The Nuclear Syndrome Victory for the Irish Anti-nuclear Power Movement



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Alternative Energy

While the NSA provided a focus for concern which gradually turned into opposition, two groups came together in Dublin voicing concerns about the hazards of nuclear power and advocating alternative energy strategies.
In Dublin a Friends of the Earth group was established in 1974 and produced a series of information leaflets on nuclear power late in that year (Friends of the Earth, Ireland, 1974). These dealt with the technical details, history and unreliability of nuclear technology, the effects of radioactivity, and questions of insurance and alternative energy strategies.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) policy at this stage was to oppose the introduction of a Light Water Reactor (LWR) in Ireland until the technology was further evaluated and the Emergency Core Cooling System (EGGS) and waste storage problem resolved. They advocated contacting local representatives and informing them of the issues as well as personal energy conserving lifestyles.
In an attempt to expand the NSA into a larger and more effective lobby organisation, a group calling itself the Council for Nuclear Safety and Energy Resources Conservation (CONSERVE) was formed in Dublin in January 1975. This was a group of mainly technically qualified individuals and people with a professional interest in alternative energy strategies who they set themselves a somewhat different agenda. Their four objectives emphasised conservation of energy and changing institutional structures to promote a national energy policy.
Dr. Roy Johnson of Trinity College Dublin acted as convenor for a provisional committee of six people from Dublin and Wexford. A series of meetings were held in 1975 to produce a memorandum for circulation to public representatives. This document was completed in July (R. Johnson: Legislation, Energy Conservation and the Balance of Payments. CONSERVE memorandum, mimeo., 1975.) and argued that nuclear power is dangerous and inefficient. It also outlined the institutional and legislative barriers that existed which limited the development and efficient use of primary energy sources. It suggested that practical measures must be taken rather than mere exhortation to conserve energy (at that time the Department of Transport and Power was running a series of television commercials on the theme of 'use energy wisely'). It argued for the decentralisation of electricity generation and the industrial co-generation of heat and power. Combined heat and power stations were advocated while it warned against high grade natural gas on electricity generation.
This document is noticeable because it introduces ideas of energy analysis and end-use consideration which underlie the ideas of alternative energy strategies. These ideas were to be used later by groups like FoE to criticise the case for nuclear power. It further advocates the creation of separate independent centres of energy expertise and major changes in electricity pricing policy. It also suggests that the NEB be made independent of the Department of Transport and Power. A number of people connected with this group were later to become involved in the formation of the Irish branch of the Solar Energy Society (SESI). The roots of alternative energy ideas were set in 1975 in Dublin. Another document foreshadowed future developments. The largest Irish trade union, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU) published a document on energy in 1975 (ITGWU: Energy in Irish Society. Dublin 1975). This emphasised the problems with nuclear technology and advocated a consideration of social factors including manpower training. They argued that nuclear power might prove a useful source of power but that it would not help to develop the skills of the Irish workforce. As yet, the ITGWU was not committed to opposing nuclear power
The Intervening Years

The Irish economy recovered in 1976 and 1977 from the economic slump of 1974 and 1975 and concomitantly energy demand increased. Fianna Fail, out of government since 1973, won the June 1977 general election and gained a large majority in the Dail. Armed with a very optimistic programme for economic expansion, heavily dependent on foreign borrowing, they foresaw a golden age of economic progress ahead. The plans inevitably called for an increase in energy consumption and before long the new energy minister, Desmond O'Malley, was keenly promoting nuclear power. The nuclear option had not been mentioned in any detail during the election and a wave of concern swept through opponents in the Autumn of 1977.


Before the election the NEB had moved to spacious new offices in Hatch Street in Dublin and its first chairman, Professor C.T.C.Dillon had moved on to become the ESB's chairman. The NEB's first secretary had also moved to the ESB while Dr. T. Murray moved in the opposite direction. Personnel changes like this one have been recurring events in other nuclear establishments around the globe and have led critics to doubt seriously the impartiality of regulatory agencies. Irish Business commented acidly:
Certainly the appointment of Professor Dillon from chairmanship of the Nuclear Energy Commission to chairman of the ESB is an indication that the government views both bodies as synonymous when in fact one is supposed to be the watchdog of the other’s infant nuclear division.
The nuclear debate did not entirely cease during 1976 and 1977 although with the postponement of the ESB plans the immediacy was removed. Articles continued to appear in the media on the topic both supporting and opposing nuclear power. Dr. Robert Blackith of TCD, who played a major role later, emerged on the scene in 1975 and published his critical book on the subject of nuclear power promotion in Ireland the following year (R.E. Blackith: The Power that Corrupts. Dublin: Dublin University Press 1976.). With academic interests in zoology and the mathematical modelling of biological systems and a concern for social issues and conservation, he became probably the most articulate and determined public speaker against nuclear power in Ireland. Alerted by what he considered a one-sided approach by the ESB and pro-nuclear spokespeople he was suspicious that 'all was not well'. Research into the question of nuclear technology and the inability of the ESB representatives to answer his questions adequately confirmed his fears. His first public statements on the subject came in a debate about the NIES proposal to build a Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor (SGHWR) at Kilchief in Co. Antrim which was broadcast by BBC (Ulster) TV in December 1975. This debate was the culmination of a series of lectures organised by Professor Newbould of the New University of Ulster in Coleraine on the nuclear issue. The NIES proposals were scuttled by a British inquiry into the finances and demand projections of the NIES in 1976 before the plans were far advanced.
The Controversy Rekindled...

In November 1977 The Irish Times published a letter by David Byres and Andy O'Connell, who were subsequently to become involved in reforming the Friends of the Earth, which succinctly summarised the political implications of the debate which until then had scarcely been commented on amid the talk of melt downs, radiation damage and health effects.


The question of the Carnsore reactor is not merely a technical decision, to be left to the ESB’s engineers, but a truly political one, which will determine whether we head towards a resource-wasteful, hierarchical society much as today, or q diverse, small scale, truly democratic system based on ‘soft’ energy and a simpler life style.
A feature article by Dick Grogan in The Irish Times in January 1978 quoted a Solar Energy Society of Ireland (SESI) statement calling for a full scale examination of the nuclear implications and emphasising the need to use each available energy source to maximum effectiveness. The profound social implications of energy decisions were also noted in this statement and Dick Grogan goes on to caution against the abrupt dismissal of opponents. In this context he quotes Dr. Guido Brunner's infamous outburst against the anti-nuclear movement
... those who rail against nuclear energy and at the same time plead for full employment should realise that there is a direct connection between the two...
These jackbooted nuclear objectors carry on their revolutionary trade in the guise of peaceful ecologists ... Some are against that form of society because they dream of a return to the simple life and a no-growth, sandal wearing society – not a convincing model.
With concern about the nuclear issue growing, people began discussing how to organise to resist the government's plans. Late in 1977 a group of concerned people attended a meeting in TCD organised by the campus group of the Student Christian Movement. Dr. Blackith addressed the group on the dangers and problems of nuclear power and it was agreed that they should establish a group to oppose it Subsequent meetings were held in TCD and later in a building owned by the Student Christian Movement which was run as a resource centre for minority groups and small political and pressure groups. The group adopted the name Friends of the Earth again and it was decided to focus the group on the campaign against nuclear power, although subsequent environmental campaigns on other topics were not ruled out.
To set the campaign in motion they organised a seminar in TCD in February 1978 at which speakers included John Carroll of the ITGWU, Sean MacBride, Dr. Blackith, Michael Flood of London FoE and Brian Hurley. These presentations were edited and printed as a booklet which included the standard FoE statement on the Carnsore proposal criticising government energy policy and demanding a public inquiry into the issue (FoE: Nuclear Power: The Case Against. Dublin 1978.). This group held regular weekly meetings in the spring of 1978 and drew increasing attendances at their meetings. They started printing a monthly newsletter and enrolling formal membership and became for. a few months the focus of opposition to nuclear power. The group appointed an ad hoc committee, which included two Ph.D. research students in biology who devoted much of their time to working on the issue, and favoured a classic pressure group/information/lobby campaign approach to the issue. Many activists with more overtly political backgrounds challenged this and left FoE to organise more militant political actions against the Carnsore project.
...and Develops

Mr. O’Malley came under attack from within his own party at the annual Fianna Fail Ard Fheis (annual party convention). A composite motion from a number of local branches opposed nuclear power. In reply he stated that he favoured open debate on the subject and had instructed the ESB to release information to 'responsible bodies'. He also intimated that if people in Wexford remained in opposition to the nuclear plant then he would authorise its siting in Co. Sligo, where the local population would welcome the construction jobs.


Barry Desmond, a Labour party Dail member, introduced a private members bill in the Dail on 21 February 1978 calling for the establishment of a select joint committee of the Dail and the Senate to review the nuclear plant proposals and hold public hearings on selected topics of energy policy. This bill, however, still operated within the framework of the 'energy gap' philosophy. This planning perspective remained the under-lying argument in favour of nuclear power.
The point that emerges clearly from the debate at this time is the widespread agreement within the major parties on the 'need' for large increases in energy used to fuel economic growth. At this stage Mr. O'Malley only really differed from the opposition in the degree of his enthusiasm for nuclear power and his optimism about economic growth rates. The conventional wisdom of industrial development and its consequences for energy planning and public policy were not challenged with the exception of a contribution by Mr. John Horgan. In addition, because this conventional wisdom was so widely accepted, the actual amount of understanding and knowledge shown by the members of the Dail was small; few members had apparently done much thinking or research on energy issues. Not until two years later after much public debate on the nuclear issue had occurred, did Fine Gael incorporate conservation and alternative energy ideas into their energy policies, and rethink some of the long taken for granted assumptions underlying the conventional wisdom as epitomised by the 'energy gap' philosophy.
Political Opposition

In March and April 1978 the FoE weekly meetings drew increasing attendances and debates over the best way of opposing nuclear power developed. The positions polarised approximately into those who wanted to follow a route of militant protest action, with street theatre, agitational propaganda leaflets and demonstrations and those who preferred to maintain FoE as a lobby group with information and legal approaches through the planning process. The issue finally came to a vote on proposed constitutions and the lobby approach won this technicality. In the meantime some of the more radical activists, inspired by the massive demonstrations and attempted site occupations in Europe in previous years had made contact with NSA members and the emergent Wexford Town-based 'Nuclear Opposition Wexford' (NOW) and proposed the idea of a large rally at the site on Carnsore Point. Other groups were established in Cork, Limerick and Galway, among other places, in the spring. Public meetings increased in frequency and speakers were in great demand. The newspaper correspondence columns filled out with contributions on the energy question. A loose collective formed to organise the rally which was planned for August. Noticeable was the involvement of many folk musicians who offered their services to raise money at benefit concerts and who worked and played hard at the rally itself. This cultural aspect was an integral part of the ANM and added tremendously to its appeal among people who could identify with this medium and with anti-nuclear protest songs, if not with the arcane technicalities of reactor design and epidemiological statistics.


The Dublin FoE group launched a national appeal for people to lodge objections with the Wexford County council which had still not come to a planning decision on the ESB's application for planning permission. In June the Quaker Peace Committee lodged a formal objection with Wexford Co. council to the ESB's application. Concerned about nuclear waste, proliferation and decommissioning it says,
By the beginning of the next century we could find ourselves with a large dangerous, radioactive and heavily guarded complex which would be an eyesore, fill no useful purpose, threaten the lives of people in the area, and would require not only a permanent military guard, but the construction of adequate security measures and the necessary facilities for the people guarding such a ‘white elephant’.
The summer months brought the controversy to a head with the publication of the government Green Paper on Energy and the first large rally by the ANM at Carnsore Point.
A Hot Summer

In July the government found support for its position on nuclear power in a statement from the Institution of Engineers in Ireland which argued that,


... the economic future of Ireland depends upon commitment to the generation of electricity from nuclear fission to the extent of at least 30% of its requirements by the end of this century.
Also in July, the long awaited government Green Paper on Energy made its appearance. This document outlined the government's rationale for nuclear power but excluded from detailed consideration many other possible avenues for energy policies.
The Green Paper contained many figures that had been presented earlier by Dr. Richard Kavanagh in a paper to a conference on energy options in a European context organised by the Irish Council of the European Movement held in Malahide in May. These figures had been harshly criticised by many people at that meeting but they were retained in the Green Paper. Unfortunately published in a light brown cover, one critic, writing in the music magazine Hot Press, dismissed the Green Paper as more 'the colour of diluted bullshit'. This article by the paper's Jack Lynch went on to comment,

Nuclear power is the most destructive expression of international technocratic capitalism. It also reveals perfectly the fatal contradiction of the same exploitative power which puts profits before people.
With criticism of the Green Paper mounting and FoE finding a major flaw in its calculations the ESB announced that it was commissioning a survey on the acceptability of nuclear power among the general public. As plans for the weekend rally at Carnsore Point were hecticly finalised, six local doctors issued a statement against the plant.
Thousands of people converged on the rally site by car, bus and specially hired trains for the weekend of 18-20 August. Estimates vary widely as to how many people made it to the site but a figure of 25,000 is often mentioned. The media gave the protest wide coverage including photographs on the front page of the national dailies and television coverage by both the BBC and RTE.
The free festival was organised in a completely ad hoc way with volunteers, of which there was no shortage, doing all the jobs that needed to be done, from patrolling the danger spots on the beach to manning the crèche and supervising the carparks. The rally drew people in far greater numbers than the organising collective had believed possible. Run as a free forum for the exchange of information it drew support from traditional musicians who provided sound equipment and entertainment. The local parish committee set up a successful food stall and raised money for parish activities. Many environmental and political groups set up stalls, sold badges, leaflets, magazines and books and exchanged information. Following a large open air meeting on Sunday (20 August) a procession of those attending the rally built a memorial cairn to all those who had suffered or been killed by nuclear technology. The rally created a festive but determined atmosphere among these present. A number of 'sign up' sheets were posted near the information caravan and people signed names and addresses on a county basis to start local groups and to put people in contact with others in their areas who were concerned. The organising collective disbanded, its job done, and a plethora of local groups started campaigning in the following months including groups as far away as Derry and Belfast. FoE's campaign of filing objections to Wexford Co. Council received a boost and after the rally one member claimed that 7,500 letters had by that time been lodged with the council.
At the Sunday afternoon meeting the idea of a mass movement with autonomous groups and no formal centralised structure, which had been strongly advocated by many groups, came to the fore in the open air meeting which had no formal chairperson but just a microphone at the stage which speakers used in turn to address the audience. Speakers included locals, people from various anti-nuclear groups, activists from abroad, and members of political groups. A large windmill was on site provided by Alternative Energy Limited of Galway.
The organisers maintained very cordial relations with the local police, some of whom were also opposed to the project, a very different situation from the continental experience and one that amazed European activists in subsequent years. On a number of occasions, in subsequent years, however, plainclothes 'special branch' and drug squad police were 'escorted' peacefully from the site, their presence not being appreciated by the more politically aware elements at the rallies.
The government reaction was noticeable by its absence until ten days later when Mr. O'Malley issued a small statement repeating that an inquiry was unnecessary and unjustified. John Kelly of Fine Gael was more concerned and the rally had obviously worried him. He warned that if the government did not concede to a public inquiry, the protest might escalate:

To continue to refuse it, and to treat those who seek it like children, is the course which may eventually leave us with something like the new Tokyo Airport shambles on our hands at Carnsore.
The national daily papers were also concerned and called again for an inquiry. Although maintaining his support for the nuclear proposal John Kelly expressed his fears again a few months later when he questioned the wisdom of not holding an inquiry to 'allay the fears of the public',

This is a peculiarly explosive issue, and the Minister is going the wrong way about it. There should be an inquiry to set people‘s minds at test, and we should be careful not to allow subversive elements the excuse of joining the protest.
Despite the massive opposition O'Malley remained apparently unmoved. In October he announced that he would be submitting his case in favour of nuclear power to the Cabinet within a few weeks. He added in typical style another dismissal of the need for an inquiry.

If there was anything to inquire into, I would have no objection. But I do not think there is.’ And later; I am open to be influenced by any real arguments. But I have not encountered any genuine rebuttal of the obvious advantages of getting 15% of our electricity needs from nuclear sources by the end of the 1980s.


Showing either a remarkable ignorance, or a deliberate avoidance of the sophisticated case against nuclear technology, and the glaring holes in the Green Paper, which FoE were busy documenting he continued,

I want to assure people as best I can that there can be no objective grounds for (that) fear. ‘Nuclear’ is associated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the atom bomb, but this is fundamentally wrong, for this is abuse of nuclear power. A nuclear station will in fact be safer even than a coal fired station and will be better in terms of cleanliness in human health and environment.
In early November the Confederation of Irish Industry issued a statement in favour of using coal and nuclear power to provide the energy it claimed was essential for industrial development. While O'Malley continued to be intransigent the ANM took to the streets and the political meeting places.
The Amorphous Network

The ecologists use the word which probably best describes their organisation-network. The ANM is an amorphous collection of formal organisations, individuals, local groups, small research groups, lobbyists, newsletters, magazines, dissident scientists and counter-cultural collectives. Imbued in some places with formal lobby group ideas, standing committees, respected presidents, sponsors and all the other paraphernalia of pressure group politics; and in others with the 1960s ideas of non-structured participatory democracy and mass meetings with an overt political dimension. Still other parts include ideas of affinity groups, non-violent action and consensual decision-making.


The National ANM

Following the Carnsore anti-nuclear power show in August many local groups organised meetings, debates, self-education sessions, petitions and demonstrations in all parts of the country. A series of county meetings were held to bring activists from scattered groups together. Large meetings in Cork and Dublin included stormy exchanges on how to organise the movement. The meeting in the Mansion House in Dublin on 23 September produced a loud condemnation of the ESB who had bulldozed the memorial cairn on Carnsore Point a few days earlier on the grounds that it was dangerous to children! The NSA was also furious at this insensitive act. In November a group of actors and musicians including the Freddie White Band and Christy Moore organised a whistle stop 'Roadshow' tour of the country playing music, anti-nuclear songs and performing a play which included not a little character assassination of government ministers. This provided a lead up to the second major anti-nuclear meeting held in the State theatre in Dublin in November. Prior to this an anti-nuclear newsletter was organised. The newsletter idea was to provide all groups with a forum to communicate with each other. Each group sent a gestetnered sheet to an agreed place and the group organising its production collated the submissions and circulated them to all groups. Although the scheme worked for a few issues to coincide with the three monthly national meetings it never functioned perfectly smoothly, and the content and production of the newsletter was less than originally intended.


The national 'Monster Meeting' held in Dublin on 25 November 1978 was an all day affair with a loosely structured agenda for discussion, to be followed in the evening by the last performance of the anti-nuclear roadshow. Many motions on questions of organisation were discussed and attempts to put issues to votes were not very successful. To some participants the open unstructured nature of this meeting seemed like chaos, to others the very lack of formal rules was exciting and encouraging them to become involved. The local groups remained operating autonomously, organising meetings, preparing leaflets, doing street theatre, etc. In Dublin in particular the autumn of 1978 was a time of intense activity between meetings, benefit concerts and discos, leaf letting campaigns, demonstrations and street theatre.
A third national anti-nuclear power mass meeting was held on a cold snowy Saturday in February 1979 in Wexford town. The Wexford organisers had arranged a formal format with an agenda and a chairperson. They had requested that each group around the country send three voting delegates to make decisions. This arrangement was quickly dispensed with when the meeting started and a series of small discussion groups formed to discuss nuclear power and issues arising out of the previous few months experience. The debate over structures and organisation remained an issue throughout the ANM in Ireland in subsequent months.

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