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



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O'Malley Gives Ground

Apart from the numerous local actions staged by the ANM, nationally opposition continued to mount FoE published their critique of the government Green Paper in October 1978, cheekily entitling it 'Energy Ireland: A Commonsense View', FoE, Dublin 1978.In twenty-four tightly packed pages they demolished many of the Green Paper's arguments and introduced well documented material to argue that a soft path approach was feasible and desirable. The SESI published their 'Towards Energy Independence’ in December (Dublin 1978) outlining the possibilities for an ambitious programme of renewable energy source development which would make nuclear power irrelevant.
This document set out in detail a phased plan to develop native renewable energy resources. By using Ireland's traditional agricultural infrastructure and technology developed to process turf to build a large bio-mass programme, and by developing a large grid of wind powered electricity generation systems, they presented a plausible technical case for energy self-sufficiency early in the twenty-first century, even if energy demand continued to rise. Also in the Autumn of 1978 Mathew Hussey and Carol Craig published a short book criticising the Green Paper. Illustrated with pointed cartoons by Martyn Turner, this book attempted to explain simply the anti-nuclear position (M. Hussey and C. Craig: Nuclear Ireland? Dublin: Co-op 1978.). The Labour Party produced a statement on nuclear power prepared by Barry Desmond, the Party's spokesperson on Energy, in which he deplored the failure of the government to concede to a public inquiry. This statement also said that the reduction of energy policy debates to a choice of either coal or nuclear powered plants was unacceptable. In November and December 1978 RTE radio ran a number of programmes on nuclear power. This was followed in January 1979 by a special edition of the popular TV show 'The Late Late Show' devoted entirely to the issue. A stormy, controversial show resulted with a heavily anti-nuclear audience protesting strongly against the statements made by Dr. McAuley and Mr. Burke, the Minister of State for Energy, who were on the panel. Dr. Blackith, Dr. Petra Kelly and John Carroll amongst others opposed the nuclear plans and musical interludes included Christy Moore singing anti-nuclear songs. The proceedings were interrupted frequently by comments, heckling and booing from the placard waving audience.
In January 1979 the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission withdrew its endorsement of the Executive Summary of the Rasmussen Report and FoE were quick to demand the withdrawal of the ESB status report then being widely circulated, and the Government Green Paper both of which drew heavily on the Reactor Safety Study (The Rasmussen Report). Pressure for a public inquiry continued to grow as the opposition in the Dail repeatedly demanded one and other sectors of society including the Medical Union joined the chorus. Pressure within the rank and file of Fianna Fail grew too and at the Ard Fheis in February 1979 Mr. O'Malley grudgingly bowed to the pressure and announced that there would be a public inquiry into nuclear power and energy policy. As one journalist later put it,

Energy Minister O’Malley hated every moment of announcing the establishment of a special tribunal to consider the ESB’s nuclear plans. The official statement patronisingly allowed that there would be ‘freedom for all points of view – even the most irrational – to be expressed’.
Anti-nuclear groups were quick to respond favourably but hoped for wide terms of reference which included social and economic questions. The FoE statement, issued hurriedly from their annual conference which was being held in TCD that weekend, said

We hope that the public inquiry will cover the full implications of energy policy in the areas of jobs, balance of payments and security of resource supply among other.
The programme announced by Mr. O'Malley involved a number of stages. First, the ESB was to complete its planning to the draft specification stage. Second, an interdepartmental committee would study energy policy financing, environmental factors, etc., and issue a report to lay the groundwork for the tribunal. Finally the inquiry tribunal would publish its report following which, presumably, the government would make a decision on the matter.
In late March the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania happened, adding support to the anti-nuclear cause. In April Gerald Foley, the Sligo-born author of The Energy Question (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1976) wrote a feature article in The Irish Times arguing that the Harrisburg incident suggested that a major rethink was needed on the issue of nuclear safety and suggesting that Ireland should delay its decision on nuclear power.
The Controversy Continues

During the summer of 1979 the ANM put its energies into organising another major festival at the Carnsore site. The second rally was a smaller affair than the previous year but there was greater political content and more organised workshops in which the connections between nuclear power, uranium mining, toxic waste and noxious industries were explored. The media reporting was less extensive this time but one Irish Times correspondent trivialised the whole affair with comments on sunbathers and balloons while a tabloid went looking for nude swimmers. The Irish Times received a barrage of objections from outraged activists. This problem recurred; in 1980 The Cork Examiner printed two thirds of a page of photographs of painted faces and small children without any explanation, implying that only clowns and kids were present.


Meanwhile the government had further annoyed nuclear opponents and further damaged its legitimacy with an announcement by the Taoiseach that two reactors would be needed if economic growth continued. He subsequently denied that such comments pre-empted the findings of the Inquiry. The NSA was furious and the secretary, Helen Scrine, said that the announcement reduced the proposed inquiry to 'an expensive and futile irrelevance' and argued that the EEC now ran Irish energy policy. The NSA reiterated its call for a referendum on the issue. Mr. O'Malley continued to show his contempt for the opposition and the inquiry that he had conceded:

People talk of nuclear power as if it existed... But in fact we just do not have a choice it economic growth is to continue.
The EEC stated publicly that the European Investment Bank would give loans covering half of the costs of a nuclear power plant in Ireland on the same day in June as An Taisce (The National Heritage Trust) published its major policy paper suggesting that any nuclear decision should be postponed.
In July 1979, Mr. Lynch, in answer to questions in the Dail, said that effectively Wexford Co. Council would be relieved of its planning obligations with regard to the Carnsore project and that new legislation would be drafted to deal with the situation.
The EEC heads of state summit meeting took place in Dublin in November 1979 and a small group of activists in Dublin occupied the EEC commission offices to mark the occasion and to make a dramatic protest against nuclear power and the EEC's role in its promotion. This incident resulted in nine arrests as the Gardai forcefully removed the seven occupiers and two supporters outside who failed to 'get out of the way quickly enough', The EEC heads of government meeting also produced an anti-EEC and anti-nuclear march that evening in Dublin. The government in another small but significant step announced that the special legislation on the inquiry was now being delayed until the findings on the Three Mile Ireland accident became available.
A New Year, a New Minister, a New Policy

With increasing economic gloom appearing ahead and a down-ward revision of energy forecasts, Mr. Colley announced that he was postponing plans for a nuclear plant at Carnsore. He further announced that his energy policy would emphasise conservation and speeded up development of alternative forms of energy supply. The ESB also seemed less enthusiastic and at last the ESB chairman Caries Dillon had come to realise more fully the political dimensions of the issue.



... nuclear power brings with it enormous problems ... the intrinsic safety of a whole series of nuclear related problems, Nuclear power has a much wider dimension than mere technical problems It raises fundamental political, social, economic and environmental questions.
Mr. Colley was much less sanguine about nuclear energy than his predecessor who continued to promote it. Mr. Colley's tone was completely different:

As far as I am concerned the evidence available in regard to the safety of nuclear stations is not thoroughly convincing.
In the spring of 1980 the Department of Energy pushed ahead with four pilot windpower projects and showed more interest in biomass fuel production. The result of the Swedish referendum in March 1980 offered little reprieve to the battered nuclear industry in that country and placed it under closer public scrutiny. The resistance to French government plans to build a nuclear complex at Plogoff in Brittany was also in the news that spring.
Despite the decision to postpone the plans for Carnsore Point, Fine Gael were still not happy and John Kelly demanded that the inquiry go ahead to investigate aspects other than safety issues so as to leave everyone better informed on the issue. In April 1980 Mr. Colley again stated that he wanted more information on nuclear safety and in June he initiated a major energy conservation campaign. In May it was hinted that the government was prepared to drop the nuclear plans altogether. In May also those arrested for occupying the EEC offices came to trial and received a two year suspended sentence.
In May 1980 Fine Gael published a major policy paper on energy which argued that nuclear power was unnecessary and undesirable. They argued in favour of using biomass, conservation and efficiency improvements presenting many arguments that the FoE and SESI, not to mention the earlier CONSERVE group had presented years before.
Despite Mr. Colley's reversal of the nuclear policy, two system analysts in the National Board for Science and Technology had different ideas, and their 1980 report Energy Supply and Demand: The Next 30 Years still operated in the framework of rapidly increasing future demand requiring large projects to meet these forecasts (R. Kavanagh and J. Brady, Dublin 1980). FoE in Dublin, who were slowly rebuilding a nucleus of people to pick up environmental causes again following a dispersal of key personnel early in 1979, did not let this pass and publishes a critical article in The Irish Times arguing that the basic reasoning of the model was faulty. They pointed out its lack of consideration of government policies on controls, prices and incentives and the avoidance of the socio-economic dimensions of energy policy. John Brady and Richard Kavanagh replied a week later-arguing that low or soft technologies couldn't meet forecasted demands and that their report was only a discussion document, not a policy paper.
John Carroll and other trade unionists, including representatives of the ESB's officers' association tried once more to pass an anti-nuclear resolution in the annual conference of the Trade Union Congress in July but the congress still insisted on keeping the option open. The revival of the peace movement in Europe in 1980 was marked by a number of ceremonies around the country on Hiroshima Day in August 1980, organised by the reformed Irish CND, the NSA and other groups.
The third annual rally at Carnsore Point in August was a smaller affair than those in previous years and the workshops reflected the influence of new issues with uranium mining, nuclear weapons, and noxious industry being important themes of discussion. The music content was played down this time following requests by a number of groups concerned about its perceived 'pop festival' image. Non-violence seminars and workshops on trade union matters organised by the recently formed Trade Union Anti-Nuclear Campaign (TUANC) were well attended.
The most noticeable silence in the whole nuclear controversy in Ireland was from the Roman Catholic church. Despite expressed concern by many about the moral issues raised by the nuclear fuel cycle, the church did not make a major statement on this issue in 1978 or 1979 when the public debate was most active. This reflects in part the changing role of the church in Ireland, its partial withdrawal from direct social intervention in addition to its traditional reluctance to become involved in issues identified as obviously 'political'. The ‘moral’ concerns that the church deals with centre on issues of personal and sexual morality and education related to family structure and behaviour, the family unit being seen as the basic and most important unit in society. Apart from calls to take action against poverty and unemployment and statements on housing issues, especially in the Dublin area, the church has recently refrained from commenting at length on many detailed aspects of public policy. In September the churches finally emerged with a statement on the nuclear topic. Arguing that nuclear waste is a major problem they suggested that no nuclear project be undertaken until a safe way of disposing of nuclear waste was developed.
Late in 1980 the issue of rebuilding the electricity grid inter-connector with the NIES system was raised again. Also on the agenda of new proposals were schemes to develop a pipeline gas grid connecting North and South. Running against the tide of current opinion in 1981 in Ireland, the European Centre for Public Enterprise, which includes representatives of a number of large Irish semi-state bodies, issued a report in April advocating nuclear power in Ireland. George Colley went to Denmark early in 1981 and was given a tour of their alternative energy systems including several huge windmills. In April Ray Burke, Minister of Environment, in the new cabinet, announced that the 1976 draft building regulations, which included insulation guidelines, would be operationalised from early 1982, and the ESB announced that it was seriously thinking of district heating schemes in Dublin and conversion of some plants to combined heat and power stations. In the previous month the ESB had announced that R ISO, the Danish national research agency, had presented them with a report on health, safety and environmental factors concerning the proposed Carnsore plant. They also admitted that the demand for electricity in Ireland had declined 1.8% in the previous year because of the economic recession which was by now once again gripping the Irish economy and also because of increased consumer opposition to rate increases on electricity bills. Despite the on-going research work on the site and the continuing debate about energy policy, for the foreseeable future there will be no nuclear plant in Co. Wexford.
The ANM continued to function into 1981, but a 'mass' meeting held in Cork in March could muster barely 50 people. Nevertheless a smaller Carnsore festival was held in August 1981 as much to maintain tradition as to oppose a plant on the site.
The Radicals
Patriarchal society is fundamentally aggressive, competitive and hierarchical. Contemporary high technology can be seen as its apogee, concentrating, as it does the power and profit in the hands of a small elite of technocrats; their attitude to the earth is one of exploitation, of domination as opposed to dwelling in and with it. Trained in the methods of so-called scientific ‘detachment’ they detach themselves utterly from the implications of their technological toys Long term risks (even short term), damage to the environment, dangers to human health, are all dismissed in favour of immediate ‘effectiveness’ or to put it more bluntly, the quickest profit.

... the anti-nuclear movement is not a defensive reaction, against something which would cause enormous damage in the event of an accident. The movement is rather against the hierarchical, computerised, authoritarian state which takes decisions by reference to its own peculiar values Thus the movement is a political and social movement... It is not a pressure group, it is a movement of cultural revolution and social struggle.

Douglas Johnson: More than a Protest. In: New Statesman, August 1980.

Mary McNamara. In: Wicca No. 8.
The structure of the movement itself, its organisation and type of leadership is consistent with the style of politics chosen by much of the movement. The attempt to create organisational structures where people could actively participate without an authoritarian hierarchy arising around and above them has been a cornerstone of the movement.

S. Vogel: The Limits of Protest: A Critique of the Anti-Nuclear Movement. In: Socialist Review 54,1980, 130.


The second phase of the Irish ANM was a much broader campaign than the first phase. Widespread public support was gained, numerous established groups made statements in favour of a public inquiry and at the spearhead of resistance was an active and vocal mass movement which established itself at the first anti-nuclear rally at Carnsore Point in August 1978.
This chapter deals with the political debate within the movement and shows how the ideas of mass democracy and a rejection of the established political process permeates the ANM. Barkan's analysis of the U.S. ANM is a useful starting point. He divided the internal tactical and political debates into four headings:


  • consensus decision-making and political organisation,

  • non-violence and civil disobedience,

  • multiple issues versus single issues,

  • the use of the court system by activists.

This chapter deals with the first two of these factors and also considers briefly the approach of activists to the government public inquiry. Chapter 13 deals with the question of multiple issues. Only 10 activists came to trial for activities relating to the ANM in Ireland and the questions that Barkan raises are not of importance.


Organisational questions were central foci of concern in the Irish ANM, and while questions of violence and civil disobedience were never seriously faced in tactical situations on a large scale, they were central to discussions of strategy in many groups. Mass democracy and participatory political activity were considered essential by many activists in the building of a movement to oppose nuclear power and the technocratic state. Before discussing these issues it is worth noting some of the key groups. In the early stages the Dublin FoE group was a focus of activity. The Revolutionary Struggle group (RS) through their activists scattered throughout the country and through their periodical Rebel were ardent proponents of mass democracy. At the height of the activity, late in 1978 there were as many as fifty local groups around the country opposing nuclear power. These constitute the 'mass movement', the key component in the campaign against nuclear power.
Cork FoE and the Tralee Nuclear Opposition Workshop were important in the 1979 attempts to establish a delegate structure to co-ordinate the local groups. The Wexford NSA was still campaigning in the local area throughout this period.
Mass Movement or Lobby Group?

Early in 1978 the embryo ANM organised in Dublin under the umbrella of the reformed FoE group. A major debate developed over how best to enlarge the opposition to nuclear power. The debate polarised between those who wanted to build a lobby organisation and those who wished to take a more militant approach. In making a distinction between the 'lobbyists' and the mass movement advocates, it would be a mistake to see it as a split between conservative committee types and the rest. It was widely agreed in the early FoE group that the organisation should be as decentralised and as non-bureaucratic as possible. A special meeting was organised on 6 April 1978 to thrash out questions of organisation, tactics, political philosophy, non-violence and other issues. For this meeting three discussion papers were prepared; one by two members of the self-appointed ad hoc committee of FoE, one identified with the RS group and some other activists, and a third by some unaffiliated anarchist activists.


Taking these in reverse older; the anarchist document suggested that a separate anti-nuclear movement should be established so that it would not be diluted by FoE's other environmentalist interests. It also argued for direct action and suggested that it should not limit itself to only legal approaches. On the question of organisation it advocated a recallable rotating facilitating committee.
The document identified with the RS group set its perspectives on political ecology clearly in the first paragraph:

Friends of the Earth is an organisation concerned primarily with ecology – for us that implies that the organisation sees, and intends to fight against, the misuse and destruction of nature and its resources – for that misuse and destruction are against the interests of the working people
and later,
Members of Friends of the Earth, whether democratic, progressive, socialist or communist, or perhaps considering themselves apolitical, agree though on one thing: that the economic and technological so-called development effectively underdevelops people, all over the world, through illiteracy, disease, poverty, unemployment, war, plunder, and the destruction of finite resources
Further, that such underdevelopment while serving primarily the short term interests of rulers acts against the long-term interests of humanity. And if that is to change, it would be necessary to build a new way of life based on human concepts of growth, control of technology, understanding and respect for nature – for the interests of the majority of the people.
On the question of organisation they argued that few, except those involved with capital intensive industry in Ireland, stood to gain from nuclear power but that confrontation with them was inevitable. Hence they argued ‘….our strength will depend and rest on the depth and broadness of mass support for our projects.'
From this perspective they derived their policy aims for the organisation:
Friends of the Earth will oppose the building of a nuclear power plant in Ireland by any means necessary. In other words, we resolve that we are a serious organisation which is going to stand up and be counted and not going to disappear or back down at the first sign of confrontation with the State.
They at this stage went on to advocate a movement of local autonomous groups deciding aims, etc., at 5 general assembly of all members. For day to day tasks of co-ordination they suggested a small secretariat to be supplemented by special committees to organise such things as finance, publications, security fund raising, etc. Tactics were to be decided at the local level.
The third document was prepared by two members of the central FoE committee. This placed FoE in the context of the developing 'embryonic political movement' around ecological principles, drawing together a number of different threads including;

.the need for greater harmony between man and the life supporting ecosystems on which he depends, political and economic decentralisation, non-violence, sustainable self-sufficient communities, small human scale industry and business, alternative technology, etc.


The outlined objectives included generating a sense of personal responsibility for the environment, making environmental issues the subject of widespread debate. On the question of legality:

We intend to campaign against specific projects which damage the environment, or squander our resources, and fight for their correction by every legal means at our disposal.
In conclusion, the FoE committee emphasised that the most important aim was the campaign for the universal adoption of sustainable and equitable life styles. The methods to be used to achieve these goals were fairly standard lobby tactics. These were building a powerful unaligned environmental lobby, lobbying to change laws and using existing laws to defend the environment, making people aware of their rights and taking direct action 'to conserve and promote considerate use of the Earth's natural resources.' In addition, they wished to set up channels to focus energies into these projects and provide logistical support for them. They left the precise question of committees open, saying that a loose federation of autonomous groups could work out the precise details of this at some unspecified future date.
A call for a vote on the documents at the meeting was stalled by the insistence by some that only those who had paid their membership dues should be allowed to vote and that the vote should be a postal one.
The anarchist discussion document was not included in the subsequent mailing. The RS document was slightly changed, the section on confrontation and 'by any means necessary' was changed to the less militant form of;

FoE will oppose the building of a nuclear power plant in Ireland by any means deemed necessary by the members of the organisation after due consideration of the prevailing conditions and fully democratic debate and decision making.
The document prepared by the FoE committee was more drastically changed prior to circulation. An introduction was added saying that there was a disagreement over organisational questions.

These differences crystallised around the issue of non-violent means ‘vs’ ‘by any means possible’ in achieving the objectives of Friends of the Earth ... We feel this issue is crucial to the credibility and success of Friends of the Earth Ireland as an environmental lobby group.
Here then is the nub of the political issue summarised in the appeal for support mailed to the membership. They added a formal constitution to the ballot which summarised their ideas of a non-aligned environmental lobby group with a formal national co-ordinating committee and annual gathering. The postal vote subsequently favoured this constitution but events had overtaken this debate in Dublin by the time it was formally decided by ballot. Those more in favour of a militant approach gradually drifted away from FoE meetings and connected with the loose collective which was exploring the possibilities of a major anti-nuclear rally in Wexford. The debate was to continue and acrimonious exchanges were still to come. A few months later a member of the FoE committee hid hundreds of publicity leaflets for the Carnsore festival in a cupboard while nobody was looking. At issue was the slogan 'Working people stand up and Fight’ printed on the leaflet to the attribution of the leaf-let to Friends of the Earth Ireland. Concerned with the question of the image of the group the committee member decided to prevent its circulation.
Many of the FoE personnel thought that the Rally was an impossible project which was doomed to failure. While not opposed to the idea, they took no part in the organisation and planning of the event which was done by a loose collective with members drawn mainly from Wexford and Dublin.
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