800 licence which uses a different frequency. That tends to be more mast intensive.
Dr. McManus: To cover the same area in 1800 MHz requires 40 per cent more masts. That assumes no sharing of existing masts. If we did not have a 900 MHz system and were starting an 1800 MHz system the same degree of phone usage would require 40 per cent more masts. The antennae would be smaller but because, at that frequency, the radio waves cannot get around corners masts might need to be as high as existing masts to ensure a line of sight.
Deputy Currie: In the past Deputies have been told that if they do not ask the right question they cannot expect to get the right answer. The three officials have told us these masts present no health risk. Is there some question that we should be asking and are not? I am not naive. Some people are sincerely afraid of the health risk. There are some who are the victims of scare mongering and some who are scare mongerers because they have other fish to fry. If I were not a politician I would be completely reassured by what the officials have said. Is there an aspect of this question which we ought to be talking about?
Mr. John Loughrey: On the evidence to date and as reviewed by the most reputable international experts there is no health risk whatsoever. It would be arrogant to slam the door in the face of any new research. The Committee have heard the Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children say this. If any evidence emerged which threw doubt on this position we would be the first to make this public.
Chairman: Dr. McManus, in the light of what Deputy Currie has asked, have you ever heard of the Schwarzenburg transmitter in Switzerland? Have you examined the study by
Dr. Theodor Abelin, which states that, given the health risks to residents within 1.5 kilometres of the transmitter - who were exposed to radiation of 100,000 times below the international standard - this standard set by the ICNIRP was not adequate to protect public health? That transmitter was shut down this month. Is this man an expert in the field? Have you a view on this and the point raised by Deputy Currie?
Dr. McManus: In response to Deputy Currie’s question about whether there are things we should worry about, three studies have shown effects. Two studies correspond to the field one would receive if one held a mobile “phone next to one’s head and the other study is the Swiss study mentioned by the Chairman. One was a study of DNA breaks in rat brain cells, conducted by researchers called Lai and Singh. The second was a study of the incidence of lymphoma in transgenic mice by Dr. Repacholi and his Australian team. The third concerned the Schwarzenburg transmitter, which I will consider first.
The transmitter was built in 1939, when Switzerland was surrounded by enemies and felt that objective news should come from somewhere in Europe. It is now 60 years old and has been encroached by housing and similar developments. Following the Moscow Embassy study - which I mentioned in my note and was reported in 1978 - people in that area became concerned about this mast, complained about it and wondered whether it was affecting their health.
It took until 1990 for the Swiss authorities to investigate this. They conducted a study under the chairmanship of Professor Abelin. He considered all aspects of the matter and examined people who lived close to and far away from the transmitter. He looked at all health aspects and concluded there was no increase in disease or illness. He even looked at cattle health and found nothing.
The only thing he found was a greater incidence of sleep disorder among people living nearer the mast than among those living far away from it. How was the sleep disorder measured? It was self-reported. 180 people were involved in the study and they were in three groups - near, far and middle distance. Each person reported, every morning for ten days or so, whether he or she had slept well or whether they awoke after falling asleep.
People reported an incidence of sleep disturbance. As a result of looking at these statistics, he concluded that there were approximately 11 per cent more cases of sleep disturbance reported among those who lived near the mast than among those who lived further away. The exact numbers involved were about 34 people living near the mast having bad sleep compared to 30 people living far away - so four more people living near the mast had sleep disturbance as a result.
As to what was causing this sleep disturbance, this was a short wave radio transmitter with an output of 750,000 watts, which is thousands of times more than a mobile “phone mast. If one lives near a short wave mast one’s water pipes are liable to act as antennae - they will receive the signals and vibrate. It was known that if one’s house was close enough to the transmitter you would get noise.
Chairman: I am sorry I asked the question.
Deputy Currie: I am not sorry you did, Chairman, nor am I sorry that I did, because we will be examining people who sincerely believe there is a problem. Have we examined any transmitters or people in the vicinity of transmitters to see if there is any sleep disturbance attributable to these masts?
Dr. McManus: To my knowledge no work has been done near Irish masts. There are three-----
Deputy Currie: Has anyone suggested that there is sleep disturbance attributable to this?
Dr. McManus: Many people contact me in the Department to complain about sleep disturbance and other problems from which they genuinely suffer, and they attribute them to exposure to electromagnetic fields from telephone towers, television stations and the like. There is not much we can do except sympathise with them.
Deputy Currie: I get a lot of letters myself about different matters. Dr. McManus referred to a number of masts in the vicinity of a hill in County Cavan. Across the Border to the east, in south Armagh, every hill has a mast. Has any investigation been done along the Border about possible effects from these masts?
Dr. McManus: The only cross-Border study I am aware of did not involve masts. It was an investigation about people in Crossmaglen who were concerned about surveillance equipment used by the British Army. This was an area we could investigate under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It was quite interesting. The equipment used by the British Army were infrared spotters and one would have to be within 20 yards before experiencing a potentially hazardous level of emission. A miscreant within 20 yards of the British Army would probably be spotted without the need of this equipment.
Deputy Currie: This investigation did not come across any negative effects?
Dr. McManus: Negative effects were reported in Crossmaglen, which health authorities on both sides of the Border could not prove.
Deputy O’Flynn: I was interested in the last answer because I intended to mention that. How serious are the Department of Public Enterprise and the Department of Health and Children taking the risk to personal health from hand held mobile “phones. I read about the Australian experiments and my first Parliamentary Question related to the dangers of mobile “phones. How conclusive were those tests? The Australians said that radiation was transmitted by mobile “phones to the rats in the experiment. Has Dr. McManus followed the US case in which a surgeon died, allegedly as a result of the use of a mobile “phone, radiation from which caused a brain tumour? His family is taking a test case in the US courts. What medical tests have we carried out to ascertain whether mobile “phones are injurious to health? Have we established an expert group to examine, investigate, evaluate and come to conclusions about the danger of mobile phones?
Dr. McManus: The Deputy asked about the USA case. I try to keep track of the number of people who are suing mobile phone companies in the United States. Up to 15 people are attributing their brain cancers, or whatever, to mobile phones. The problem is that if a third of the population - as I think is the case in the United States - are using mobile phones, they will experience the ills and misfortunes that befall all of us. Therefore, you will get cases of cancer among people who use mobile phones at approximately the same incidence as those who do not use mobile phones, whether mobile phones have an adverse effect or not. Until now, no one has succeeded in winning a case on this subject but, clearly, one cannot stop people going to law.
The Australian study is an interesting one, principally because after years of research we had really found nothing. People exposed mice, rats and rabbits to radio frequency signals over the animals' lifetimes. They also took rats or other animals that had some predisposition to cancers. They found that the animals lived as long and were as healthy whether they were subjected to radio frequency fields or not.
They then thought that perhaps the radio frequency field would accelerate a cancer, so other experiments were undertaken. They took cancerous brain cells from a rat and injected them into the brains of hundreds of other rats. They also applied chemicals to rats' skin to generate cancers. They applied radio frequency fields for the life of the animals. Mice and rats are handy animals to study over a lifetime because they live for about two years. The researchers found nothing.
The researchers then had two ways to go. Should they start increasing the strength of the radio frequency field? If you go down that route the trouble is that you are on the way to the microwave oven. You will kill the animal but it has nothing to do with radio waves, it concerns overheating.
The other way is to look for the most sensitive animal one can possibly find. They used an animal that had not existed in nature before. It was developed and bred specifically for this purpose. It was a genetic animal that you would not have found ten or 20 years ago, called a transgenic mouse. This mouse was so sensitive it would contract lymphomas even when running about happily in a field. The Australians took this most sensitive animal and exposed it to mobile phone signals.
They used stronger signals than we would generally recommend. The strength of power they used corresponded to 0.4 watts per kilogramme. The safety level for a man is about 0.8 watts per kilogramme for whole body exposure. It was a bit on the high side. They exposed 100 mice to the radio frequency field, while a further 100 mice were not exposed. After two years they found 42 of the mice that were exposed had contracted lymphatic cancer, and 20 of the unexposed mice had also contracted it. That was statistically significant. That was one study.
We have found a sensitive animal that is a guinea pig for radio frequency. More tests must now be undertaken, however, to repeat the experiment to see whether it was a reality and not some sort of accident or other effect that was causing the cancer. We then want to expose these animals over their lifetime at different field strengths so we know at what level of field strengths the effect wears off. Then we will have to look for some other animals. If you are going to change standards and promulgate new standards across the world, which have enormous implications for everyone, you cannot do it in an arbitrary fashion. One of the rules that the International Agency for Research on Cancer - which is the leading agency for this type of research - adopts is to say that one must demonstrate the effect in two animals.
Work has already been done by an expert group studying whether mobile phones are injurious to health. The European Commission engaged a team of experts in all sorts of specialties - including medicine, physics and electrical engineering - from across the European Union. They reported in October 1996 and, as far as mobile phones were concerned, said there was no evidence at this stage to suggest that using a mobile phone is a health hazard. There is not enough evidence to give a total reassurance, however, and more research is needed. They recommended to the European Union that a major research programme on mobile phone exposure should be undertaken as part of the fifth framework programme for research which is just about to get going. The expert group reported and action is now being taken on that matter.
Senator Chambers: Do we in Ireland have a definitive view, or any view, on this matter? Or, will we wait until the Europeans tell us what is wrong? Does the relevant Department have a view on whether or not mobile phones are, or could be, injurious to health?
Mr. O’Dwyer: We do not have any specific committee or group such as the Senator mentioned. We have been relying on the results of international research. In fact, research commissioned by the World Health Organisation and the European Union is far more extensive, searching and reliable than anything we could mount here. If the need for a specific study here emerges as the situation evolves or develops, it will be done.
We have had no reports of anybody, who has come to the notice of our public health system, experiencing anything approaching illness as a result of exposure either to masts or phones. We are relying, primarily, on our public health directors and their staff to alert us to anything that may be happening. We have relied, and are relying, on the ongoing results of international research.
Senator Chambers: It is important that, in the public interest, the public should continuously be made aware of the results of research that is taking place nationally and internationally. Concern will not be allayed without credible facts being presented to the public.
It is a fair criticism to say that the development of public facilities has been piecemeal, and licences have been granted in a very piecemeal way. While there is a public fear about the location of masts, there could be a better structuring of the sites, particularly those in close proximity to houses. Sites could be found in most locations if a different approach were taken to that taken by the State agencies.
It was admitted here that retrospective legislation was brought in to allow people erect masts on facilities which were not designed for such purposes. That is a bad way of doing business. We must face up to our responsibilities and plan the location of these sites. If we are firm about the health aspects we should be able to confront our public in a proper and informed way and ensure that planning applications go through.
The licensing was done in a very piecemeal way. It was left to public representatives to carry the responsibility and when companies had problems they lobbied politicians who had very little knowledge of the situation at that time. The State agencies must take responsibility for the way in which this was handled and managed.
There is room for substantial improvement. While we cannot give the public a 100 per cent guarantee in terms of the health aspects, we can give them an informed and up to date viewpoint. It is possible to have a better approach and to find locations which would cause less public upset.
Deputy Brady: Dr. McManus' report states that on 16 December 1996 the German Federal Government issued new regulations restricting public exposure to radio frequency emissions. It states further that a Council recommendation will be put before the Council of Ministers on 30 April. Why was it necessary for the German Government to issue new regulations? Why is it going before the Council of Ministers? There is obviously a problem there.
Do we have a specific policy on the location of masts? The point was made earlier that we can increase the number of dishes and masts. However, I was told by a technical person that that would not meet the technical requirements for increased demand for radio telephones because masts must be placed in strategic locations to provide a proper service.
Deputy Yates raised a very important point at the beginning of the meeting. If there is no risk to health, some authority should be able to give a categoric assurance to the public that that is the case. I recently attended a meeting in north Dublin where we had a problem with the location of a mast. We got an assurance but it was pointed out there were 500 businesses in that area, 80 per cent of which were reliant on the mobile telephone service. Many of those complained to us that they were losing business. We were unable to provide a service to the public because of the perceived health risk but jobs are also at risk.
Why is it necessary to have a third mobile telephone service provider? Will the public benefit from such a service? Will the number of masts increase as a result of giving a licence to a third operator?
Dr. McManus: I did not prepare myself for all your questions so some of my answers may not be quite right. However, I know that until relatively recently there were two different organisations in Germany producing standards for radio frequency. One was DIN, which stood for the German industry norm and which was the German standards institute; the other was the Deutsches Radio Funk Institut, which was the radio institute. They both produced different standards. Germany has tidied this up by having one set of standards which apply across Germany. It has also aligned its standards with ICNIRP standards.
In regard to whether more masts will be required for the new 1800 megahertz standard, I am advised 40 per cent more masts will be required to cover the same area as the 900 megahertz Eircell and Esat masts do. However, I am advised they will be put mostly on rooftops in the Dublin area and may not be as noticeable.
Deputy Brady: If there was not a third mobile telephone operator, would the public get the service it deserves and would we require more masts?
Mr. Loughrey: The textbook answer is that if there are three competitors the consumer will get a better choice than if there are two. Nobody is inferring for one moment, nor is there any evidence, that there would be any collusion between two players in the field, such as Eircell and Esat. However, one can say from worldwide empirical evidence and from first principles that if there is a third player in the market the customer inevitably benefits in terms of price; that, obviously, must be set alongside all the other considerations raised by the Deputy.
Chairman: I understand there are considerable discrepancies between the regulatory bodies of Britain, Europe and the United States. Given they are all First World locations, why is there such a level of discrepancy?
I understand there has been a relocation of masts in Australia away from schools, hospitals and other places where people gather in large numbers. Why can we not ensure that is done here? It would go a great distance towards alleviating the fears and worries of many people. There has been a protest in Carrick-on-Shannon for some months about a school which is in the shadow of a mast. There is no clear, definitive knowledge that there is no danger from such masts; otherwise, we would not continue to monitor and study the situation. There is a lack of consultation and agreement.
Dr. McManus: In regard to radio frequencies, there is very little difference between the UK, Europe, ICNIRP and the US. At 900 megahertz, which is the average mobile telephone frequency, both the UK and ICNIRP standard - and the standard in the EU’s proposal for the Council of Ministers on 30 April - is 4.5 watts per square metre. The US standard at 900 megahertz is 6 watts per square metre.
The reason they are slightly different is that they are all working from the same body of scientific evidence. They look at the level which causes some reproducible injury, damage or hazard to a small animal in a controlled situation and then apply safety factors. Some people just apply different safety factors.
Until April 1997, Australian telephone companies could erect a mast anywhere they wanted. If landowners allowed telephone companies to erect masts on their land their neighbours could not do anything about it. One can imagine the situation which then arose. The outcry in Australia has been greater than almost anywhere else in the world. Under their new Telecommunications Act local authorities can regulate these masts. Local authorities have undertaken this task with gusto. Some have produced regulations saying there should be no masts within two kilometres of an inhabited building.
Chairman: It is easier in Australia than here.
Dr. McManus: That is correct. Since this happened the Australian Government is rowing back a little and has established an Australian Communications Commission which is proposing mandatory standards. While local authorities will be able to give advice on locating masts, the mandatory standards will set emission levels. Also under the new regulations a telephone company can appeal, as is the case here, to a higher authority which can overturn the decision of a local authority.
I have no responsibility for location. If masts were more sympathetically located and if there was more discussion with the general public there would be much less bother.
Mr. Farrelly: We issued guidelines on the general planning issue in 1996 which we could examine in detail. They deal with general issues, including location, pre-planning discussion between developers, the public and local authorities, design, siting and visual impact in the context of urban and rural landscapes. At the same time a problem exists. People tend to focus on a particular site and all opposition is directed towards it. Moving to another site will result in the same level of opposition, albeit from a different group of people. This relates to the concerns people have.
Chairman: Does the RTÉ mast come within the regulations as currently prescribed?
Mr. Farrelly: It does.
Deputy Yates: Are microwave cookers dangerous? Before a mobile rings, one can hear a buzzing sound on the radio or on land lines - it is as if a laser is coming down the line. Is this dangerous?
Deputy Currie: What about electricity pylons?
Dr. McManus: Concerning the buzzing sound described by Deputy Yates, the signal has to get through the walls of a building to the mobile phone. The phone mast detects when the signal has to be increased and responds accordingly. In these circumstances the signal is high powered. The wire on the telephone acts as an aerial. The wavelength of the transmission is 40cms, approximately ten inches. The signal is picked up on the telephone cord.
Deputy Yates: It is also picked up on the radio.
Dr. McManus: That is correct. Microwaves are not stored - it is not like atomic energy. Therefore, switching off a microwave cooker is like switching off a light - there is no more ----
Deputy Yates: What if one digests the food which comes from it?
Dr. McManus: There is nothing in the food. The food may not taste very good but that is not due to the microwaves.
There has been a huge amount of studies carried out on electricity pylons, including epidemiological studies involving populations of millions. The results, which are now coming in, are very indicative that there is no hazard from them. We expect formal, definitive statements on this later this year. As much work has been done on this issue as has been done on mobile phones and we could spend several hours discussing it.
Chairman: I thank the Secretaries General and their officials. I thank Dr. McManus for his contribution. We would be grateful if he would return to the committee at a later date when we will be joined by others. Serious matters have been addressed and Dr. McManus contributed well in providing the information we require.
AN COMHCHOISTE UM FHIONTAIR PHOIBLÍ AGUS IOMPAR
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ENTERPRISE AND TRANSPORT
Déardaoin, 23 Aibreán, 1998
Thursday, 23 April, 1998
The Joint Committee met at 11.40 a.m.
Deputy Louis Belton_,
Deputy Martin Brady,
Deputy Mattie Brennan_,
Deputy Michael Creed,
Deputy Austin Currie,
Deputy Thomas Gildea_,
Deputy Philip Hogan,
Deputy Cecelia Keaveney_,
Deputy Conor Lenihan_,
Deputy Dinny McGinley_,
Deputy Jim Mitchell,
Deputy Denis Naughten_,
Deputy Noel O’Flynn,
Deputy Dick Roche,
Deputy Trevor Sargent,
Deputy Emmet Stagg,
Deputy Ivan Yates.
Senator Enda Bonner_,
Senator Peter Callanan,
Senator Liam Fitzgerald,
Senator Pat Gallagher_,
Senator Paddy McGowan_,
Senator Pascal Mooney_.
Deputy Seán Doherty in the Chair.
Chairman: I welcome all of you to today’s meeting. The Secretaries General of three Departments made presentations to the committee on this issue some weeks ago. Today, we are joined by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda Commissioner, representatives of Eircell and Esat Digifone and persons concerned about the effects of telephone masts, mobile phones and so on.
I thank you all for attending the meeting as I appreciate the demands made on your time and the responsibilities which you have. The committee was anxious to ensure that all interested parties would be afforded the opportunity to make presentations about which Members of the committee could ask questions. We will hear presentations at the outset which, in so far as it is possible, should be kept short. I suggest that those who have written submissions leave them with the secretariat, they will be examined by the committee at a future meeting and given the serious consideration which they deserve. We suggested that each group be allowed ten minutes to make their presentations but perhaps that could be reduced to five minutes, if accompanied by written submissions. That would allow us to examine the various issues at stake.
Prior to their presentation, each person should state their name, that of the group they represent and any particular qualification or expertise they may have. The departmental and State officials should confine their remarks to planning, health and public information issues. Community groups should, as far as possible, indicate their concerns and the basis for them and should outline any recommendations they consider appropriate.
Only committee Members will be allowed to ask questions and, as they are the only people protected by privilege, I suggest that people avoid naming any individuals in the course of their presentations. I now call on the Director of Telecommunications Regulation, Ms Etain Doyle to make her submission. She will be followed by Ms Meehan of Moville Radiation Protection Group.
Ms Doyle: Thank you Chairman. I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline what my office is doing in regard to the monitoring of non-ionising radiation. A short note is being distributed.
There has been a massive increase in the use of radio for individual, industrial and commercial purposes in recent years. The uses include television, radio, mobile cellular phones, cordless telephones, radio navigation systems, satellites and equipment used in industry, medicine and commerce.
All of the technologies have made our lives richer and easier. Mobile phones have greatly enhanced the ability of individuals to keep in touch with each other and have facilitated the dispatch of emergency medical and Garda assistance to the public in both urban and rural environments. Radio navigation systems are essential to ensure safety for air and sea travel.
The rapid expansion of mobile telephony services in Ireland has required the construction of base stations in urban and rural areas across the country to provide coverage. Concern has been raised in the past few years in some quarters as to whether radio signals from these base stations may be a hazard to health.
The role of the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation is the licensing authority for the use of radio frequency spectrum in Ireland. The frequency spectrum is a very valuable national resource, used for the transmission of radio and television signals and a wide range of services. As a licensing authority, we reviewed the situation in relation to non-ionising radiation shortly after our establishment in July last year. In view of concerns about potential dangers to health, we decided to include in relevant licences a provision, which already existed in the mobile phone licences, to ensure compliance with the international guidelines for exposure to electromagnetic fields. These international guidelines cover the permissible public exposure limits to electromagnetic fields in the frequency band 100 kHz to 300 GHz. The radio based services my office licenses come within these frequency ranges.
Members of the committee had a much more extensive and detailed presentation from Dr. McManus at a previous date. The guidelines I am talking about are the ones he referred to and were developed in 1988 by the International Radiation Protection Association in co-operation with the World Health Organisation. These have been reviewed recently and have been updated, but in the light of further research and examination it was felt that the exposure limits in the updated guidelines should remain unchanged. In addition to putting the condition into all licences, we also initiated a compliance audit at the end of 1997. This is an audit of the major frequency licensed operators. When the audit is complete, the results will be published. I have written to the major licensed operators - Telecom Éireann, RTE, Eircell, Esat Digifone and the MMDS operators - advising them that the office is undertaking a comprehensive audit of the procedures put in place by them to ensure that the emission levels to which the public will be exposed do not exceed the levels in the guidelines.
Several different types of radio systems will be audited. They include Telecom Éireann’s microwave point to point links, RTE’s radio and television broadcasting transmitters and the MMDS transmitters, as well as the mobile cellular systems of the mobile telephony companies.
The audit includes on-site measurements of at least 30 sites throughout the country to validate the operators' internal audit information. The sites to be measured will be in both urban and rural locations. They will be chosen by the independent auditors employed to do the work, having regard to output power, antennae type and the quality of the operating procedures in place to ensure compliance. The measurements will be carried out generally without any advance warning to the operators. Some Masts are in places where we would not be able to get access without having advance warning. The tests will include shared sites. It is expected that definite exposure level profiles will emerge for each type of radio system from the site measurements. The operators have also been required to provide the following information for inspection for our auditors - written procedures on ensuring compliance, necessary documentation to ensure procedures are followed, an inventory of radio sites and details of the determination of maximum emission levels, any emission test reports for the site and the most recent internal audit to satisfy the company that the IRPA emission limits are being fully complied with.
The audit, which is similar to a financial audit, will establish the degree to which companies are taking a responsible approach to complying with their licence conditions. I am not working from the premise that the companies have not been taking a responsible approach, but concerns have been expressed and I am doing this, with the co-operation of the companies in order to be able to provide public information on this subject. The audit results will give the public an insight into the care and attention given to ensuring that the IRPA guidelines are never exceeded, not merely a specific test result for a specific mast at a particular time.
Following a tender evaluation process, Forbairt were chosen to carry out the external audit. They are the only Irish agency accredited by the National Accreditation Board to measure the levels of non-ionising radiation from telecommunications masts. They have started their work and it will be completed in June. Preliminary results from mobile telephony sites in Phibsboro and Dunshaughlin show that the maximum exposure levels of non-ionising radiation are at least 1000 times below the IRPA guidelines. The results of the full audit will be published.
There has been a spectacular growth in the number of mobile phone users in Ireland in recent years and we can expect this trend to continue. Predictions for the European Union by the year 2005 range from 35 per cent penetration to 60 per cent. The penetration in Ireland currently is 15 per cent which is close to the European average but well behind the levels in Scandinavian countries, which range from nearly 30 per cent in Denmark to over 40 per cent in Finland as of early February 1998. In addition to an ever-increasing number of people having mobile phones the average call traffic per customer is expected to increase significantly during the period, stimulated by reducing call charges resulting from competition and migration from the fixed line telephone network. My office is currently evaluating applications for the third mobile licence and I expect to announce the winner in June. The third operator will bring further competition. Experience in other countries indicates that this results in price reductions to the consumer. The third operator will bring significant investment to the sector which will expand the national telephony structure.
A Statutory Instrument on Interconnection was signed by the Minister for Public Enterprise in January providing for facility sharing. Sharing is in the first instance a matter for negotiation between the parties but the regulations give my office the power to intervene in the event of a dispute. They also give power to the office to impose conditions in relation to facility sharing, but only after an appropriate period of public consultation during which interested parties would be given an opportunity to express their views. My office is in favour of mast sharing by operators where practical for several reasons. Mast sharing means fewer masts, thus reducing the visual impact on the countryside. It also results in lower costs for operators which can be passed on to the public in the form of lower tariffs. That would be irrelevant if mast sharing resulted in breaches in the guidelines. Where mast sharing occurs there may be a very small increase in the level of non-ionising radiation from the site. However, the increase in the level due to the addition of either a GSM or DCS1800 system will be very small and should not come close to the levels set in the IRPA guidelines.
While some people have expressed concerns, the potential health hazards of non-ionising radiation from mobile telephone masts, the audit underway will show how the companies using radio installations licensed by my office are complying with the international safety guidelines.
Ms Meehan: I am representing the Moville Radiation Protection Group. We are concerned residents living immediately adjacent to Moville Garda Station on which a mast was erected in October. We reject the role of the ICNIRP in setting out guidelines for microwave radiation on the basis of its lapses on both ethical and scientific fields. The ICNIRP guidelines are adhered to by the Government. The guidelines issued by this organisation and adopted by the World Health Organisation is the figleaf by which the State is justifying the monstrous decision to install these microwave transmitters beside people’s homes. The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection is a body of self-perpetuating scientists, an offshoot of IRPA, a nuclear radiation standard setting body which has taken on the task of setting guidelines for public exposure to microwave radiation. It has strong ties to the military and industry.
The ICNIRP is discredited on a number of fronts. When it issued guidelines in 1988 it excluded mobile phones from the guidelines as they were under seven watts of power. This was based on faulty scientific and technical data, i.e. that it is possible to average the radiation from hand-sets over the entire mass of the head. It nevertheless took the ICNIRP eight years to include hand-sets in their guidelines in April 1996. During that time tens of millions of mobile phones were manufactured which may have exceeded the ICNIRP’s own inadequate thermal guidelines. When this group issued its statement in April 1996 reaffirming its 1988 guidelines its chairman, Dr. Michael Repacholi, had the results of his own research which showed a doubling of incidents of lymphomas in mice subjected to GSM radiation. Yet, he did not disclose these findings to his colleagues and only released the results in 1997 when he had relinquished his chairmanship of the ICNIRP, nearly two years after completing his research (in 1995).
Dr. Repacholi, who attended an Irish Government hosted conference on March 6, 1998, spent most of the day downplaying the significance of his own research results. On the Pat Kenny radio show that morning he stated that the levels of microwave radiation exposure used in the research were much higher than the levels emitted by mobile phones. Contrary to these statements, however, his own research paper states that the aim of the research “was to determine whether long term exposure to pulse modulated radio frequency fields, similar to those used in digital mobile telecommunication, would increase the incidents of lymphoma in transgenic mice.“ (Radiation Research 147, 1997, page 631).
Recently, Dr. Repacholi was appointed to head the World Health Organisation research into the health effects of mobile phone masts etc. Nobody knows the mechanisms by which he was appointed to this position. On March 28 1998, the short wave transmitter at Schwatrzenburg, Switzerland, was shut down forever. This was a result of an official Swiss Government epidemological study. The Swiss Government department with responsibility for this microwave radiation, the FOEFL, who previously recommended the adoption of the ICNIRP levels, have now stated that these levels are not sufficient to protect the public.
The chief Irish champion of the ICNIRP line is Professor Walton of the Department of Applied Physics, University College Galway. Professor Walton has been paid by both MMDS (microwave TV) and Eircell operators to defend their policy of siting microwave transmitters beside people’s homes. Professor Walton has some interesting ideas on ionising (nuclear) and non-ionising (microwave) radiation. He has stated, in relation to ionising (nuclear) radiation, that there is no evidence of birth defects in the population irradiated by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs or by the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.
I have given you a letter from Professor Walton printed in The Irish Timeson September 26, 1997. Also included is the response of the Chernobyl Children’s Project and of a doctor who travelled to Belarus.
The latest of Professor Walton’s efforts on behalf of the ICNIRP line was to produce a report assisted by three medical experts, paid for by Eircell. This report, in which they purported to review the scientific literature of microwave and electro-magnetic radiation, was totally supportive of the ICNIRP line and its guidelines. We include a critique of this report by Roger Coghill who is familiar with current developments in microwave health effects and literature.
It may be good PR for Eircell to use such distinguished medical people to front its propaganda campaign regarding the safety of its microwave transmitters but it is not good science. The standards set by ICNIRP are out of date and are not credible, considering the amount of research contradicting them coming out every year. It would be in the interests of the Government Departments involved, the operators, the taxpayer and the exposed public that these guidelines be set aside sooner rather than later.
In the light of evidence from Swiss Government sources that the existing ICNIRP safety levels for those living in the vicinity of radio/microwave transmitters (mobile phone base stations/MMDS transmitters) are not sufficient to protect public health, the Government should adopt a level of electromagnetic radiation exposure not exceeding 0.001 microwatt per square cm in the vicinity of houses, schools, hospitals etc., receiving the maximum field strength from the transmitter. The Swiss study discovered sleep disturbance at an exposure of 0.002 microwatts per square cm.
As an immediate means of achieving this reduced exposure no base station transmitter should be allowed to be sited within one kilometre of any residence, school, hospital, child-care centre, nursing home etc.
Monitoring equipment should be financed by the operators and permanently made available to those exposed to the maximum field strength so that a continuous record would be available to Government personnel and local inhabitants.
Full costs of this operation should be borne by the operators.
Existing transmitters subject to review should comply with these conditions.
A public health indemnification policy should be provided by the operators. (None of the operators have public health insurance.)
Chairman: Professor Walton is present and will have an opportunity to reply if he wishes. Mr. Barry Maloney, Chief Executive of Esat Digifone followed by Mr. Brian McMahon of the Cypress Grove Residents' Association will address the Committee.
Mr. Maloney: I thank the Committee for giving me this opportunity to outline our position on ionising radiation from mobile phone and telecommunications masts. It is our hope that an informed debate on this issue will clear up much of the mis-information which has characterised the debate so far, so that all sides can have a better understanding of the issue. The Members will be aware that over the last three years Esat Digifone, under a State-granted licence, rolled out a national mobile network. For the first time in the history of the State a private company has undertaken a project such as this which requires the rolling out of a national infrastructure.
Mobile telephony is now one of the main methods of communication in the modern world. Approximately 170 million people, worldwide, now use mobile phones and this figure is growing by 30 per cent per annum, on average. Esat Digifone operates a digital service using the GSM (global system for mobile communications) standard. With more than 80 million customers, worldwide, GSM is the world’s leading standard. There are currently 251 GSM operators in 109 countries. Our service is no different from that in France, Fiji, Belgium or Bangladesh. It is the same system and operates to a common standard. Because of this, Esat Digifone transmits its service using exactly the same power levels and frequencies as other GSM operators. What is happening in Ireland is no different from what is happening in other countries.
Ireland was not ahead of the pack in introducing competition. In fact, apart from Luxembourg, we were the last EU country to introduce mobile telephony competition. Strict conditions are attached to our licence which mandate us to roll out a national network in a very short space of time. It is important to emphasise this point. We were obliged to have sufficient masts in time to meet our licence conditions. Members may recall that we have already been fined £1 million by the State for not having the required number of masts in place to meet our licence conditions. I am happy to take this opportunity to confirm that we have now met the Phase 2 requirements of our licence. We have done this in keeping with the terms of our licence.
Competition in mobile telecommunications inevitably means the construction of competing networks but before we could offer our service to the public we had to build a network from scratch. We had nothing and unlike the current incumbent, Eircell, we did not enjoy any exemptions from the planning process.
Unlike the current incumbent, Eirecell, we do not enjoy any exemptions from the planning process despite our best attempts. Every new mast built by us must be subject to the full rigours of the planning process, which takes as long as 26 months in some cases. In most other member states licensed operators are not subject to these rigorous controls when attempting to roll out a national infrastructure project. Esat Digifone, an Irish company, employs over 450 people nationally in Dublin and Limerick and has spent £164 million in the Irish economy since its formation.
In its 1996 guidelines, the Department of the Environment and Local Government strongly advised planners to force mobile operators to use existing structures to prevent the proliferation of new stand alone masts. In line with this advice our company has always tried to use existing structures as a first choice. Our network has been constructed using existing ESB, RTÉ, Garda, health board and local radio station masts. We have also sited antennae on top of offices, shopping centres, hospitals, water towers and a church. I am happy to inform the committee that, in keeping with the guidelines of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, over 70 per cent of our network is co-located on existing structures. New masts are very much a last resort, accounting for only 30 per cent of our network.
Our policy is not only to minimise the number of masts, but to ensure that from an environmental perspective there is minimal visual impact where possible. Esat Digifone is committed to consultation with local communities. This has not just been for show - we have moved proposed base stations, for example, in Limerick and Donegal, lowered the height of masts in Westmeath, changed the design of masts in Mayo and Limerick, disguised equipment in Meath in Kildare and coloured and camouflaged equipment where possible. We understand the real fears expressed by local communities, but this does not mean that the fears are based on factual scientific evidence. While we have made every effort to accommodate local concerns we must keep in mind our licence obligations to the State and our duty to customers to provide nationwide coverage, which is what a mobile system is all about. In our experience, concerted opposition to the siting of masts has been confined to a few specific locations. It is interesting that local opposition has been more vocal where we have attempted to site antennae on existing masts and structures.
Members will no doubt be aware of the agreement between our company and the Garda Síochána. Under the terms of this agreement Esat Digifone pays the State a commercial rate for the use of Garda masts. Members should be aware that many of the existing masts in Garda stations are old and in urgent need of replacement. As part of our agreement, Esat Digifone pays for the replacement of these masts which then become the property of the State. This results in a significant saving for the taxpayer. I understand that if Esat Digifone did not exist, the Garda would have had to replace most of the existing structures to meet their requirements, something I am sure the commissioner will address. The environment benefits as the contract means fewer new masts. Without this agreement, many of our towns and villages would be faced with the prospect of a new mast in the local Garda station and another new mast somewhere in the environs. We have limited room to manoeuvre when it comes to location of our masts within the perimeters of Garda stations. The location of the station is what determines where the mast will go.
As mentioned at the outset, Esat Digifone does not unilaterally set power levels or decide the frequency at which our signals are transmitted. The standards laid down by the GSM service are internationally agreed and are not determined by individual operators. Furthermore, the licence granted to us complies with the standards set by the World Health Organisation. The level of emissions from GSM base stations is extremely low, between two and three watts. This can be compared with a walkie talkie which is five watts, FM local radio which is 200 watts or a television transmitter which is 750,000 watts. We have been living with these things for many years.
Despite our confidence that our network meets all the standards, we commissioned Forbairt to undertake a study of our network. It reported that maximum readings obtained from city centre sites in Dublin during peak times showed field strengths more than 13,000 times below these limits. It is important to note that every base station transmits at the same power level. Therefore, we know that all our base stations meet the strict requirements. We are happy that the operation of our network fully meets any standards required.
I wish to introduce Professor Philip Walton, an acknowledged expert whom we have asked to be present as an independent expert in this area. Esat Digifone supports an informed debate on the matter and believe that scientific evidence rather than ill-informed emotion should be used as a basis for evaluating the technology used. There is a large body of evidence to show that radio based technology poses no health risk. Despite scientific evidence, public concern persists. It is unfortunate that the public’s genuine desire for information and clarification on the subject has been confused by some self-appointed experts. These individuals, despite having no recognisable qualifications in this or any other scientific field, have portrayed themselves as qualified to local communities and have stoked up fears, which we understand, by spreading misleading claims about ill effects. Our experience is that some of these so-called experts charge for their services to the extent that a mini cottage industry is fast developing. It is also inexplicable that, despite the fact mobile phones have been used in Ireland since 1995, no Government has supported the radio based industry on the health issue. The State would not have licensed Esat or intend licensing a third operator if there were genuine fears.
It is a matter of some frustration to us that the Director of Telecommunications Regulation has, to date, been reluctant to commission independent monitoring of masts. The director’s approach, which would involve operators carrying out monitoring and Forbairt doing an audit of this monitoring, is not enough to allay public fears. Nobody should be a judge of their own cause.
As a young company at the forefront of the information age revolution, we acknowledge that we must do more than simply state the problems. We have a responsibility to come forward with our proposals for action. In this context I wish to make three recommendations which we feel would help the issue. We would like to see the director put in place independent procedures for the monitoring of emissions from equipment used in radio based technologies, including mobile phones. The only way in which the public can have confidence that this monitoring is being carried out impartially is for it to be done on a completely independent basis and we will support this in every way possible.
We also believe the State should meet the public’s need for information by drawing up a panel of State accredited experts in this area. These scientific experts should be made available on an a need basis to local communities to answer genuine questions and concerns on the issue. We would also like the State to take a position on the health issue. If it is happy to licence radio based technologies, it should let the public know that it is doing so in the belief that the technologies pose no known health fears.
Chairman: We will now hear a submission from Mr. Brian McMahon of Cypress Grove Residents Association. Following this we will have a submission from Mr. Stephen Brewer, Chief Executive, Eircell. If people think they can make their submission in a shorter period of time, they should do so as once we have heard the experts we can embark upon a question and answer session which will be of help to everybody.
Mr. Brian McMahon: I represent the Cypress Grove South and Cypress Lawn Residents Association. We are situated in the area of Templeogue village in the west of Dublin city where a mobile phone mast has been erected within the past month. I appreciate the opportunity to give evidence to the committee. We submitted a two page document for consideration by the committee which I will briefly summarise. We appreciate the committee will be taking an overview of the issue, but the schematic outline attached in the appendix to our document of a case history is instructive and illustrative of what is happening on the ground. Our recommendations arise from this.
We do not have an expert to speak on the health issue, but having read much, listened to media discussions and attended seminars we are siding with the many who preach caution.
In a press release the committee set up by the World Health Organisation to study the non-thermal effects of RF electro-magnetic fields stated:
There is no evidence of any health risk emerging from mobile phone systems but the results are inadequate to draw firm conclusions on this issue. Further research is therefore required. In these circumstances, the UN has decreed progress should be on the basis of least regret so the jury is still out. Those who should be concerned do not seem to be so. There are three State Departments involved as well as An Bord Pleanála and local authorities. Is it a case of too many cooks?
There is an example in Templeogue at present of where considered respect for health, the environment and, to coin a phrase, the man under the mast have all been ignored by a clever packaging of plans presented as being in the interest of the so called common good and no doubt of a few quid. This is a brief history of our problem in Templeogue. Some two years ago the ESB applied to South Dublin County Council for planning permission to erect a mast on their substation. Both the council and, on appeal, An Bord Pleanála refused this on the basis that it would be visually intrusive, that it would not be in accordance for council plans for the area and on precedent.
Within a year, Telecom Éireann made an application on behalf of Eircell based on a very slender mast design which would not be in the least intrusive. They also alleged the site was a location of last resort. The county council again refused but on appeal An Bord Pleanála relented on what was a clever package.
Who decides whether a site is designated as of last resort? Is it the local authority, An Bord Pleanála, the developer or the owner? We could not find out but we have our suspicions. We have suggested at least five other locations in the immediate area away from residential areas and from a school for mentally handicapped children. All they would tell us is that the sites were not suitable, not why.
The mast was erected on 25 March. Was it in accordance with the plans submitted? No. If members of the committee look at the Appendix to our submission, they will see that the mast bears little resemblance to the plan. Eircell engineers must have turned a blind eye to the recommendation made by an An Bord Pleanála inspector when he wrote that the transmitter power output, antenna type and mounting configuration shall be in accordance with the details submitted and shall not be altered without prior grant of planning permission. To our knowledge, no alteration was sought or none agreed upon. We lodged an objection on the day. We understand that on Tuesday of this week the county council agreed that the plan has been contravened. We patiently await the outcome. No doubt Eircell will apply for retention.
With regard to flagrant violation of plans as presented, we are all expected to except the declaration of Eircell that the situation is one of last resort. What guarantee attaches to its declaration that there are no ill health effects. This resumé of a case history gives point to our recommendations, of which we have five. One, limit installations to areas where people do not have to spend more than a working day, and away from schools and residential areas. This is not intended for Garda stations, which are a matter of State security so we are not interested in them. Two, consider the use of modified high mast lighting columns as suitable structures for use on roads but away from residential areas, schools, etc. Three, establish a formal method for determining objectively that any particular location is one of last resort. Four, consider seriously the question of compensation for disaffected property. Five, in cases of flagrant violation of planning permission, require demolition rather than retention.
Mr. Brewer: My name is Stephen Brewer. I am the chief executive of Eircell. I have been in the mobile telephone business 11 years in both the UK and France. I have faced many of these problems before and the result has always been the same. The evidence is well in touch of reality in terms of making sure that there is no health risk.
I thank you, Chairman, for the opportunity to clarify the position of Eircell in that respect. I have a number of experts here, as do my colleagues, who could respond later to any particular areas of concern if that is appropriate.
My objective is to move the mobile telephone business forward in Ireland. Much of what I planned to say has been said by Mr. Barry Maloney. I agree with and support much of what he said.
Eircell, under its licence, is obliged to produce a national network. Despite many technical advances in terms of small base stations, etc., the demands for coverage and capacity mean that this problem will not go away. With a third operator coming, the problem will be increased unless some effective solution is reached to reduce the number of particular sites.
When I came to Ireland two and a half years ago there were 100,000 mobile telephone users. Today there are over 550,000. It is not just for business. We forecast that next year over half a million 999 calls will be made on our service. The service has helped save lives and it will save lives in the future. It is a public service which demands coverage in every community.
It terms of business, the Small Firms Association has informed us that over 150,000 small businesses in Ireland rely on the mobile telephone for their work and services. It is an essential link if one does not have an office. Whether they are plumbers, bakers or candlestick makers, they are using mobile telephones and growing their business in a burgeoning economy.
An Eircell base station, Digifone base station and a third operator’s base station or facility for such will be required as the years go by in every community. The numbers to which Mr. Maloney referred are just the tip of the iceberg. With over 500,000 current users and one million mobile telephone users forecast within the next two to three years, that service is essential to both our communities and businesses.
Eircell tries to follow the proper policies and does not go out of its way to go against the proper processes but we do not plan our coverage; our customers plan it. Where they live and work is where we need to provide our service.
As the regulator said, we follow strictly the guidelines of the World Health Organisation and the European Union. We also take seriously the idea that there could be a problem which has not been discovered by the world scientists, en bloc, so far. I agree with Mr. Maloney that if an independent survey is conducted to follow that, then we too would support it as long as it allays the fears of people and helps us move the mobile telephone business forward in Ireland.
The setting up of Eircell’s independent forum of Irish medical and scientific experts was far from creating good PR for Eircell, it was an attempt to again allay the fears experience and expressed here today. We hope the experts, both Professor Walton and Dr. Anthony Staines, will be here to answer those questions and will satisfy those needs. The bottom line is that the evidence so far is that there are no detrimental effects from exposure to mobile telephone masts.
In the interests of time, I would state that there are currently 550,000 mobile telephone users - a quarter of the electorate in Ireland - and that number will grow to over one million as we go forward to the year 2001. It is supporting business and making it possible, and it is enriching many people’s personal lives. Eircell will continue to take a hand in hand approach with communities and balance the needs and requirements of its increasing number of customers. Eircell also hopes there is a view that mobile telephony is essential if Ireland is to maintain and improve its position as the 11th most competitive nation in the world.
Ms Delorey: My name is Gerardine Delorey. I am representing Carrick-on-Shannon Concerned Residents. The residents of Mullaghmore, Carrick-on-Shannon, County Roscommon, and Summerhill, Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim wish to object in the strongest possible manner to the proposed installation of Eircell and Esat Digifone base stations at ESB sites at the above locations.
We are objecting on the grounds of health, safety and property devaluation because these installations will be injurious to our health, particularly the health of our children. There is also a cancer cluster close to the 110 kV station at Mullaghmore. On 13 February 1997 the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, brought in Statutory Instrument No. 78 which we believe facilitated and accommodated mobile telephone companies, while at the same time infringing the rights of residents. This is why our residents have been engaged in peaceful protest in the wind and rain for the past six months. Deputy Howlin’s Statutory Instrument No. 78 should be referred to the Attorney General to ascertain its constitutionality or otherwise in view of the Supreme Court ruling in the OPW Mullaghmore Lugalla litigation case.
The international standard for the thermal effects of microwave radiation has its origins in the late 1940s. The non-thermal effects of low level microwave radiation has never been adequately addressed or acknowledged by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. Eircell propose to install a base station at the ESB 110 kV station at Mullaghmore, Carrick-on-Shannon. I asked Dr. Tom McManus, chief technical adviser to the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O’Rourke, what research had been carried out on the cumulative effects of electromagnetic fields from high tension lines when combined with microwave radiation from mobile telephone base stations. He replied: “I know of no studies which have specifically looked at the combined effects“. The hypothetical example he gave is not sufficient for our residents. Why does microwave radiation not come under the auspices of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland? Why does the Minister not make a ministerial order to this effect?
The Government and the mobile telephone companies have ignored a substantial body of scientific research which highlights the health effects, urges caution, expresses the need to pursue a course of prudent avoidance and calls for more research to be done. Professor Ross Adey has said that to continue to ignore laboratory evidence for non-thermal effects in the course of standard setting is irresponsible to the point of being a public scandal. Dr. Neil Cherry has said that the allowable public exposure limit must be reviewed downwards if cancer risks, miscarriage risk, sleep disruption and chronic fatigue symptoms are to be reduced. Dr. John Stather, deputy director of the UK’s National Radiological Protection Board, has said that the idea of non-thermal microwave bioeffects must be taken seriously. A number of studies have been published reporting effects which were not necessarily the result of thermal heating.
Dr. John Goldsmith, an epidemiologist at the Ben-Gurion University in Israel, has said that the notion that non-ionising radiation, and in particular, RF radiation, was harmless is no longer tenable. He is harshly critical of Dr. Michael Repacholi and his industry sponsors for the delay in announcing the results of Dr. Repacholi’s study on RF exposed mice, which showed an increase of 42 per cent in lymphomas. Dr. Repacholi has not adequately explained the results of this study.
Dr. Alasdair Philips believes that the GSM digital mobile telephone standard will be found to have been a disastrous choice. GSM signals appear to be biologically active and capable of causing health effects. There is evidence to show that the regular pulsing of GSM signals disrupts important biological processes. Research done by Dr. Henry Lai and Dr. N.P. Singh of the University of Washington, Seattle, has shown increases in DNA breaks in the brains of rats after two hours of exposure to microwave radiation.
The Schwarzenburg transmitter in Switzerland was shut down on 28 March last. Dr. Theodor Abelin’s study of the residents in the area showed health effects at 100,000 times below the international standard and within 1.5 kilometres of the transmitter. That standard set by the ICNIRP was not adequate to protect public health. In New South Wales it is proposed to establish a programme of progressive relocation of all mobile telephone base stations within 500 metres of houses, schools and hospitals. Emissions will be required of not more than.001 microwatts per square centimetre.
Dr. Roger Coghill in his critique on the independent research undertaken on behalf of Eircell has said that it is more concerned with defusing public concern for commercial reasons than attempting a serious review of the present science. None of the these experts I have mentioned was invited to the international conference held in Dublin last month.
The Government must restore to our residents their rights. The consent of residents must always be sought and granted before any base station is erected. I note that Mr. Maloney said residents were consulted. However, our residents were not consulted. There must be uniformity throughout the country in companies' applications to install base stations. Planning permission must be required in all cases. The guidelines for planning authorities must become regulations. We suggest that these base stations should not be within 1,000 metres of houses, schools and hospitals, that microwave radiation exposure must not exceed.001 microwatts per square centimetre and that this should be incorporated into the county development plan. Co-location could only be countenanced in remote locations.
A truly independent monitoring system must be put in place because the objectivity of Forbairt has been compromised by its own objectives. There is a poor understanding of the word “independent“ by the vested interests. Monitoring equipment should be financed by the mobile telephone companies and made available to residents.
The Government must seriously question the standard set by the ICNIRP. All companies and landlords involved must provide indemnification for residents. The ESB, as landlords of these sites, refused to indemnify our residents. It has suggested that the Government will do so. However, the reply of the Minister for Public Enterprise is that the role of Government is to ensure that the most up-to-date standards are applied to emissions from masts.
The statutory instrument introduced by the former Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, should be rescinded immediately by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey. This would put the residents of Summerhill and Mullaghmore on a par with other communities so that we would be in a position to object through the planning process.
The ESB has attempted to deflect all responsibility and liability away from itself. The ESB, telephone companies and the Government have colluded in endangering our health and well being. The onus of proof is on each, individually and collectively, to prove conclusively that the proposed installations are safe. We will not be mollified by loose assertions and vague safety assurances. Those repeated assurances would carry more conviction if accompanied by an offer of indemnification against health effects. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that residents cannot object on health and safety grounds. Have we not learned anything from the blood scandal, the BSE crisis or the asbestos and smoking scares?
Chairman: For the information of the committee, Mr. Seamus Hughes is here today representing the ESB. I ask Mr. Tim Dalton, Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to make his presentation. He will be followed by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Byrne.
Mr. Dalton: I thank you, Chairman, for inviting us here today. I am glad to assist the committee in any way I can by providing information about masts and mobile telephones used by the Garda Síochána. It is likely that at least some of my information will overlap with information supplied by the Garda Commissioner but I am sure the committee will forgive us as this is inevitable.
I am not an expert on or knowledgeable about the technical aspects of telecommunications or radiation or about the health hazards which may or may not be associated with the use of mobile telephones. I have no doubt, however, that other people here will be able to advise the committee fully on these matters.
Radio communications have been an essential aid to the Garda Síochána since its establishment. Radio antennae have been in place on Garda stations since the 1930s. The gardaí now have a number of radio systems which are interlinked in various ways. They can be categorised into the following four broad systems: the provincial system which is used outside Dublin and dates from 1982-3; the Dublin metropolitan system which dates from 1987; the new Cork system which dates from 1995; and special security systems on which others will be able to provide the committee with more information.
The communications mast at a Garda station has two main functions. It allows gardaí on the beat or in patrol cars to communicate with the station and it links the station to other Garda stations - for example, it links a sub-district station to its parent district headquarters. The Garda radio system uses a number of different frequency bands. The gardaí will be able to advise the committee about such bands. These Garda masts are widely distributed throughout the State. There are a total of 704 Garda stations in the State and each station has some form of antennae support structure. These structures can take a variety of forms. The type of structure used is determined by the distance or terrain to be covered from the station.
The current rural system dates mainly from the 1982-3 period. The Dublin system was installed in 1987. The Garda Commissioner has advised that these systems are in need of replacement because of maintenance problems and to improve security, extend coverage and create an integrated system.
Furthermore, as the Commissioner will explain, IT developments mean that the gardaí in patrol cars will be able to access databases and other computer-based systems. The current radio system cannot support data communications for reasons others will explain. The planned system will be able to support secure mobile data communications
Esat Digiphone, the second licensed mobile telephone operator, approached the Garda Síochána in July 1996 with a proposal to co-locate mobile telephony equipment on Garda radio masts or sites on the basis of paying the full rental value of the sites and providing facilities and services to the Garda Síochána which would be of significant operational and strategic value to them. Many of the requirements of the planned new Garda radio system coincide with the requirements of GSM operators in terms of location, type of links and type of masts.
The proposal from Esat Digiphone to co-operate in the development of sites provided the opportunity to reduce the cost to the Exchequer of the development of the Garda radio system. Following detailed discussions and consultations with other Government Departments, the proposal was submitted to the Government for approval.
The Government approved the proposal in February 1997 subject to the finalising of a detailed agreement with Esat Digiphone which would take account of all legal and planning requirements as appropriate. The detailed contractual agreement subsequently concluded with Esat Digiphone in relation to its use of Garda facilities requires them to comply fully with all planning requirements, health and safety legislation, the Radiological Protection Act and all relevant guidelines which may be set down from time to time by the International Radiation Protection Association.
In return Esat Digiphone agreed to pay the full commercial value of each site, as determined by an independent valuer, allow the Garda Síochána access to Esat Digiphone’s other sites as required, install Garda radio equipment and to use Esat Digiphone masts, provide the Garda Síochána with a capacity under the G phone network for Garda communications use, replace or erect new Garda masts where necessary and finally supply the force with a specified number of mobile phones together with free calls for those phones on the Digiphone network. The Commissioner will be able to explain the value of this particular service to you.
The agreement with Esat Digiphone provides for the sharing of masts on 418 Garda stations, 59 per cent of all Garda stations. The agreement made with Esat Digiphone for the use of Garda sites is non-exclusive and it is, therefore, open to other licensed mobile phone operators to seek use of the Garda sites. It will be for the Government to decide, taking all the circumstances into account, whether to permit other operators to use Garda sites.
Work will be required at most of the 418 sites included in the agreement with Esat to make masts suitable for the new uses now contemplated.
On the question of which communications systems are in place and what may arise in the future, Eircell have approached the Garda Síochána and the Minister seeking a similar agreement to that concluded with Digiphone which would provide with access to 260 sites. Many of these sites feature in the agreement with Esat Digiphone. The Eircell proposal is currently under consideration and the Minister will be bringing the matter to the Government for a decision in the near future.
That is a summary of what is currently in place and what may be added to the Garda system in the future.
I am sure you will expect me to comment on the policy considerations which arise insofar as the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is concerned. The basic policy is to ensure that the gardaí are supplied with the equipment they require for the effective conduct of their operations to prevent and detect crime. It is policy to ensure that the force is at least as well equipped technologically as those whose activities represent a threat to their fellow citizens and to ensure the gardaí do not find themselves tackling crime with one hand tied behind their backs. The Garda Commissioner makes an assessment as to what is required operationally. This does not just apply to mobile phones, it applies to other technology. The Department endeavours to meet that requirement.
You may ask whether there are any controls or does the Department go along with the requests without raising questions about safety. The Department, as part of the normal exchange which takes place with the force, will naturally raise issues of this kind if the officials concerned believe there are reasons for doing so. While repeating the point that I am no expert on telecommunications, radiation emissions and their possible health effects, I am expected to say whether considerations of this kind came into the reckoning in the case of the Digiphone agreement. The health issue was considered, although I would be the first to acknowledge that people who are convinced there are health risks involved in using some modern communications equipment may feel that more weight should be given to advice on which they place greater reliance. Insofar as the Department is concerned, the International Radiation Protection Association has prescribed internationally recognised guidelines to which the operators must conform. Reference is made to these guidelines in the appendix to the guidelines for local planning authorities on the siting of telecommunications antennae and support structures, which were issued by the Department of the Environment in July 1996. Digiphone are required, under the contract made with them, to comply fully with the standards set out in those guidelines. Our firm understanding is that the Garda and Digiphone operations were, and remain, well with in the prescribed safety limits.
Most Departments, when assessing risks which may or may not be associated with the use of Garda masts or mobile phones, would tend to proceed on the basis that a body such as the IRPA should be regarded as authoritative until there is clear and widely accepted evidence to the contrary.
From the Department’s perspective, there are competing considerations involved. On one side there is the use of equipment by the Garda Síochána which, on the advice available to the Department, is well within the safety limits which are authoritatively prescribed, though others may dispute the quality of that advice. On the other side there is the risk that if one were to deprive the gardaí of the opportunity of keeping up to date with modern means of communications, their capacity to deal with crime would be considerably reduced. The risk in that situation is real and immediate. It is a risk which would be likely to result in injury and suffering to many of our fellow citizens by allowing for the empowerment of criminals but not those whose job is to thwart their activities.
I will do my best to answer any questions the committee may have and if I do not have the required information now, I will supply it later.
Chairman: I now call on Garda Commissioner Byrne and after that, Mr. John Doyle of the Cavan-Monaghan Anti-Mast Group.
Garda Commissioner Byrne: I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this debate and give the Garda Síochána’s views on this issue. Like the Secretary General, I am not an expert in this area but with me is the head of the telecommunications planning section, Mr. Liam Hamilton, who is here to answer any questions at any stage where you require the technological side to be addressed.
Radio communications have been an important aid to An Garda Síochána almost since the establishment of the force. Radio antennae have been in place on Garda stations since the 1930s and gardaí have used hand portable radios since the 1960s.
Garda patrol cars can operate over a wide area. the transmitter frequency, signal strength and mast height are all selected so the patrol car has radio coverage throughout its particular district. In some areas this may mean an additional hilltop transmitter is required. Hand portable radios, on the other hand, have a limited range of only three to four miles and therefore they require transmitters at the centres of population in which most foot patrols operate. That requirement is usually met by masts located at the Garda station.
The communications mast at a Garda station has two main functions: to allow the gardaí on the beat or in patrol cars to communicate with the station and to link the station with other Garda stations.
The Garda radio system uses a number of different frequency bands. In rural areas the 80 Megahertz band is used by patrol cars and to link stations to their parent station. hand portable radios, in both rural and urban areas, use the 160 Megahertz band. Patrol cars in Dublin use the 460 Megahertz band.
Point to point links in the microwave bands are also used to link stations to their control centres. These are currently confined to Dublin and Cork cities. these use the 15 Gigahertz, 22 Gigahertz and 38 Gigahertz bands. In rural areas the interconnection of stations is achieved by using a combination of single channel narrow-band links in the 460 Megahertz band and shared broadcast channels in the 80 Megahertz band.
Thus a typical mast in a small Garda station will have more than one antenna.
There are two or three antennae: one to allow communications with hand portable sets, one to support communications with patrol cars and one to carry a link to the parent station. In larger stations there will be additional antennae to carry links to other districts and divisions.
The power output from a garda broadcast base station is 25 watts maximum. This power is only present when a message is being transmitted. The transmitter does not continuously transmit. Field strength measurements have been carried out in the past by garda technicians in connection with radio coverage surveys. The maximum field strength measured in the vicinity of a garda station was 20,000 times lower than the IRPA guideline limit. The same power output of 25 watts can be produced by a patrol car while hand portable radios typically produce two watts.
There are 700 garda stations in the State. These include regional headquarters, division headquarters and 107 district headquarters and sub-district stations. Each station has some form of antenna support structure. This can have a variety of forms. About 250 of our sites use a stayed metal pole that is 15 to 17 metres high. It is often mounted like a TV aerial over garda stations. About 75 sites use a 17 metre wooden pole, 250 are equipped with a 30 metre slimline lattice tower and about 30 stations have heavier lattice towers of 36 to 50 metres in height. The type of structure used is determined by the terrain to be covered by the station.
As the secretary-general said, the current system in rural areas dates mainly from the 1982/3 period. The Dublin system was installed in 1987. These systems are in need of replacement for maintenance reasons and in order to improve security, extend coverage for my officers and to create an integrated system. The garda telecommunications section has drawn up a development plan for the radio system.
Developments in information technology in the force mean that gardaí in patrol cars and, hopefully, on the beat will in the future be able to access databases and other computer based systems. The current radio system does not support data communications. The planned system supports secure mobile data communications and, hopefully, personal data communications for police officers on the street. This is a system of communications which has been available to the police force in Virginia Beach since 1975.
The plan which has been developed allows for the replacement of the current system over a number of years. The planned new system will operate in the 380MHz band. This is a band reserved on an EU wide basis for use by emergency services. Our objective is to have one band. Part of the development programme includes the construction of new self-supporting masts on many of the sites which currently use poles and roof mounted antennae and the replacement of many of the current slim lattice masts. The new system will also require the use of a number of hilltop sites in order to provide integrated coverage at a regional and national level.
The plan also requires the replacement of the existing links in the 460MHz band with multichannel links in microwave bands. This is also necessary in order to comply with the national frequency planning requirements of the telecommunications regulator.
Our agreement with Esat Digifone has received much comment and it is important that people realise what is involved. Many of the requirements of the planned new garda radio system coincide with the requirements of GSM operators. Both require radio base station sites throughout the country and particularly at the centres of population. Both require digital links between those sites and masts, usually of 30 metres or more in height. Both require hilltop sites for wide area coverage and for links between sites.
The proposal from Esat Digifone to co-operate on the development of sites - these sites will have to be upgraded anyway and masts must be replaced - provided the opportunity to reduce the cost to the Exchequer of the development of the garda radio system. It also prevented the proliferation of masts by allowing a single development to serve both purposes. For these reasons, the Esat Digifone proposal was accepted in 1997.
The agreement provides for the sharing of masts at 418 garda stations, that is, approximately 59 per cent of all garda stations. Of the 418 sites identified, 209 have existing lattice towers. Thirty of these have been suitable for use by both organisations and the remaining 179 do not have sufficient rigidity for GSM or microwave operation. These are being replaced with new masts of the same height and similar structure which have a stronger steel framework and are 65cm wider at the base. One hundred and forty seven of these sites have been completed. In the remaining 209 sites covered by the agreement there are no existing lattice masts. Planning permissions are being sought for new mast developments at these locations. These will vary from 30 metres to 35 metres in height.
Forbairt was commissioned in January 1998 to measure the signal strength produced at a shared Esat Digifone/garda site. Irishtown garda station was selected. Broadband measurements were carried out. These measured the combined effect of all signals between 100 kilohertz, kHz, and 40 Gigahertz, GHz. This measured the combined effect of all garda radio signals, all GSM signals as well as all other radio signals, including RTÉ's Donnybrook transmitters which were less than 2,500 metres away. The total power density detected was in all cases at least 4,800 times less than the IRPA guideline limit.
The future of policing in this country requires that we have the infrastructure, framework and wide area and local area networks to provide communications systems for the next millennium. That is what we are trying to achieve. We do not have the option of doing nothing.
Chairman: We will now hear from Mr. John Doyle, Cavan/Monaghan anti-mast group and, to conclude, Mr. Alan Peacock, Dunmore East anti-mast group. Ms Collette O’Connell is representing communities against microwave radiation. If anything you wish to say has already been said by others who share your views, it might be better to talk about other issues you wish to draw to the Committee’s attention.
Mr. Doyle: We appreciate this opportunity to place before the Committee the concerns of the people of Cavan and Monaghan on the issue of non-ionising radiation emissions from mobile phones and telecommunications masts.
Studies and reports from around the world, including Ireland, by doctors and scientists might differ on some points but all have one thing in common - more research must be carried out before 100 per cent safety can be guaranteed. Bearing in mind the recent blood transfusion debacle and other matters such as claims against the Army, BSE and so forth, we demand that a moratorium be imposed on the erection of any more masts. Other contributors will have more to say on this matter. The principle is when in doubt, do not do it.
With regard to the environment, the people of Cavan and Monaghan are extremely concerned about the decimation of a once beautiful countryside by these ugly montrosities. Property is being devalued and people’s privacy is being invaded. Huge sums of taxpayers' money have been invested in tourism in this area through Bord Fáilte and the EU. However, the policy of the Goverment through its agency An Bord Pleanála to give private companies permission to erect masts on garda stations in the middle of villages and towns is undermining the efforts of communities to create jobs and improve the environment.
We are told that improving telecommunications is progress. What is the price of progress? What alternatives have been examined? Has the use of low flying satellites, as is the case in Australia, ever been examined? Is money the issue?
I live in a converted school house in a rural area overlooking a lake and surrounded by hills.
Over the last eight years a large number of past pupils of the school and their friends from the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Iraq have called to visit. The comment made by all was “On no account allow the natural beauty of this place be destroyed by developers or quick buck merchants.“ over the past two years I specially asked what was their view on mobile phones and masts: 98 per cent were against. “We come here to get away from that kind of world“, was the stock reply.
The livelihood of the vast majority of our people is derived from farming and agricultural products such as beef, milk, poultry, pigs, turkeys and mushrooms. Why has no research has been done on what effect non-ionising radiation will have on this industry? Also, will our inland waterways and fishing industry become affected by this so-called “progress“?
People living in the Cavan-Monaghan area have additional cause for concern by being subjected to excessive fallout of non-ionising radiation by virtue of the fact that we live in Border counties. As of now, parts of our counties are being affected by fallout from British Army posts dotted along the Border which contain huge amounts of surveillance equipment. Crossmaglen is the showcase to the world of British Army surveillance equipment. In addition, mobile phone masts are situated just across the Border in Northern Ireland. Two companies have already put some masts in place and there are more to come. A third company is about to be licensed which will require the construction of further masts. Added to existing overhead high tension cables and cross-Border emissions, we are in a very serious situation. The long-term effect on our sons and daughters is most alarming.
I would like to point out to the Chairman and Members that the people I represent are not just a handful of “cranks“, we have the same fears as millions of people throughout the world. We also know there are thousands of scientists who are trying to prove the safety or otherwise of these masts and base stations. A huge responsibility lies upon us to protect the health and wealth of the people of this nation from exploitation. At present, we have one of the best telephone systems in the world. Do we need this additional system which may become obsolete in a few years? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Who is going to pay if our fears are substantiated?
It is my choice if I want to use a mobile phone. However, I have no choice if a mast is erected beside my home. Democracy how are you. Again we say “When in doubt - don’t.“ Place a moratorium on any further erection of masts until there is absolutely no doubt about safety.
Last night a document came into my possession concerning an application by Telecom Éireann to erect a mast which will affect beef, cattle and the farming industry in general. The document states that in its planning application Telecom Éireann stated that the effects on the blood and immune systems of animals have been reported. It also states that some of these reported effects are similar to those resulting from a stress response and, in most cases, they are transient, which means they return to normal when the RF field is turned off. When will the RF field be turned off to protect our livestock?
Mr. Peacock: My name is Alan Peacock and I live in Dunmore East, County Waterford. As Members are probably aware, Dunmore East is a picturesque fishing village. Our main concern is the siting of a telecommunication masts on Faloon Hill, a hill approximately 400 feet above sea level overlooking Dunmore East and the surrounding countryside. An Eircell mast was erected on the hill in 1994 and a multi-dish Esat mast was erected one year later, despite the protests of over 2,000 people against it. We have also made numerous appeals against Cablelink’s illegal erection of beam benders and booster units. Thus, the local community is strongly opposed to the erection of additional transmitters for either telecommunications or MMDS television purposes.
Cablelink is currently seeking planning permission for a transmitter and booster station. We are also aware that the third mobile phone company will seek a mast on the same site. Unfortunately, the county manager does not take heed of any local objections and he informed councillors that he will follow Government policy to the letter, namely, to allow telecommunication and multi-channel television systems to be installed as quickly as possible. When installations are made without planning permission and local objectors point out the illegality of the situation, the erector is allowed to apply for retention. No wonder the local community has no time for local government. When exposure levels are requested for a particular site, we are informed that levels lie well within Government guidelines; exposure levels are a technical matter and as such are not a planning matter.
As far as we are aware, Waterford County Council has no idea of the field strength on Faloon Hill. Forbairt may have taken a measurement at some point in the distant past but this has either not been made available or the council has not sought the information despite the public’s request for such data. Again, it is no wonder the local community has no time for local government.
Why do local communities protest so loudly? Why do they constantly petition councils? They do so because they have strong concerns for people’s health, particularly that of young children. Unfortunately, local government does not listen. Why? Perhaps local government offices do not have the answers or is there another reason that they are reluctant to respond in an adequate manner. To date, no patterns of ill health have developed but the public are not so ignorant as to disregard the possibility of health risks arising from the use of telecommunication technology.
To the scientists, there is a major difference between the effects of microwave radiation and x-ray or ultraviolet radiation. To the lay person, it is all radiation. People are highly aware of the risks involved from overexposure to such radiation. Cancer and the development of leukaemia immediately spring to mind. I accept that these are perceived risks but to the people living in the vicinity of Faloon Hill in Dunmore East, they are a real public health issue.
The World Health Organisation recognises that there are concerns about possible effects of RF fields in the areas of promotion and progression of cancer, of reproductive failures, etc., and that knowledge of these areas is inadequate to determine whether such effects exist. As a consequence, there is no rational basis for recommendations to protect the general public from possible adverse effects. The WHO established a project in January 1996 to assess the health and environmental effects of exposure to EMF. The project is scheduled to run for five years and its results, expected in 2001, should allow a more definitive health risk assessment and response to the many concerns on health. Until we are able to analyse these results, we want the Government to proceed with greater caution.
It should be realised that an involuntary exposure tends to increase the magnitude of the perceived risk. If exposure is unfair, magnitude again increases. As an example, we could compare the people living near Faloon Hill to those who use mobile phones. In the United States, 85 per cent of the total number of base stations needed have yet to be constructed due to public opposition and concern about cancer in children. It is obvious that the public authorities in the United States listen.
The WHO also recognises that if new technologies are to develop in a controlled manner, there must be an effective system of communication among scientists, governments, the industry and the public. Communities have a right to know what is proposed and planned with respect to the construction of EMF facilities which might affect their health. The WHO recognises that there is insufficient evidence to precisely assess health risks at present.
As an immediate precautionary measure for planning authorities, we recommend that location of base stations and MMDS masts should be limited to no less than 1,000 metres from residences, schools and hospitals. We also recommend that monitoring of the industry and its possible health concerns should go to the regulator, as I believe it does.
We are informed that she is a very determined woman. However, she should bring a body of scientists together with a predominance of medical people to advise and regulate in a fair and open manner. This body of scientists must be truly independent of the telecommunications industry. It goes without saying that monitoring of exposure levels must be truly independent. Forbairt is not independent by definition of its own articles.
The regulator should then be prepared to communicate with Government, local authorities and local communities on all planning issues to ensure above all else that no masts are erected until local concerns have been addressed.
On a more salutary note, I convey the sentiments of a lady who lives about 400 metres from the masts on Faloon Hill who said she has to look at the masts day in and day out from her kitchen window and listen to the wind howling through the dishes on the masts at night. She said that although the telecommunications interests say there is no health risk, just to look at and listen to the masts is enough to make anyone ill. Such sentiments can be heard from families all around the area in County Waterford, particularly families with young children. It is no wonder that when they hear of new planning applications for an MMDS beam bender or a communications mast they are up in arms and asking the county manager to listen to their concerns.
Ms O’Connell: I am from Dungarvan and I represent the group Communities Against Microwave Radiation. For most of the century the understanding in the medical and scientific community regarding the human body was based on a mechanical and chemical model. Only in recent decades has there been a general acceptance that another mechanism, that is a bioelectrical mechanism, is also present in living organisms, including humans.
As an example, the magnetic field produced by the electrical currents in the human brain can be measured by a device known as the superconducting quantum interference detector magnetometer, which was developed in 1970. This magnetic field can be measured at several metres distant from the head.
This human bioelectrical system’s field strength is so low in power that it was not until the late 1960s with the development of semiconductor devices that a sufficiently sensitive measuring instrument could be built.
The representatives of Eircell and Esat Digifone continuously make the point that the levels of residential microwave exposure from their transmitter masts is very low; the body’s bioelectrical system is also of very low strength.
The body’s bioelectrical system is acted upon by external magnetic and electrical systems. Medicine and science are only now on the threshold of postulating, developing and defining the mechanisms by which these interactions occur.
Research results from 1995 (Professor Von Klitzing) and 1996 (Mann and Roschke) show human EEG changes at microwave exposure levels to which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Irish citizens are now exposed. The results of the Schwarzenberg study in Switzerland of August 1995 provide empirical and epidemiological evidence of such effects.
The reaction of the ICNIRP and its leading lights, such as Dr. Michael Repacholi, to reported effects and results such as those mentioned is illuminating.
Dr.Michael Repacholi was a prominent speaker at the conference organised at the behest of Government Departments on 6 March. He was interviewed by RTE on the 9 p.m.television news programme, regarding statements by residents living at 50 and 400 metres from microwave transmission masts, who reported specific effects of exposure. He said that these effects could not be caused by the actions of the microwave transmitters because there was no known mechanism to explain such an effect. Science normally operates on the basis of first observing an event and then investigating the possible mechanisms by which this effect is produced.
According to Michael Repacholi the effect cannot exist unless the mechanism has been established. Implicit in his answer to the interviewer was the message that no protection from these effects will be recommended by the World Health Organisation’s study group which he now leads, until he identifies a mechanism for these effects.
Due to the Blood Transfusion Board scandal and the Army deafness fiasco the State is paying a high price for technical and scientific advice provided by inept or vested interest sources and failure by State officials to anticipate future difficulty.
Which technical experts or State officials have accepted responsibility for those two disasters? The victims of hepatitis C and their families can never be compensated; how much money is a life worth?
We shall not allow our families to become victims of effects that we know exist. The health of our children is not to be measured in financial terms for compensation at some future date should they suffer ill effects from microwave transmissions.
The guidelines of the ICNIRP adopted by the Government are outdated and inadequate.
We propose that the Government adopts a level of electromagnetic radiation exposure not exceeding 0.001 microwatts per centimetre square in the vicinity of the house (s), school (s) and hospital (s) receiving the maximum field strength from the transmitter.
As an immediate means of achieving this reduced exposure no base station transmitter or MMDS transmitter shall be allowed to be sited nearer than one kilometre to any residence, school, hospital, child care centre, nursing home etc.
Monitoring equipment shall be financed by the operators and permanently made available to those exposed to the maximum field strength so that a continuous record shall be available for inspection by Government personnel and local inhabitants.
The full costs of this operation shall be borne by the operators.
Existing transmitters, subject to review, shall comply with these conditions.
A public health indemnification policy should also be provided by the operators - none of the operators have public health insurance. We believe that all mobile “phones should have a Government health warning as in Germany.
I have brought with me photographs to illustrate the circumstances in which people find themselves. This shows an exempted Eircell mast and an exempted Esat mast near a house in Dublin. The young mother living here is constantly tired and suffers from headaches. When away from home she has no such symptoms. One of her sons has started having severe migraines which disappear when he is away from home.
Another photograph shows an exempted Eircell mast in County Cork. For the first six months that it was operating the people living there received electric shocks any time their touched their car when it was parked in the driveway. The induction of static charges is a known phenomenon associated with microwave transmitters. For this reason all such transmitters should not be sited in areas where there are explosive substances such as grain silos. We have seen planning applications from around the country to have such transmitters sited on grain silos.
Another photograph shows an exempted mast in County Limerick. The woman living near it is retired and the mast is 12 feet from her home. She suffers from extreme tiredness all the time - having woken from a night’s sleep she will sit down and immediately fall asleep again, no matter how much sleep she has had. She also has bad joint pains. Her neighbour has the same symptoms which disappear when she is away from home.
Another photograph shows a mast which is 25 meters from the home from which the photograph was taken. The woman who lives there hoped to speak to the committee today but unfortunately could not do so as prior notice was not given. She returned home having spent four years in Europe. After one week the symptoms she suffered were so bad that she had to flee her home. She suffered from vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, coughing, throbbing of the glands but since leaving her home the symptoms have ceased. Her mother also had the same problems and when she returned to Europe the symptoms ceased. This woman is here and would be quite happy to talk to Members of the Committee if they wish.
I have experienced regular muscular spasms since Esat Digifone began transmitting 400 metres from my home. I also experience similar muscular spasms when I travel to other parts of the country where there are Esat transmitters. On one particular day I had no muscle flickers and I was able to confirm with the users of Esat Mobile Phones that the Esat transmitter was out of action. Esat erected those transmitters with no prior discussion with the community.
I wish to refer to points made by previous speakers. The Department of Environment and Local Government-----
Chairman: There is no point referring to points made by previous speakers at this stage. If your submission is complete we will take it as having been given and after lunch you will have an opportunity to comment by way of statement and to reply to questions by Members. I suggest the sitting suspend until 2 p.m., have light refreshments and return whereby Members will put questions. Those who made statements and others who feel they should respond to them will be entitled and free to do so.
Deputy Stagg: It is important that Professor Walton be given an opportunity to make a statement given what has been said.
Chairman: Mr. John Royds who is in attendance has, I think, represented community groups throughout the country. It is important he knows he will have an opportunity to speak.
Chairman: As Professor Walton was mentioned this morning, he may wish to make a short statement later. Mr. Royds has spoken with some of the protesting groups. Perhaps he will make a statement and give his background in the context of the issue we are addressing.
Mr. Royds: I have a science degree in physics and chemistry and belong to the Bioelectromagnetic Society in the United States. I am not anti-base station but as most people agree more research is necessary we should adopt a precautionary approach and not site base stations close to people. The people who are exposed are worried about the microwave radiation, devaluation of their homes and the destruction of the visual amenity. Local authorities should maintain a register of all base stations and transmitters in their jurisdictions. Many base stations can be built without planning permission because they are exempted. A local authority register is needed so that any member of the public can find out if there is a base station near them. We wish to see details of base stations, such as effected radiated power, frequencies and channels used.
An interesting aspect of the Government organised conference on 6 March in Dublin Castle was the concept of consent. If one is to be exposed to microwave radiation against one’s wish, there should be an element of consent. Where people do not give consent, there should be a mechanism to compensate them visually for devaluation of property or to try to reduce radiation. A number of procedures could be carried out.
I consider a zone within 500 metres radius of a base station to be the zone of consent. If one objects to a base station inside that zone, various things should happen. There is a 300 metre zone of consent in Belgium and if one objects to a base station a number of actions can be taken. If necessary, the base station can be relocated or the individual can be relocated at the mobile “phone company’s expense. In terms of the 500 metre zone, an objector’s house could be screened for microwaves and this could be done proactively by the three licensees in Ireland. Outside the zone, we must look for radiation control and low levels - 0.001 microwatts per square centimetre.
Chairman: This part of the proceedings will afford an opportunity to the experts present to comment on each others' views. Are you the only expert representing opponent groups, Mr. Royd?
Mr. Royds: Yes, I am not anti-base stations but I am against people having base stations located close to them.
Chairman: Members rightly pointed out they did not have expertise but there were experts present. Mr. McManus from the Department of Public Enterprise and Mr. Hughes from the ESB are present. Will Mr. McManus comment on the contributions which have been made?
Dr. McManus: Many interesting references were made earlier to work that had been done elsewhere which the committee should take cognisance of in assessing the safety of mobile “phones and base stations. To respond in detail would be a mammoth task but I will pick out one or two points that were raised more than once and deal with them.
Chairman: We propose to prepare a report on which we will subsequently invite you to comment so that when it is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas it will ultimately be available to all interested parties. It is unfair to expect you to comment on all issues raised.
Dr. McManus: The Schwartzenberg transmitter was alluded to time and again and I dealt with that extensively at the previous meeting of this committee. The authors of that report stated they found no diseases or health defects and they looked at everything, including animals. They could only associate insomnia and joint pains with the transmitter. They also checked melatonin and found that those who reported the sleep disorder most had low melatonin levels. They did not find an association between melatonin levels produced by the body and distance from the mast. This led a Swedish professor called Ulf Bergvist, Europe’s leading expert on electrosensitivity - effects which are difficult to quantify - to look at this and to recommend that Dr. Abelin and the Schwarzenberg team check sleep disorders against the natural production of melatonin and not the distance from the mast. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland during the hours of darkness. It aids sleep and has other useful functions in the body. If one does not have melatonin or produces low levels of it, one has difficulty getting to sleep. This explains jet lag, etc. He made that recommendation as part of his work for the European Community study on mobile 'phones.
This was taken up by Professor Abelin who is currently studying melatonin levels around Schwartzenberg. He looked at the people prior to the closure of the transmitter on 28 March to check the melatonin levels and he has checked them since to see if they have risen. That will be an interesting report when it is available. It has been said that the Scjhwarzenberg study showed levels of field that were 100,000 times lower than IRPA limits caused sleep defects. One will search hard and far in that report to find such a reference. The maximum field level that people were experiencing close to the mast was not 100,000 times less than the IRPA upper limit but 2.5 to 3 times less. People were exposed to extremely strong fields.
When Professor Abelin talked about insomnia he found that it took a 100 fold increase in radio field strength to increase insomnia by 13 per cent, a huge increase in radio field strength to give a modest increase in the rates of insomnia. At the beginning of his report he stated “sleep disorders are very common. European studies have shown that between 9 per cent and 30 per cent of the people will talk of having chronic problems getting to sleep and 3 to 10 per cent of the population of different countries in Europe take sleeping pills.“ Sleeping disorders are common.
On the question of Australia, up until July 1997 telephone companies in Australia could put up masts anywhere if they had permission from the owner of the site. This upset many people, particularly residents. The new Telecommunications Act in Australia permitted local authorities to set planning conditions for these masts. Some local authorities have now set proximity limits for masts.
Some of the limits are only 300 metres from masts to residences while others are two kilometres.
There are several hundred local authorities in Australia but I only have details in regard to the five or six which have produced standards and guidelines. The Australian Government is somewhat concerned about the ad hoc application of different standards so, while it is allowing local authorities to cover the siting situation, it is mandating the Australian Communications Authority to issue mandatory guidelines on the health implications. The guidelines, which are currently under discussion, correspond to the current Australian guidelines which are somewhat tighter and more stringent than the ICNIRP guidelines but certainly would not afford us any problem here.
Reference was made to Dr. Repacholi who is not present to respond to the comments made about him. In the past, Dr. Repacholi has always indicated that he would be happy to appear before any Government committee which was concerned about this subject so if the committee wishes Dr. Repacholi to attend a future meeting, he would be happy to do so.
Deputy Creed: I thank everyone for their presentations so far which I found extremely informative. I wanted to ask a particular question of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation, Ms Doyle. I do not have any technical expertise in this area but it appears to me that there is widespread community opposition to mobile phone masts. I have encountered such opposition in my own constituency. Can Ms Doyle confirm that the technology used in mobile phone base stations is similar to that used in community television which enjoys widespread support in local communities? Am I comparing apples and oranges here? If the technologies are the same, could Ms Doyle comment on the intensity of the radiation or frequencies used?
Ms Doyle: I will respond to the Deputy’s question in broad terms and Dr. McManus will deal with the more technical aspects. Essentially MMDS, television and mobile phone masts emit radio frequency signals.
Deputy Creed: What about illegal community television?
Ms Doyle: Whether operators are licensed does not make any difference to the emission of non-ionising radiation. In terms of power levels, television broadcasting delivers a much higher level of power and therefore, in principle, a higher level of non-ionising radiation than other more modern types of technology.
Dr. Manus will be able to offer a more detailed explanation of the types of masts involved. Deflectors are not licensed and are, therefore, not included in my audit but television broadcasting is included. I do not believe that any of the operators licensed by my office are irresponsible. However, it is important to ensure that standards are being maintained.
Dr. McManus: As I understand it, the community television to which the Deputy refers operates on the UHF wavelength between 300 Megahertz and 3 Gigahertz, the same waveband on which the mobile phone systems work. Mobile phones operate on a frequency between 860 and 930 Megahertz. These wavelengths were at one time reserved for future television stations but we do not need them now with the advent of digital technology.
If one is operating a television station, one’s object is to send a signal of sufficient strength to people’s television aerials in order that the television set will be able to amplify it. The signals which reach the television aerial, whether they come from a large station far away or a small one nearby, are more or less of the same strength.
At a previous meeting of this committee, I described three surveys which were carried out; one under a hill, one near a mast and one in a racing stables. It was interesting to note that in one case, a local television mast emitted the strongest signal. In another, an Eircell mast emitted the strongest signal and, in a third case, the strongest signal was emitted by an FM radio station. The signals were all approximately similar at an average level of ten microwatts per square metre.
Ten microwatts per square metre equates with the level of 0.001 microwatts per square centimetre which has been suggested as a standard for mobile phones. If the standard were to be set at 0.001 microwatts per square centimetre, many parts of the country would exceed those levels whether or not mobile phone masts were in operation.
Deputy Stagg: I thank the Chairman for organising such a large group of contributors to come before the committee. I also want to thank the contributors on the community and professional sides of this debate.
I should preface my questions by saying that I support the provision of modern telecommunications systems, including mobile phones for the public, the Garda and for business. I also support the provision of the infrastructure necessary for these systems. As a previous Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, which previously had the Director’s responsibilities, I am satisfied that there is no demonstrable risk to health from the level of non-ionising radiation which emits from the base stations or other telecommunication systems. That being said, there are a number of questions which must be asked. There is no doubt that very real and genuine fears exist in communities in regard to this issue.
I accept the point made by Mr. Maloney that the Government, of which I was a Member, did not do enough to inform the public about this matter. Instead, rumour was allowed to pile upon rumour. I accept some responsibility for not doing enough to publicise the matter. During my period in office, I repeatedly stated that the best scientific information available to the Government indicated that no risk was posed to health from the telecommunications infrastructure. I am aware that the current Minister has reiterated that fact and has attempted to organise information systems and seminars in order that people would be fully informed about this issue.
Another issue of concern to people relates to the ugliness of the structures, an issue which crops up regularly. I have objected to my own local planning authority on a number of occasions in regard to applications for the erection of masts which are usually located at local Garda barracks. Barracks are usually situated in a central location in the town. Proposals to erect ugly 30 metre masts pose real problems and are driving a further wedge of objection into the system which, I believe, could be avoided.
I would like the two main providers and the Garda to outline whether there is any alternative to the erection of 30 metre masts and whether we require the number being proposed. For example, do we need masts in Celbridge, Maynooth and Kilcock? Is there a need for 30 metre masts to be erected on flat terrain so close to one another or are the providers maximising the possibility of being granted planning permission for one by applying for them all? Is there any possibility of forcing the operators to share masts? We have a system of encouragement, rather than obligation in this regard at the moment.
I would like to see a system of obligation where masts are provided and licensed and must be shared. That will add to the planning difficulties. If it is true that there is no danger to the health of the public as a result of the infrastructure being put in place why will you not accept liability for any health damage that may arise in the future?
What would be the effect of what the Government has sought to do in the provision of the infrastructure and telecommunications system if all the proposals from the objectors were accepted? I deplore playing on the worries of people by professionals in whipping up this huge anti-mobile phone hysteria to the point where people are being driven crazy with fear of something which is not a reality.
Chairman: I invite the experts from Esat and Eircell to respond.
Mr. Brewer: My expert, Mr. Kelly, Head of Technology, will answer some of the questions.
Regarding people stirring up trouble, although we respect people’s views and fears, I have thousands of letters from people asking me to provide a service, not just for business purposes but for personal reasons and personal security. It is a shame there is no group here today representing the customer. As well as representing my business, I also represent thousands of customers who want a quality service which is our remit. That service is delivered through coverage and capacity.
Mr. Kelly: On the issue of the number of masts and whether we need one in every community, as customers require a service we need to provide a mast within an acceptable distance so that their telephone can receive a sufficient signal. In the same way RTE will put a transmitter close enough to a TV that requires a signal. In terms of what we do about the aesthetics of these masts, there have been improvements in the last few years. We have taken a number of measures to try to reduce the number of masts and the visual impact of those masts. The new masts have considerably less antennae and use a monopole structure. In the city we have taken radically different steps with entirely new technology to put in very discreet masts. The vast majority of sites being developed at present are shared properties, be that with the ESB or RTE or the owner of a building, where we can deploy our equipment discreetly. We, too, camouflage and colour code them into the buildings so they become a lot more discreet.
Deputy Stagg: Why not share them with Mr. Maloney rather than the other provider of the site?
Mr. Kelly: We do share with Mr. Maloney.
Chairman: Mr. Kelly, how many masts do you have in Eircell and Esat and how many masts are shared between Esat and Eircell?
Mr. Kelly: We have approximately 600 sites. Of those approximately 400 are on shared property.
Chairman: Eircell were licensed before Esat. So I take it you had masts in place before Esat. How many masts do you have and how many of them are shared with Esat?
Mr. Kelly: On a point of clarification, I said we have 600 sites, not 600 masts.
We have substantially less masts than that. The number we share with Esat Digifone on sites that are either ours or theirs is quite small. I do not know the exact number. That said, each of us came along to try to develop a network in a country that was already largely developed, so we tried to use existing infrastructure. Clearly we both started from different points and our radio plans did not overlap in the same way. Rather than just deploying more masts for the sake of it, we both tried to minimise it. Perhaps our plans did not overlap to the extent anticipated.
Deputy Stagg: What will you do about them not sharing the masts?
Mr. Loughrey: The Department of Public Enterprise and Transport has every sympathy with the intent behind Deputy Stagg’s question. We always wished for maximum co-location. Our policy is to use exhortation. The question has been asked why do we not go the extra mile, so to speak, to force co-location? The main reason is that the Treaty of Rome specifies that the ultimate rights of people in this business cannot be violated. In other words, we have gone as far as we can to exhort and encourage co-location but stopped short of a mandatory provision.
Deputy Stagg: Would they accept liability given that they are certain their system causes no damage?
Mr. Maloney: I am not aware such insurance is available. Obviously we have our own public liability insurance for our own safety and the safety of people working on our equipment.
Deputy Stagg: Given your confidence that your infrastructure does not cause the type of damage suggested, it would be comforting for people to know that you would accept liability for any damage caused by your infrastructure. I presume that in common law a case could be taken against you. If you accepted this without recourse to the courts, it would be of major assistance to those people who are genuinely afraid of your infrastructure.
Mr. Maloney: In order to get insurance one would need an insurance company to provide such cover. This is something I will look into.
Mr. Brewer: Where there is no risk you cannot get indemnity. In his statement this morning the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform mentioned sharing Garda sites with Eircell.
We stated recently that this matter would be referred to the Minister. It would reduce the number of masts by approximately 200. We would not only be delivering infrastructure investment to the Garda but also sharing the masts with the Garda and Esat Digifone.
Deputy Stagg: What would be the effect on the system of the suggestions made by the community groups if they were implemented?
Dr. McManus: It would lead to a great deal of difficulty round the Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick city areas. A modern mobile telephone service could not be operated. People are concerned about the radio frequency microwave emissions from the masts and say that as a result they must be kept one kilometre away from people’s houses and have a level of 0.001 microwatts per square centimetre as a limit. In the same way as television sets are designed to pick up roughly the same strength signal whatever the location, mobile telephones are designed to pick up roughly the same strength signal. If one is in the arrivals hall in Dublin Airport where there are several small one watt transmitters operating the mobile telephone systems, they are pervading the arrivals and baggage halls with the same strength signal, or even a little higher, as one gets in the immediate vicinity of a large base station tower.
Logically, if one wants masts to be kept one kilometre away, one must say those airport transmitters should also be one kilometre away because there are people there all the time. It appears to be impractical. A mobile telephone system for everyone could not be operated on that basis. It would be possible to operate a system for privileged people. Some groups would use mobile telephones and others could use the network when the privileged people were not using it.
Deputy Currie: I also thank the delegations. The committee had the advantage on a previous occasion of hearing the evidence of three heads of Departments, including the Department of Health and Children, and Dr. Tom McManus. The committee has been assured in so far as it is possible to give a complete assurance that there is no health risk. I have a transcript of the evidence given previously. I reread it and the committee was given that assurance. Yet, the members of the delegations are sincerely concerned. They represent communities who are concerned and worried and Ms O’Connell outlined her symptoms. What is the position? The delegations are obviously not all cranks and malcontents. Given the political system, there will always be people who have their own fish to fry but not all the members of the delegations are in that category. What can be done to remedy this situation? The anxiety in itself is an important negative factor. What should be done next?
The regulator told the committee about the compliance audit she has been conducting. She also said she wrote to the operators and requested information. However, that will not be enough to reassure people and communities who are sincerely worried. What steps can be taken? Can an independent element be introduced to establish the facts in areas which are unclear and to give assurances to those who are genuinely concerned?
I have reminded people previously of the Minister who said in the Dáil on a memorable occasion that if one does not ask the right questions, one cannot expect the right answers. Sometimes I worry that we are not asking the right questions. This is why I intended to make the same point as Deputy Stagg and ask the operators to put their money where their mouths are in terms of a public health indemnity. They should give more consideration to that aspect than they appear to have given to it. However, I suspect they have given more consideration to it than they stated.
Ms O’Connell referred to the recent national conference. The consent zone was also mentioned. What lessons have been learned in that regard? As a former Minister of State in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it appears that the Garda Commissioner has got a good deal from Esat Digifone. I understand the other operators are now making representations. Will the Garda cost anything next year?
Regarding my point about an independent element, it is a matter of establishing facts and giving assurances to people. The committee was told previously, particularly by the Department of Health and Children, that there is no problem.
Ms Doyle: I wish to clarify an important point. The audit that is being conducted has an internal element which we regard as important because the base stations are run by the operators in the same way as RTE operates its masts. We are asking the operators to ensure that they are complying with the standards. There is also an important independent verification element. Our independent experts who are carrying out the audit are doing validation tests of masts. This will include all the different types of masts - urban and rural masts and shared masts. There is a perception that if masts are shared, the possible risk is increased. The results of the audit and what is picked up on the internal side will be published as soon as the study is finished.
Deputy Currie: There appears to be an acceptance that an independent group or organisation should investigate this matter. That would be in Ms Doyle’s interests and it would certainly be in the interests of operators and those who are concerned and anxious about this matter. Can we proceed on that basis to consider the sort of independent group which could be appointed to investigate this matter? Financially, it would not be a problem because the Government provides funding and private concerns might asked to contribute. Surely we should be attempting to establish the facts and to take action in respect of people’s widespread anxiety.
Ms E. Doyle: This is the first occasion on which it has been represented to me that Forbairt would not be regarded as an independent and reputable agency capable of carrying out the kind of research under discussion.
Chairman: No one is stating that Forbairt is not reputable. As Deputy Stagg pointed out, he established the office now held by Ms Doyle, which is deemed to be independent, when he was Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications. Members discussed the limitations of the committee and those of the regulator in relation to the committee. The term “independence“ means that the regulator is independent in the absolute and there can be no suggestion from any quarter that any influence or potential influence could interfere with her function and role, particularly in respect of monitoring. However, that is not the situation. We are not questioning the reputability of Forbairt but because of prevailing perceptions independence must be seen to be such.
Ms E. Doyle: The reason we are carrying out this audit and structuring it in the way we have is to cover the responsibilities of and the responsible way in which companies operate across the range of licensing authorities. The audit also includes an independent checking system. I have listened to what has been said and I will investigate this matter in the future. My office can ensure compliance with nationally accepted standards which are also internationally accepted.
Deputy Currie: When will the results of the audit become available?
Ms E. Doyle: In June.
Deputy Currie: I have enough experience to know that I should quit when I am ahead. From what Ms Doyle stated, I believe progress has been made. The committee will reconsider the situation in June when the results of the audit are published. It is not my responsibility to compose the committee’s report but I suspect heavy emphasis will be placed on the need for an independent investigation of this matter.
Deputy Sargent: Unfortunately, Question Time in the Dáil is moving at a menacing pace and I must leave this meeting to be present in the Chamber. I thank those who made presentations to the committee.
If I understand the Government guidelines correctly, it is stated that base stations should not be sited near residential areas or schools. If these guidelines had been followed to the letter, none of us would be here today. Who was responsible for developing those guidelines and for what reason did they come about? They give the impression, which has been widely borne out, that it is not a good idea to site base stations near residential areas or schools. Members are aware of the concerns of people in their constituencies in respect of this matter. Why was this guideline put in place and why is it not being respected? The families of gardaí and Members are particularly interested in the answer to that question. If, like the co-location policy, the guideline is not enforceable, surely some kind of indemnification must be applied. To my knowledge and experience, the guidelines are not being followed.
Is the indemnification required, for whatever reason, in respect of Garda stations the responsibility of Esat, the private sector or the State? Because State property is involved, surely responsibility for indemnification lies with the taxpayer and people should be informed if that is the case because, at present, the decision in this regard is a commercial one. We must be informed whether responsibility for indemnification lies in the commercial or State sectors.
Mr. Brewer: I will return to the question of indemnification rather than answer it now. With regard to siting base stations near schools and residential areas, I understand the stipulation in this area was originally included in the guidelines for aesthetic reasons and also for reasons of safety, namely, to prevent children climbing the railings surrounding these masts. It was not included for health reasons in the first instance. The question of siting stations near schools is an emotional one and I appreciate some people have serious objections. However, the stipulation was originally put in place for aesthetic reasons and refers only to new masts not existing ones.
Mr. Maloney: That is an important point. My understanding is that the guidelines state “only as a last resort should a new mast“. In other words, there is a differentiation between a mast and where you would locate a base station. That is the basic difference. With regard to public indemnity vis-à-vis health and safety at Garda stations, this is provided by Esat Digifone and it is borne at our expense, not the State’s.
Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the contributors for their presentations and I have read much of the briefing material provided. I attended the conference at Dublin Castle and I congratulate the Departments involved in it. I believe the people who attended the conference presumed there would be a one-sided debate. However, they heard evidence from experts who offered many different perspectives. The message I took from the conference is that research must continue. While no one seemed able to state conclusively that there are no health risks, no one could prove that there are such risks.
As Stephen Brewer stated, people do ask for coverage. He has probably received letters from me. I ran an election on a mobile phone once and it only cost me £5 for six weeks. That tells its own story. However, I am quite annoyed at the way matters have proceeded in respect of mobile phone provision in Inishowen. The committee heard a presentation from Sheila Meehan, who I welcome to the meeting, in respect of the town in which I live where a mast was erected without local people’s knowledge.
Do the companies involved in this area have any respect for the residents of the towns where masts are erected? Do the companies have any respect for the residents? All of you are involved in communications and, as such, you should be communicators. However, there appears to be a big gap between communications and the communications companies.
I respect the need for resources and facilities to be provided. I am not advocating a “not in my back yard“ syndrome because even though the mast will be close to my back door it will be even closer to Mrs. Meehan’s. I am interested in the environmental guidelines for new masts. I cannot remember them offhand but, if masts are to be upgraded and additions made to them, they recommend that they are not used in built up areas.
I believe residents in an area, especially a built up area, should be consulted. People often say that Dublin has hundreds of masts and nothing is said about it. However, there are areas near my home where people have not been consulted about masts. Ignorance on any topic, in the sense of a lack of information, can lead to fear and suspicion. If people are consulted either the fears will or will not be allayed or a compromise can be reached. What is the possibility of looking at alternative sites to those in residential areas, particularly in the case of existing masts? You referred earlier to linking Eircell and Esat Digifone masts. In areas where there is only one mast which is not located in a residential area, can the other company examine the option of linking to it? At the moment there is a possibility of a third mast being erected and we cannot ignore that.
There are international rules about current levels. Is the regulator happy with those levels and is she happy with her staffing levels? The companies have invested a great deal of money into making smaller telephones. Are equivalent sums being invested in technology to get rid of the masts? How far have you progressed with satellite solutions which are probably closer to reality than many people realise?
I believe there is a health risk. The people before this Committee are worried. They are not sleeping. They might be getting sore heads from a medical condition or from worrying about the masts. However, they have a concern. Suspicion will always cause people to worry. Are the gardaí happy to be working under the masts?
These debates are important and useful. People have their misconceptions cleared up, get their points of view across and information is exchanged.
Mr. Maloney: I do not know which question to answer first but if people are having problems with coverage they might be on the wrong network. I could not resist the opportunity to say that.
A question was asked about the investment to make handsets smaller and more powerful. The manufacturers responsible for handsets, such as Ericsson, Nokia and so forth, are not the operators. The technology is changing and, in the case of the equipment used by Esat Digifone, it is now smaller and much less obtrusive than the earlier generation of equipment. That will continue to happen. The representative from Eircell talked about micro cells in the cities. There will now be masts that look like lamp posts. These things are happening and will be introduced into the Irish marketplace as quickly as this operator can get them. We are painfully aware that it is a significant issue to be addressed.
With regard to public consultation, in many instances we have adapted our plans to meet local concerns and issues. Since we co-locate 70 per cent of our structures on existing structures, we only have a certain amount of flexibility. The planners will always direct us to existing structures first before we can opt for a stand alone mast. As a practical reality we are driven that way so we can get the capacity in place to give our customers our coverage.
Ms O’Connell: I wish to refer to suggestions that people’s fears are imagined. I refer the Committee to the submission packs I have circulated which contain several affidavits from people who are suffering. Their suffering is not imagined. One woman in County Waterford recently had monitoring carried out and she was told she had no problems that the emissions of microwave radiation around her home, were from an Eircell transmitter 1,000 times below the international guidelines-----
Chairman: You have made your submission and if you wish to comment on something that is said, I will allow it but, because of the time factor, I cannot allow the opportunity for members of the Committee to pose questions to the experts to be missed. The answers to those questions will be vital to your interests. We are trying to explore this matter and we will accept additional submissions in writing from your groups. I wish to give the Garda Commissioner an opportunity to answer the question from Deputy Keaveney. I also wish to pose another question. Commissioner, everybody recognises the almost impossible task you have and the great success you are achieving in difficult circumstances. How important is this technology in your continuing battle against crime, which is also competing in the world of technology?
Mr. Byrne: The point you raise is vital to what we do on a daily basis. The battle against criminals, whether it is organised crime or paramilitary related crime, has progressed into the technological world and we must keep abreast of the technology.
We cannot afford to do nothing, we do not have that luxury. We must make progress in terms of communication. I cannot overemphasise the fact that communication is a vital part of the fight against crime in this or any country. It is, therefore, vital that we have the infrastructure and the facilities to ensure that in the next millennium the communications system of the police force is second to none. We are also involved in a major IT programme which is costing a great deal of money, and that will dovetail into what we need in the telecommunications area.
The Deputy asked if some of our officers are concerned. Each day the police force works with telecommunications equipment. It is carried and utilised in cars and that is part of policing. The vast majority of my officers do not have concerns. However, it would be wrong to suggest that some concerns have not been brought to my notice if they have been brought to my notice. In fairness, they have perhaps been generated by local concern rather than by individual concern. Some are individual concerns but some people have got carried away in the whole wave of reaction to masts.
Deputy Gildea: Why did the Garda Representative Association not receive an invitation to today’s meeting? In view of that omission will the Garda Representative Association be allowed to make a written representation later?
Chairman: If you are of the opinion that the Garda Representative Association have a contribution to make to our examination of these issues you can encourage them to make a submission and we will be glad to accept it and use it as part of the analysis we are undertaking.
Miss Mary Moylan, much has been mentioned about the Department of the Environment and the standards. Are you happy with the standards?
Ms. Moylan: The planning guidelines were issued following a period of public consultation and they deal with planning applications for new masts. In relation to the emissions aspects, applicants are required to furnish the local authorities with a certificate of compliance with the standard specified in their licence. The health issues are dealt with that way. In relation to the other aspects of the planning guidelines we are open to consider any submissions made, and if people wish to make comments we would be happy to receive them.
Exempted development regulations were introduced to encourage mast sharing because it is a policy of the Department to avoid the proliferation of masts where this is possible. The guidelines do not apply to mast sharing because planning permission is not required but the exempted development Regulations do require that the emissions from shared masts comply with the international standards. We follow the views of the Department of Public Enterprise on those requirements.
Mr. Loughrey: I might have misled the Committee in answer to Deputy Stagg’s question on whether sharing could be enforced. There is no way we can knock unwilling heads together but since January 1998 with the implementation of the interconnection directive there are certain circumstances where it is possible to insist on co-location. These are as follows: Firstly, there must be capacity on the mast; secondly, at least one of the parties must wish to share; thirdly, the director can insist in those circumstances since the beginning of the year, provided it is on commercial terms. We are moving all the time as close as possible to maximising co-location short of knocking unwilling heads together.
Senator Bonner: As one who proposed that we should bring these bodies here to the Chairman and to the Minister, Mrs. O’Rourke at a Fianna Fail parliamentary meeting -
Chairman: That is a political statement.
Senator Bonner: - I apologise for not being present this morning to hear the representations because I was in the Seanad Chamber. I would like to address my comment to Mr. Royds and to Deputy Currie’s question regarding the conference. I came out of the conference with fears about the use of the mobile phones because sufficient studies have not been carried out. My fears would have been alleviated on the actual emissions from the base masts. I agree with Deputy Keaveney’s comments. I cannot understand why all of this business is not done through satellite instead of masts.
I would like to ask a question of Mr. Royds. Does he think there are health risks from the emissions from the masts? Today he has stated that he is in favour of consensus but has not indicated if there are health risks. At meetings in Donegal I was informed there was no difficulty with the analogue system, the GSM system is the problem. Yet at the conference we were told the opposite. Finally does he believe there are risks from the MMDS emissions from the mast.
I appreciate a start has been made by the Department on monitoring these masts under the direction of Ms. Doyle. At our Joint Oireachtas Heritage meeting we have had RTE in on a number of occasions discussing digital television. They seem to be in favour of the terrestial system. We were informed that a draft report was prepared by your office recommending that the terrestial system would not be utilised, it would be MMDS or cable. In view of the total opposition in rural areas to MMDS what are Ms. Doyle’s views. Finally RTE have stated that even when digital comes in that only 97 per cent of the community will receive digital so we are still going to have people in rural areas that rely on community deflector systems. Are you going to legalise the deflector systems or have you any views?
Chairman: We are dealing with mobile phones today.
Senator Bonner: At the conference Mr. Royds did say that they would like to see co-habitation but that there should be away from built up areas. In light of that would the gardai consider in conjunction with these other companies relocating the garda mast so that everybody would be happy.
Mr. Royds: On the question of the conference and the low level effects which we call non thermal or athermal effects, I feel a lot more research has to be done. Most scientists would accept that. Dr. Tenforde who was at the conference was asked about this question of a base station near his home and replied he was not comfortable with that. He said we have got a lot more to learn. Where there is doubt we must err on the side of caution.
On the question of GSM and analogue I have not said that analogue is safer. In England many Telecom engineers who use their mobile phones five or six hours a day who switched from analogue which in this country is 088 to GSM complained of headaches. Shortly a study will be published in Scandinavia showing that over an hour’s use of GSM is linked with headaches. If you digitalise and pulse the microwaves perhaps that is making it more biologically active. On the question of MMDS, all the spectrum must be considered. MMDS does have certain advantages and that is you can use a very high gain antenna to receive the picture so you do not need such a powerful transmitter to send the picture.
Chairman: You were also asked about the health risks resulting from emissions of masts.
Mr. Royds: My honest answer is I do not know. People are suffering therefore I suspect there are non-thermal effects.
Chairman: That is a big problem.
Senator Bonner: Was Dr. Tenforde the first speaker who summed up? I would not like to base my judgment on that - the other speakers were more impressive.
Mr. Royds: Dr. Tenforde is a member of the ICNIRP.
Ms E. Doyle: On the digitalisation of television, I have read the discussion paper prepared for my office. I do not think the consultants said DTT should not be introduced - they compared different systems.
International standards have been updated following a great deal of research and analysis. My office is a licensing authority. Ireland is behind other countries in the development of mobile phone use and looking to research based on international experience makes a great deal of sense.
All the evidence is that this is safe technology. That can sound like an official hedging a bet. However, the chairman of the European expert group, Dr. A.F. McKinlay, said:
Definitive answers about health hazards related to the use of radio telephones are unlikely to come about in the short term. Replication studies are particularly important, however, in this regard. No study or series of studies producing negative results can prove that an effect does not exist. However, an accumulation of well-performed studies producing negative results provides increasing confidence in the absence of a significant health effect.
I am sorry that view includes negatives, but it highlights the position at the moment. I would not encourage the sharing of masts if I believed there as a health risk. I am encouraging it because the figures for emissions are way below the standard.
As the Secretary General of the Department of Public Enterprise and Transport said, a new statutory instrument was made by the Minister under which my office has certain powers in relation to the sharing of facilities - the Interconnection Directive, Statutory Instrument No.15, 1998. No organisation has approached me under those provisions. However, we are open to that.
Senator Bonnar: Should the deflector system be regularised in view of the fact that digital television may not serve the whole community?
Chairman: That is not on the agenda and will not be included at this stage.
Senator Bonnar: I will ask the question again at a later date.
Commissioner Byrne: I wish to ask Mr. Liam Hamilton, the head of planning and telecommunications to address the committee.
Mr. Hamilton: There is some confusion as to why the Garda need these masts. We use GSM but the main reason why we want these masts is to carry our own radio system. There is a difference between our radio system and GSM. Our radios have to be able to communicate back to the station. We must be able to talk to 20 people at the same time at the push of a button. We cannot dial everyone separately. There are many differences between the existing and the proposed Garda radio systems.
We need a communications facility in Garda stations. Gardaí operate equipment linked directly to a mast outside a station which is used to communicate with gardaí on the beat, in cars and other Garda stations. Removing masts from outside Garda stations creates many difficulties. We have to get the signal from the garda in the station to a mast outside town. To do this, we might have to put up a mast anyway.
We must have certainty of coverage for gardaí with hand portable radios in built-up areas. They are limited to a couple of miles and in some cases less than that. They must be able to work to a local mast. We would love to be able to work to a mast on a hill outside a town, but it does not give us the necessary coverage.
Deputy Currie: There would be security implications as well.
Mr. Hamilton: Yes. We would have to be sure that a remote site would be immune to any interference. If someone wanted to deny us our communication facilities, we would have to be sure that it could not be sabotaged.
Professor Walton: I am Professor of Applied Physics in National University of Ireland, Galway. Various comments were directed at me by Sheila Meehan to which I wish to respond. She referred to letters I wrote about Chernobyl. That is irrelevant to today’s discussion and concerns ionising radiation with which we are not dealing. Sometimes people get these confused and think that radiation is radiation and is the same as that which is emitted from Sellafield or whatever.
Ms Meehan also said she had no faith in ICNIRP. I have faith in it. It is an international body of experts which does not only base its limits on thermal effects, even though it initially did. It knew the thermal effects and then it allowed a safety margin of 50 before it set standards. As recently as 1996, it has been reviewing all thermal and non-thermal literature and has not come up with any secure information which would mean it should drop its standards. I agree with that.
We should try to put base stations into some perspective. I have to calculate cases recently on the exposure of base stations. The person who gets the maximum exposure from a base station - most people get much less - is receiving only one three thousand nine hundredth of the ICNIRP limits. If these limits are unsatisfactory, we can look at the standards of the British National Radiation Protection Board. It is interesting to note that the chairman of the non-ionising radiation committee there is Sir Richard Dawe.
They have set standards in this part of the spectrum that are higher than those of ICNIRP. It gives a safety margin of 30,000 for base stations. In Britain, the most exposed person from a base station would only receive one thirty thousandth of the limits set by the NRPB.
Russia has always set a lower standard, for reasons best known to themselves. I think it is based on subjective alleged health effects. They have set a limit of one thousandth of that of ICNIRP. We are still nearly one hundredth of the Russian standards. That is the level we are talking about.
The EU draft regulations will almost be the same as those of ICNIRP. We will still have the same safety margin below those standards. Reference was made to Neil Cherry earlier. He is a campaigner in Australia who most people regard as extremist in thinking this type of radiation is dangerous. At the end of one of his reports he states “I recommend at present a limit of...“ That limit is approximately the same as that for the most exposed person from a base station. He is a severe opponent yet practically everybody is below the limit he set. Some people think microwaves are unique and, therefore, we do not know much about them, but as Tom McManus said, we have lived with television for almost 50 years.
These transmitters are much more powerful. In Ireland the strongest one is at Cairn Hill in Longford - 800,000 watts. A typical base station is a few hundred watts. Large television transmitters are approximately 7,000 times more powerful than a base station. People living the same distance from a television station as from a base station will be exposed to radiation at that ratio. That has been the case for 50 years and there have been no ill-effects. People also forget that there is a huge difference between a mobile “phone held beside one’s head and the most exposed person from a base station. There is 10,000 times more radiation from a hand held 'phone than a base station. Most of the conference referred to earlier was concerned with whether there is a health risk from the mobile 'phone because if we find it hard to detect any health effect from one, if one has 10,000 times less from a base station, it will have a negligible effect.
Nobody can give a 100 per cent assurance that anything is safe as it is impossible to prove. I challenge anybody to tell me anything in life that is safe. Lying in bed one could have Lockerbie aircraft falling into the room. If we were to stop and wait for greater assurances through more research we would never do anything.
Deputy M. Brady: There is no doubt the mobile “phone service is vital, as the Garda Commissioner outlined, in combating crime because good communication is necessary. It is also vital in terms of saving lives in mountain and sea rescues. A good telecommunications network is also important in economic terms. Usually, foreign investors consider telecommunications to be a major factor in locating their operations in Ireland. There is a lack of communication between those involved in the location of sites for masts and residents. There was a to-do at 3 a.m. at Lough an Lea mountain in Kingscourt, County Cavan recently. I was asked by a colleague why work started at that hour of the morning. It is probably due to work schedules but that behaviour creates an air of suspicion. Why does work start at these hours?
I received the medical reports from Eircell and all qualified people indicated there were no health hazards for individuals. It would be irresponsible if everybody were to approve a third mobile 'phone licence knowing it would be injurious to the health of citizens or kill people. I thank the community groups before us today for their contributions. However, who compiled their reports and does anyone involved have medical or telecommunications qualifications? What are Mr. Royd’s qualifications?
Usually, an individual is motivated when becoming involved in something such as this. Many factors motivate people. There were tremendous comings and goings about the mast in Sutton in my constituency. I heard an aspiring politician say that a meeting would be held and someone said to him that he might not get many people at it. He said they would put the mast on the agenda and pack the meeting. There is a great deal of scaremongering but the groups before the committee are obviously genuine and have fears. On what professional advice are there fears based?
No consistent evidence relating to cancer incidents is to be found in any of these studies. Mr. Walton said reports were issued that suited the order of the day. I hate to think that a medical person would be involved in such activities in order to tell people what they want to hear. Recently, a woman in Finglas living near a mast rang the Gay Byrne show, etc., and Eircell removed the mast. If there was nothing wrong, why was it moved? There must have been something wrong.
People say their houses are devalued and they cannot sell them if they are located near big masts. I would not want to buy a house near which a mast was located.
Mr. J. Doyle: Deputy Brady asked what evidence we had to support our case. One of the reports which we have, issued by the Department of Public Enterprise, states that there is no available evidence to suggest that mobile phones pose a risk to health but that further research action is under consideration. A number of eminent people are studying the issue.
My group represents a Border county which is subjected to radiation emissions from across the Border. I attended a number of meetings in the North, similar to this one day, where very clear evidence was provided that non-ionising radiation from British Army surveillance equipment was contributing to cancer in pockets adjacent to the installations.
We are not scaremongering, nor do we attend meetings for the sake of it. We operate at our own expense out of concern for our community. I do not believe our fears are being taken on board seriously because, from what I can gather, many of the committee have not even seen the reports on this issue. Many elected representatives, with whom we came in contact, admitted they were not fully informed on these matters. We are not condemning them for that but our side of the story merely seems to be taken with a grain of salt.
The heavyweights in this matter can certainly throw things at us which we are unable to answer as we are not qualified technical experts. However, they have not, as yet, satisfied us on certain issues. We have, on numerous occasions, asked why companies had to be notified when tests were being carried out on the masts. It is a simple fact that if such notification is received, frequency levels can be lowered.
Professor Walton has issued figures in regard to emissions. If masts are co-located, surely the emission levels will double.
Chairman: Is there any available evidence to sustain the allegation that mast volumes can be lowered if notification of a test is received?
Mr. J. Doyle: Ms O’Connell pointed out that when the mast was turned off, she did not suffer any ill effects.
Chairman: Mr. Doyle’s allegation is more serious than that. He is alleging that, in advance of a mast being monitored, notification is given and emissions from the mast can be consequently reduced.
Mr. J. Doyle: We are saying that if all of the masts are turned off, less ill effects are experienced.
Chairman: Did you not actually state that the emission levels could be lowered?
Mr. J. Doyle: I assume they can be.
Chairman: Have you any evidence to that effect?
Mr. J. Doyle: As I stated earlier, we do not have technical expertise in this matter.
Chairman: Will the regulator comment on the serious allegations which have been made?
Ms E. Doyle: Where it is possible to carry out tests without giving notice, this is done. However, we would not normally seek to arrive at a Garda station without providing notice. Apart from that, we just turn up at a site and the companies are not informed in advance of the time or date of the test.
Mr. J. Doyle: The only information I have on this matter, which I received from he Department of Public Enterprise, was that a test was carried out in Glasnevin. Is that information correct and was that the only test carried out?
Dr. McManus: Mr. Doyle is referring to information which we gladly provide to any member of the public who inquires about matters relating to mobile phones or non-ionising radiation. The information to which he referred was the most up-to-date available when tests were carried out some years ago at the Forbairt offices in Glasnevin. That information was included in a table with some other measurements which indicated the general levels and fields in the Dublin area. It is extremely difficult for us to obtain this kind of information as someone has to be paid to obtain it and there is very little suitable equipment in Ireland to do that. I referred earlier to three other tests, carried out in December 1997 at three sites throughout the country, which essentially served to update the information we already had. I will probably be able to include that information in any future documentation issued by the Department.
Mr. Maloney: I want to clarify an important point. A base station is either switched on or off. If it is switched off, hand sets do not work. Any suggestion that one can somehow turn down the levels is untrue.
Chairman: Ms Delorey stated that no consultation had taken place with the residents she represents in Carrick-on-Shannon. Do any of the operators wish to comment on that?
Mr. Brewer: We obviously follow the planning process, part of which requires us to post notices where bases stations are to be built and the normal planning process proceeds from there. We also have a community relations manager and a 24 hour hotline. We have sent out 650,000 pieces of literature and briefed all Members of the Oireachtas, European Parliament, councils, libraries and 350 residential groups. We will be building base stations all over Ireland and we will adhere to the planning process.
One of the frustrations experienced from a network operator’s point of view relates to alternative sites. If two or three possible sites are found in a particular area, we are obliged to apply for one at a time which takes months. If the first is rejected, we apply for the next one and so on. We would like to get a community’s views on the preferred location of a base station in its area in advance but the planning process does not provide for that kind of consultation. We really do try to carry out proper consultation although we may have failed to do so adequately on some occasions.
Ms Delorey: Eircell may follow the planning process. However, in Carrick-on-Shannon, planning permission was not required at all. There should be uniformity throughout the country. As residents, we would like to in a position to lodge a complaint, which is our right. We cannot lodge a complaint with any organisation. We cannot appeal to An Bord Pleanála or any other body. We wonder who is looking after the rights of the residents.
Chairman: The exempted development in your situation left you with no consultation and no one to appeal to.
Ms Delorey: No.
Chairman: That is a fair point. Was that an ESB structure?
Ms Delorey: Yes.
Mr. Hughes: I represent the ESB. We see ourselves purely as site providers. We have approximately over 100 communications masts in existence since the 1960s. Like the Garda, we require our own communications system to provide an efficient service to our customers especially in emergencies. We must have a communications system which is independent in order to be in a position to talk to a number of ESB crews simultaneously. At the outset, the ESB was asked by the Department of Environment and Local Government and the Department of Public Enterprise to facilitate the mobile phone operators on our infrastructure. The ESB shares with both mobile phone operators, where possible.
The ESB has two masts in Carrick-on-Shannon - one at our area office which is required for communications at our depot and the other is in our 110KV station where we use it not only for communications but also for monitoring and operating our networks. We were approached by both Eircell and Esat. ESAT wanted to use the area office mast and EIRCELL wanted to use the 110KV station mast. We had no history of problems in relation to either mast. They have existed for many years. We were agreeable to share these masts with both operators. It is ESB policy to address people’s concerns in any location. We were not aware of any problems in Carrick-on-Shannon but as soon as concerns were expressed to us, we asked both operators to postpone completing the installation until the concerns of the residents were addressed. I am delighted both operators have held off for the past six months. The operators and ourselves have separately met with the residents to try and allay their concerns and to try and find a resolution to the problem in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Senator Mooney: I welcome this expert body of opinion which is helpful to all of us. We are not technical experts but I want to echo the concerns expressed by many of my colleagues, not least by Deputy Currie. There seems to be a very real concern among ordinary citizens who feel that they are helpless in the face of 'big brother'. This seems to be a Europeanwide concern. Politicians at European level have addressed these concerns in the past number of years because of what they saw as a democratic deficit. This is now happening in this area between ordinary citizens who, as Mr. Doyle pointed out, have very little resources and have no agenda other than a genuine concern for the health of themselves, their children and community. They are facing a very intimidating group of experts. Members are used to public exchange of views, how much more difficult must it be for people coming from a totally different environment having to face this and put under the spotlight. We as public representatives should, in a modest way, try to fill the gap referred to by Ms Delorey in articulating the concerns of citizens.
I cannot understand why it is that the Department of the Environment and Local Government has not gone a stage further from guidelines to mandatory requirement. This has happened in New Zealand, the state of California and in some local authorities in Scotland where there have been mandatory requirements not to locate telephone masts beside schools specifically. Why is it that we in this country have not taken a policy initiative in this regard and move from guidelines to mandatory requirement? This may be closing the door after the horse has bolted because as has already been pointed out, particularly in relation to Mr. Hughes’s contribution, some institutions are exempt from planning requirements. I am interested to know the thinking in the Department in regard to this matter.
As a member of a local authority in County Leitrim, I have had the experience of dealing with Eircell and Esat Digifone. They have been very impressive and plausible in their presentations. Within the last three months, in the early hours of the morning, Eircell moved into Carrick Road, Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, and a property located behind a residential row of houses. When they were asked what they were doing they said that they were extending an existing network. In other words, they were economical with the truth to the local residents. As a result of agitation locally Eircell were prevented from erecting a mast which is literally in the back garden of a man with a wife and five children, and surrounded by many others. In order to gain access to this property, Eircell went to a nearby landowner and again indicated to him that they were only carrying out routine maintenance work. To me that is not PR; that is just shoving it in the face of the local community. I am sure Mr. Brewer would agree that this is not acceptable behaviour. I must emphasise that a contractor was operating on behalf of Eircell, not Eircell directly.
Could Ms Doyle inform me who will decide on the digital system on the basis of the consultant’s recommendations; will it be the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation or a Government decision?
Mr. Loughrey stated - and Ms Doyle concurred - that there is a general move towards grouping antennae. Notwithstanding the fact that there seems to be no scientific evidence to suggest there are health hazards, I take the point made by Mr. Doyle that if there are more antennae operating in a confined area, this must lead to a greater power surge and does that power surge not justify the concerns of citizens in relation to any possible health hazards?
The Garda network has been referred to. I sympathise with Commissioner Byrne. I believe the Garda have been caught as 'pig in the middle' in this regard. None of us would wish to prevent the orderly development of a Garda communications network. I also believe there is an acute need, particularly in rural Ireland, for an improved and enhanced telecommunications network at garda level in order to allay the fears of people living in rural areas as there would be a much more rapid response to situations from the Garda force if such an improved and enhanced Garda network were in place. I would suggest to concerned residents throughout the country that while they are focused on many of the issues being debated here, they should not lose sight of the fact that they might be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Who in their right mind would wish that the Garda, who are providing the most effective and essential for the protection of citizens, should somehow be inhibited from developing their telecommunications network, which is a separate issue to the digital and mobile telephone issue, as pointed out by the technical expert. This fact should be borne in mind.
Could I ask the community groups to give some indication of what they see as the alternative? Could any one of the community groups give an indication of what they see as an alternative. I have read their submissions and they seem to be centred on the re-location of antennae from certain areas.
Chairman: They have made many valuable recommendations this morning. I will afford a short period to everyone to sum up.
Senator Mooney: I will defer to your judgment, Chairman, but | will be interested to hear an answer to my question.
Deputy Naughton: As a constituency colleague of mine you will be aware, Chairman, that there is a proliferation of mobile phone masts in County Roscommon. We are aware of the pressures and problems associated with the location of masts.
An earlier speaker told the Committee that up to 70 per cent of his company’s masts are co-located. This may be, but in many cases masts are not co-located with other mobile phone masts. They are co-located with ESB masts or otherwise. There are instances throughout the country of an Esat Digifone mast on one side of a road and an Eircell mast on the other. This cannot go on. Co-location must be a priority. The two companies could then rent part of their mast to others companies.
I hope this Committee will recommend that the guidelines become regulations. Some county councils enforce the guidelines strictly and others do not. Where planning permission is not required no body is empowered to enforce the guidelines. This problem arose in Carrick-on-Shannon. The guidelines state that masts must not be located near schools but when planning permission is not required the county council have no procedure to enforce them. The guidelines must be enforced as regulations if they are to be effective.
In some cases the two mobile phone companies have blatantly flouted the planning laws. I can give numerous examples of masts being erected without planning approval or even before a planning application was made. Recently, only a mile from my own home, concrete was poured at 5 a.m. without planning permission, and the height of the mast was doubled. In this case the mast was an Eircell mast but I am sure the same problem has arisen with Esat Digifone. Companies, and particularly semi-state companies, should not be permitted to flout the planning laws. The planning laws must be strictly enforced and the guidelines applied as regulations.
Chairman: If the Deputy will ask a question the discussion will be more enlightening.
Deputy Naughton: The results of studies into the health effects of masts are ambiguous. Some speakers said that both inter-laboratory and intra-laboratory results are ambiguous. The scientific evidence available at present does not unambiguously state that masts are a health risk. Any argument can be supported by a trawl through scientific papers. As a scientist I know how easily this can be done. A possible health risk cannot be used as a planning objection so this discussion is merely theoretical.
The two mobile phone companies are managing a PR disaster. Their PR companies should both be deeply embarrassed. The companies are refusing to meet interested groups. They would solve many problems for public representatives if they would explain the risks or lack of them to the people.
Chairman: Please ask a question, Deputy.
Deputy Naughton: Can the independent monitor Ms Étaín Doyle tell us how many locations have been monitored to date? Dr. McManus has said that four locations have been monitored. It is impossible to draw conclusion from such a small sample. We must have monitoring, independent of Forbairt, and we must ensure that a large number of locations are monitored. In the current year only between 30 and 40 locations will be monitored. This is not sufficient.
Mr. Brewer: For the site at which we poured the concrete at 5 a.m. there was an exemption from planning permission and the farmer demanded that we work at that time.
Deputy Naughton: It was not a farm, it was a private house and was doubled in height.
Mr. Brewer: I do not dispute that. I am simply explaining why we worked at that hour and that we had planning permission.
Deputy Naughton: Planning permission had not been granted for the increased height.
Mr. Brewer: One of our advisers, Dr. Anthony Staines, who has worked with Professor Walton is here and can say a few words on the health issue.
Dr. Staines: Deputy Naughton quite correctly says that it is not possible to say that anything is absolutely safe. That will never be possible. It is possible to decide how large a study would be required to demonstrate the safety of mobile telephone masts. My brief computations tell me it would be necessary to study 25 million people and follow them for between 10 and 15 years. Such a study would absorb the bulk of the health research budgets of the European Union for the next 25 years and is not going to be conducted.
Studies of the health effects of electro-magnetic radiation on human beings are few in number. The largest and most relevant of these is the study of health effects on humans living aroung television transmitters. These, as has been stated, have considerably higher power levels than mobile phone masts. This study, which was perfomed in England by a group of people with whom I subsequently worked and is of a very high quality, demonstrated nothing. There was no evidence of any increased incidence of cancer around the television transmission sites in England, a country which has excellent routine health data and records and is probably the best European country in which to do such a study. The negative results from that and many other well conducted studies allows us to say firsly, there is no good evidence of significant health effects from electro-magnetic fields, particularly in relation to cancers. Secondly, we can extrapolate from the evidence that it is very unlikely that there are large scale health effects from alleged magnetic radiations of the very low level which come from mobile telephone masts. That is as far as the scientific evidence will take you.
Speaking personally, I would be quite comfortable with a mobile telephone mast at the bottom of my garden if only the things were not so ugly. I would have no concerns for my health about such an exposure.
Deputy Belton: Thank you Chairman.
Deputy Belton: What is the position in Ardagh, County Longford? The local authority has granted planning permission but the residents held a meeting recently. People in Carrick-on-Shannon have been in touch with me also. There are three masts in Ardagh at present and Telecom want to put up another one; Ardagh Hill is becoming the mast capital of Ireland. As most people know it is the tidiest village in Ireland and has even won international awards. I ask someone, perhaps the PR people to allay people’s fears. Dr. Staines said he would not like it in his back garden and I would not blame him but this will be the fourth mast in a heritage area. I ask him to do something about it.
I welcome the Garda Commissioner. He is doing a fine job and I hope his forces will be back to normal.
Chairman: You will be safe going home this evening, Deputy. Perhaps someone from each of the community groups could comment before we bring this to a conclusion.
Mr. Peacock: In response to Mr. Maloney, we are not a cottage industry. We are not experts but I am an engineer and I listen. Ninety per cent of the people who complain and have something to say are young women. They are vociferous, they will complain and will keep complaining. I have come here because they are not able to put it down in writing or speak about it in an assembly like this, but they are extremely determined to get what they think is right. At the moment they are not being listened to. The PR work from this side has been extremely bad; there has been no PR in Dunmore East or County Waterford, as far as I am aware.
Mr. Doyle: We referred to alternative sources or methods. Last Thursday I was told that in Australia these signals are sent through three low flying satellites which service most of the continent. Given modern science and technology, I cannot understand why a small box could not be attached to some of the huge number of telephone poles around the country, from which the signal could be picked up. I am a retired old age pensioner and have seen much in my lifetime, including an awful lot of experts being proved wrong. Why could such systems or something similar not be introduced?
Mrs. Delorey: I am convinced we live in a patriarchal society - there are no female Deputies or Senators here.
Chairman: There are female Members of the committee but we cannot force them to come. Deputy Cecilia Keaveney was here.
Ms. Delorey: This issue is profit driven. The companies are entitled to make profits but not at the expense of the health of the nation. I am offended at the remarks of earlier speakers that a frenzy was being whipped up - that is not true. The fact that various regulatory authorities across the world apply different standards does not inspire confidence. Last month’s conference was a whitewash and the Minister, Deputy O’Rourke, got the result she wanted. If she had invited some of the experts we mentioned - such as Dr. Neil Cherry, with whom Professor Walton does not agree - she might have got a different result.
As a residents' group we feel no one is listening to us and our voice is not being heard. The mobile phone companies can afford to hire international experts and I would love to have brought Dr. Cherry or one of the others I mentioned, but we had two weeks' notice of the meeting and no money so where could we get an expert? The Minister had ample opportunity last month to invite some of those people but she did not do so.
Mr. McMahon: I have two short questions. The first is to Ms Moylan of the Department of the Environment; who decides on the location of last resort or does anyone referee it?
Ms Moylan: Decisions on individual sites are matters for the local planning authority or, if there is an appeal, An Bord Pleanála, taking into account the application, any comments made, and their own planner’s advice.
Mr. McMahon: So it is the local authorities; I will not say anymore on that. The second question is for both ESB and Eircell. Why have they gone against their planning permission, which is obvious from the document I have distributed? Last Tuesday the local council decided that they had contravened the planning requirements. If they had built the mast according to the original plans they submitted to An Bord Pleanála and the county council I might not have come here today but it is the monstrosity they erected at the bottom of my garden which causes me and the community annoyance.
Mr. Brewer: In the interests of time, Chairman, I will answer that question privately.
Mr. McMahon: I would like the community to hear what Mr. Brewer has to say.
Mr. Mr. Brewer: I am not in possession of all the facts, which is why I am not answering at this point.
Ms Meehan: There was no consultation before the mast at our back door was put up. I resent being referred to as a possible crank or scaremonger. We have reared our family and we want a quiet life and to enjoy our grandchildren in peace and comfort in our home and garden. Why have 85 per cent of these masts yet to be erected in the US? In Ireland we are going hell for leather for this system because we need it so badly but surely the US is far in advance of us.
Ms O’Connell: These companies are in business to make profit but we are here on behalf of our children and families. The consensus from the international scientific community - I have had contact with several eminent scientists in this area - is that low levels of microwave radiation are cumulative over a long period. Microwave radiation is being imposed on us against our will. We have heard about mobile 'phones being more dangerous but people have a choice as to whether or not they use them. We do not have a choice, this microwave radiation is penetrating our homes and bodies against our will.
We are not the only ones mentioning these fears. One letter included in our materials is from the Federated Office of the Environment, Forests and Landscapes, the Swiss Government Department with responsibility for microwave radiation.They previously recommended the adoption of the ICNIRP guidelines, the same guidelines to which the Irish Government is adhering. Following the Schwartzenburg study, they have turned around and said that these guidelines are not sufficient to protect public health during long term exposure. We have included a copy of the original letter on headed notepaper together with a translation.
Ms Moylan: Senator Mooney and Deputy Naughten asked questions about the guidelines. Senator Mooney was interested in making them mandatory while Deputy Naughten suggested that they should become Regulations. As you are aware, the decisions on individual applications are a matter for the planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála. The Minister’s role is one of general policy. Until approximately 1995, the Department had not issued guidelines or policy advice for some time. However, in view of changing circumstances, it was decided that the Department should become more active in giving guidance to local authorities in dealing with new issues arising. Guidelines were, therefore, issued on wind farms and telecommunications masts. There were also draft guidelines on forestry.
There is a provision under the planning Acts to issue directives to which local authorities must adhere. However, it was considered too difficult to draft this type of advice in the specific format that would be needed for a directive in a way that could be applied across the country. It is expected that local authorities and An Bord Pleanála would adhere to the guidelines and to the best of our knowledge they do so with regard to new masts.
Senators and Deputies are probably aware that the planning Acts are being reviewed at present. One of the issues under consideration is whether we should make statutory provision for mandatory guidelines. The Minister will publish the draft Bill later this year. We have not concluded our consideration of it, but, bearing in mind what was said today in relation to this, it will be fed into the review. If it is decided to make guidelines statutory and mandatory it will apply to all guidelines and not just to these ones.
The matter of enforcement and retention applications is being dealt with in the planning review. There is serious concern that local authorities are not enforcing planning permissions as rigorously as they should. The Minister is very anxious that stronger measures be put in place. The issue will be considered in the review. The guidelines apply to planning applications for new masts. Given that there is exempted development it does not come within the terms of the guidelines. However, the enforcement provisions would still apply, so if they do not comply with the provisions of the regulations the local authority can take enforcement action.
Chairman: It was suggested that there should be a register of masts within local authorities. Do you have a view on that?
Ms Moylan: Local authorities would have a register of any masts which obtained planning permission on the planning register. If somebody is sharing a radio mast it would be on the planning register as a radio mast. It would not indicate on the register that it is being shared. There should not be masts without planning permission other than the masts for Garda use which are outside the Planning Acts.
Chairman: Unless they were exempted.
Ms Moylan: That is correct. However, if the the mast sharing were exempted the original mast would have planning permission. However, reference to sharing would not be on the register nor would the Garda masts because the Planning Acts do not apply to them.
Ms Doyle: Returning to the comprehensive nature of what we are undertaking at present, the office was established last year. Given that it is a licensing authority the first thing we did was to look at the licenses we issue. Already, the mobile telephone licenses had included provisions to maintain and live within the guidelines. They are dynamic provisions: if the guidelines change the standards change with them. We have now extended that to other types of radio frequency installations which we have.
We have established a comprehensive audit including Telecom Éireann, the two mobile telephone companies and the MMDS operators. The process involved them undertaking an internal audit, because they operate these masts, to show they are complying with their licensing condition. We then undertake an external check on that by independent experts. Their job is to review the internal audit and to undertake validation checks, which is the normal way an audit operates. That includes 30 sites chosen with regard to output power, antennae type and the quality of the procedures in place. It would be both urban and rural and involve different types of mast.
I am advised it is expected that definite exposure level profiles will emerge for each type of radio systems from the approximately 30 measurements. The type of masts are relatively standard. The ways in which they are used are likewise relatively standard under the licences issued by the office. We consider, therefore, that this is a very good start to the process. We intend to undertake another audit next year. The present audit will be finished in June and we will publish the results so that all of that information will become available.
Senator Mooney: Who will ultimately decide on the type of digitalisation? Will it be your office or will it be a Government decision on whether it is MMDS or terrestrial?
Chairman: That is not part of our deliberations.
Senator Mooney: It is in the sense that if MMDS is chosen it has implications for radiation.
Chairman: Many other matters have implications for radiation which are not on this agenda. I must, therefore, rule your inquiry out of order.
Mr. Loughrey: It is Government and Departmental policy to facilitate co-location to avoid proliferation. The balance of equation between increased power, where there is co-location, and the density of the population intended to be served has been covered in the past by Dr. McManus. It can be covered again.
With regard to the concern expressed by the community groups for the conference, the Minister would be horrified. It was not the intention to make this a last chance saloon for interaction or to guillotine debate. It is a genuine attempt to open the debate. Even if people think the balance was not right there is no question of guillotining the debate. Our doors are open for further meetings and Dr. McManus is available.
I detected from Mr. Peacock and Mr. Delorey a suspicion that people on this side of the question find their agenda somehow suspect. Nothing could be further from the truth. As far as the Department of Public Enterprise is concerned we have found nothing in all our dealings with community groups but a genuine heartfelt concern for health and environmental issues. We also found that they were always well advised by serious professionals such as John Royds. There is no question of an agenda other than genuine community concern
Deputy McGinley: I congratulate the committee for arranging this meeting. This issue is of wide concern to people in County Donegal. It started a number of years ago with opposition to the imposition of MMDS and has now progressed to the provision of mobile telephone masts throughout the county.
I and some of my colleagues here have attended a number of large meetings in recent months and weeks. There is deep concern about the environmental issue. None of like to see these masts, especially in picturesque areas of the county. There is also concern about the health hazard, which has not been properly explained to people. Some experts say there are no health hazards, others maintain there are.
However, because of public concern this issue will not go away. Whatever the truth, people are concerned and it is not an issue that will go away. I foresee difficulties in the coming months and years until the issue is adequately resolved. Perhaps satellite is the only solution which will make everybody happy.
Many masts used do not need planning permission if there is no significant change and the height remains the same. Planning permission is required for new masts. Will existing masts which do not require planning permission be subject to the same guidelines, regulations and monitoring as new masts?
Ms Moylan: Regarding exempted masts in the context of mast sharing, where an operator chooses to share an existing radio mast, there are provisions in the exempted development regulations concerning size and number of antennae. These conditions must be adhered to. There must also be adherence to standards for emissions.
Mr. McGinley: Essentially they are subject to the same monitoring whether or not planning permission is required.
Ms Moylan: Yes, they must meet the same standards. The issue of monitoring arises under the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation.
Chairman: Mr. Ray Ellard, Environmental Health Officer, Department of Health and Children, may wish to comment.
Mr. Ellard: We listened with great interest and acknowledge there is great public concern about possible adverse health effects. Our opinion, based on the general body of scientific evidence rather than a single study or report, is that no link has yet been established between this form of radiation and human health. However, we recognise the need for continuing and further research and will take great account of what the World Health Organisation will say when it concludes its five year study in 2001. We are keeping an open mind.
Chairman: A representative of the Sutton group is present. Although the group was invited it did not formally send anybody, but I will give the representative one minute so as to ensure fairness as far as possible.
Mr. Vincent Manning: I am an electronics engineer with RTÉ for the past 30 years. Prior to that I was a ship’s radio officer in the merchant navy. I hold a final City and Guilds qualification in advanced telecommunications. As a representative of residents associations, I fully endorse everything that has been said. I am glad there is an awareness of the concern in communities regarding the health hazards of electro-magnetic radiation. Many figures have been thrown around and I know they will go over people’s heads.
Eircell recently published a document in relation to a study it carried out in which Professor Walton states that the power radiated by a typical mast is 4,233 watts. There is a simple formula to apply to find out the field strength at a particular point, related to the surface area of a sphere. An omni-directional aerial, i.e. one that radiates in all directions, is related to a sphere, and by taking the surface area of the sphere it is possible to determine the signal strength. The formula is the power, divided by four, multiplied by pi, that is 3.142, multiplied by the square of the distance that exists between a person and the transmitter.
In the context of Sutton Park, Deputy Brady referred to a meeting, which was packed with concerned residents, as being trumped up. The mast in the area is in the back garden of a residence and the distance from the mast to the upstairs bedroom window of the house is 15 meters. Therefore, 15 is the value for r2 in the formula and if we divide 4,233 by 2,820 we get 1.5 - Members can work out my figures on their calculators tonight. This equals 1.5 watts per m2. To get the number of milliwatts per cm2 we divide by 104 giving a figure of 0.15 microwatts. Mathematically, this is the figure emanating into that room. Correlation was spoken about. If three masts are put on that one structure, there will be 450 microwatts which is above the accepted international safe level.
As a taxpayer and citizen who has nothing but admiration for the Garda, particularly the commissioner and his officers, I sympathise with them.
Chairman: There may be another forum for that type of comment.
Professor Walton: The figure of 4,233 seems very large. I think it was taken from Forbairt calculations under extreme conditions where no losses were allowed for in cables, etc. When this is taken into account a figure of a few hundred watts is arrived at.
Deputy M. Brady: Mr. Manning claimed that I said the meeting in Sutton was trumped up. I was not referring to the meeting in Sutton, but to a meeting elsewhere on the night prior to the general election. I attended the meeting in Sutton and fully supported the residents in their views and their appeal against the planning applications. I fully understand the views of the people present. They are genuine and I have known some of them personally for the past 20 years, something Mr. Manning, a former politician, should be aware.
Chairman: I thank everybody who has attended. The committee has tried to get some understanding of the issue and provide a forum for all parties. When we speak about “them and us“ we must be conscious that, with the exception of the operators, very respected and eminent members of the public service are present. I am satisfied that in all my dealings with them over the past 22 years of political life I found them at all times to be of the highest calibre of integrity. I would be disappointed if this changed at any time in the future. They represent the best interests of their Ministers, Governments, past and present, and the people through the exercise of their constitutional functions. I also take this opportunity to thank the two private companies who outlined their positions, although we do not have to accept them. I appreciate the fact that they came here at their own expense. We invited participants to bring experts to the meeting if they so wished and although we recognised the difficulties involved, it would have been improper of us not to make that choice available to them. I also thank the Director of Telecommunications for coming here today.
The fact that so much has been discussed here today makes a brief summary difficult if not impossible. If anyone wants to add to what they have said today they can do so by way of written submissions. The committee will ensure they are considered in our report. If we need clarification or further details, we will be happy to contact any group or organisation represented here to ensure that we have an accurate account of what was said.
There is little doubt that there must be further investigations and changes, greater communication, better public relationships and more assurances given in many quarters. It is important that we are responsible in our attitudes and careful to strike the right balances. We must recognise that rescue, policing, defence, security and health services depend on telecommunications systems. The Garda Síochána must ensure that masts are located at Garda stations rather than on the local hill or in a neighbouring field because of security risks. Otherwise, it would be virtually impossible for the Garda Commissioner to deploy manpower to protect these masts in difficult circumstances.
We must also recognise that there is no State agency to deal with this matter and that standards have not been set. That must be considered and investigations must be carried out on such health risks as sleep disturbance. There is little doubt that masts should not be located near houses, schools and hospitals. We are all members of communities, regardless of what hat we wear here. I am sure many people here have young children and that they are equally concerned about this issue. They are conscious that land beside schools, hospitals and community centres are not preferential locations for such masts. Private residential householders should not be concerned about the effects of masts on their property.
We will make a copy of the report available to everyone once it is completed. We are undertaking a major exercise but we will try to do it as soon as possible. It will be laid before the two Houses of the Oireachtas which will then debate it.
I thank everyone for coming here today. I hope the debate does not stop here. This committee has afforded everyone an opportunity to make open and fair exchanges and I appreciate the manner in which everyone addressed the issues.
The Joint Committee adjourned at 4.45 p.m.
_Deputies Louis Belton, Mattie Brennan, Thomas Gildea, Cecelia Keaveney, Conor Lenihan, Dinny McGinley and Denis Naughten and Senators Enda Bonner, Pat Gallagher, Paddy McGowan and Pascal Mooney also attended.