THE removal of a mercury-based beam at the iconic west Cork Fastnet Lighthouse will go ahead despite strong opposition from locals.
The Commissioners of Irish Lights confirmed in March that the iconic mercury-based lens that projects light from Fastnet Rock’s lighthouse and covers a distance of 27 nautical miles is to be replaced by a more energy efficient LED light that will only cover a distance of 18 nautical miles.
This will not affect the safety of any vessels in the sea but the lighthouse — which is situated 6.5 kilometres southwest of Cape Clear Island — has gained iconic status as the ‘beacon of hope’ for the Irish abroad and coastal rescue services.
A number of local people have expressed concerns that the lighthouse’s historic status will be compromised by the changes.
The light is associated with emigrating Irish people and has become a symbol of hope for the diaspora and for Irish fishermen.
Several West-Cork based public representatives have said removing the mercury-based light will cause a health and safety issue for local fishermen and will lessen the lighthouse’s “iconic” status.
However, Minister for Transport Shane Ross said: “I have been advised that all concerns raised have been noted and while this necessary change must continue, you can be assured that both myself and the Commissioners of Irish Lights appreciate and indeed share, the great emotional attachment that the people of west Cork and others have for Fastnet Lighthouse.”
Gillian Coughlan (FF) said the Minister has taken no regard of the historic significance of Fastnet Lighthouse.
“The Taoiseach should be giving a response to this as Minister for Defence,” she said.
“The Government is being penny wise and pound foolish. They are spending money where they will live to regret it.
Independent Councillor Danny Collins added: “This light has saved a lot of people over the years. I have spoken to a lot of inshore fishermen. They say that when they see the light, it is a symbol of hope for them. Irish Lights have left down the people of west Cork.”
However, there is also support for Irish Lights’ plan among elected members.
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said the process has been going on since 2010 and Irish Lights have made efforts to engage with different mariner groups.
“The mercury in lighthouses needs to be removed and there is a health and safety issue with loading diesel onto the lighthouse several times a year, “ said Mr Hayes. “Irish Lights are not going to cause a health and safety issue deliberately.
The beam will still be quite satisfactory as far as I am concerned.”
Kevin Murphy (FG) added: “I can’t understand the debate at all. LED is by far and away more efficient and is also extraordinarily bright.
“It would be a huge improvement and we should welcome it with open arms,” added Mr Murphy.
Joe Carroll (FF) dismissed objections to the changes and said the LED is “just a bit of a modernisation”.
Minister Ross said the installation of the LED will bring about significant environmental benefits.
“It will reduce the use of diesel generators in the lighthouse as it will require less than 30 watts as opposed to the 1,000 watt bulbs currently being used, with the intention being to move to a renewable energy system in the future,” he added.