Northern Ireland news

Campaigners reject plans for 'poor imitation' lighthouse beam

St John's Point lighthouse near Killough. Picture by Mal McCann

CAMPAIGNERS seeking to retain the sweeping beam at St John's Point lighthouse in Co Down say freshly tabled proposals to install a weaker, replacement LED light "offer nothing new".

Lecale Lightkeepers rejected the plans from cross-border body Irish Lights for the landmark lighthouse near Killough ahead of a public meeting tonight.

The campaigners claim the downgrading of the light, first proposed in 2015, would see the beam's reach reduced by up to nine miles.

Irish Lights argue that the mercury in which the historic Fresnel lens rotates is dangerous and should be removed.

They have installed other replacement lights in recent years at Fastnet off Co Cork, Tory Island off the coast of Donegal and various sites around the Irish coastline.

But according to Lecale Lightkeepers' spokeswoman Eileen Peters, the replacement lights are a "poor imitation" and have left the communities in those areas "outraged at the loss".

"The simplest and best solution for St John's Point is to leave the light as as it is," she said.

"The local people, including fishermen and inshore mariners, do not want the light to be replaced by an inferior substitute."

Ms Peters said that rather than coming up with new proposals Irish Lights was relying on the "same old arguments" and that the organisation's desire to remove the mercury was a "red herring".

She said Newry Mourne and Down Council had voted unanimously to retain the light in its present form.

"The wishes of the people must be respected and Irish Lights must not be granted planning permission to proceed with the alterations to this listed building," she said.

Ahead of tonight's public meeting in Ardglass, which Irish Lights is billing as a "public consultation", the organisation's director of coastal operations Captain Robert McCabe said the modernisation programme would "meet the needs of the mariner" and ensure the facility is "safe and running in an environmentally-efficient manner".

He said Irish Lights wanted to "safeguard this site and its valuable heritage".

"Over the past three years Irish Lights has proactively engaged with the local community and relevant state agencies to establish the best approach to the site," he said.

"We have now developed and tested new technology to achieve a sustainable solution that will enable retention of the historic lens and sweeping beam at St John's Point."

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