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Con Houlihan: Spare us from nuclear power

The air is as alive with snippets of wisdom as it was with arrows during the battle of The Little Big Horn. We are told that we should quit the EU and that the International Monetary Fund should be told to forget the money we owe them.

Enda Kenny is told that he hasn't the steel to take on Angela Merkel and that Michael Noonan hasn't the charisma to counter the men who rule the world in international finance.

It seems that the meeting of Enda Kenny and Angela Merkel is turning out like a showdown between Bat Masterson and Billy The Kid. Michael Noonan is from a part of Limerick that Sean O'Faolain called 'A Nest Of Gentle Folk' but you could send him to the fair at Newcastle West. Even though the men who control the world's money probably served their time as gamblers on the Mississippi riverboats, the truth is neither steel nor charisma will count for much when it comes to bargaining.

While all this was going on, the second most powerful nation in the world was struck by a combination of earthquake and tsunami. And it all brings us back to the debate about whether we should use nuclear power.

Tragedy

There are two nuclear stations in Japan that now threaten to break up and they will illustrate two old Irish proverbs. People live in one another's shadows and you can live without friends, but you can't live without neighbours. The tragedy in Japan threatens us all: it shouldn't be forgotten that the explosion in Chernobyl affected reindeer in Finland and sheep on the Welsh hillsides.

It was never more obvious that the world is a unity and that we must recognise that we cannot live without our neighbours. A generation ago there was controversy about our need for a nuclear station. Those who opposed were deemed romantics.

Those who favoured it were deemed hard-headed practical people. Now, as we await the outcome of the Japanese nuclear reactors, we must remember that Japan is only a little distance down the road from us. You should take out your atlas and see that Japan's tragedy is ours.

During that controversy we were told that nuclear meltdowns affect only their own locality and that a coalmine's explosion couldn't be compared. It is said that some of the fallout from the original nuclear bomb can still be felt in parts of the Pacific Ocean. We should never again contemplate the idea of using nuclear power. We have two safe and dependable sources of energy. They are dependable because they are infinite -- the wind and the tides.

We were told that the wind stations are bad for cattle: the truth is that when I was last down at home, in the parish of Lyrecrompane, you could see that the cattle loved them. On humid days they provided solace from the flies. You could see cattle gathering around them.

We must seek sources that are safe and infinite. We have them. Those people who opposed the creation of a power station at Carnsore Point were, of course, referred to as romantics, but as time goes by, people are more and more seeing that they were merely purveyors of common sense.

There is an example of our previous government's failure in the work of Coillte. You can see for yourself in a place where the parish of Ballymacelligot doesn't really end and where the parish of Lyrecrompane doesn't really begin.

There is a place here called Bearnagaoithe, where this folly is most clearly exemplified. It is at this spot a little river called the Smearla sets out on its course. It is a lovely stream and many is the morning that it kept me company as we progressed downhill to the school at Renagowan. Coillte, in its wisdom, not only planted trees on both sides of the stream but in the stream itself.

It cannot be fished now and, in fact, it is invisible. Not far away, in the parish of Ballymacelligot, you can see where Coillte planted wood on deep tracts of precious peat. This peat is useless now.

The timber that grows is of little value. Those trees began their life in Scandinavia. In the temperate climate they “mature” and provide inferior timber. One-seventh of the country is producing such inferior timber. This should be halted immediately because the leach from conifers is ruining the waterways with acid.

Entrepreneurs

Does anybody care? The good people of Scotland saw this danger generations ago and are trying to combat it by using vast quantities of lime in the catchments. Coillte was deemed a great thing because it provided work.

That is our trouble: we do not look very far ahead. The planting of the catchments with oak would have provided similar work and would have a long-term benefit.

As I have written before we are told now that the vast areas of conifer are being sold to foreign entrepreneurs who will cash in quickly. This is one of the great scandals facing our Government. Vast areas of the country have been ruined both scenically and economically. Nobody cried stop because the old cliche prevailed — Coillte was giving employment. It is all very well to give employment but it should be gainful employment and should pay for itself in the long term.

We tend to forget that there are five million registered anglers in the other island. As a source of tourism we are turning our backs on them.

Our new Government shouldn't repeat the same mistakes of the old Government: it is good to have trees for Ireland but they should be native trees, like oak and larch. The folly of other generations shouldn't be repeated.

Fogra: My thanks go to the following people for being such great friends: to Adriana, Dolores, Eileen, Adrian, Jim and Jimmy -- thank you