Tower block residents living in fear of disaster

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The Independent Online
Residents of high-rise flats close to Dublin airport have renewed protests over fears that the city council has failed to provide adequate aircraft warning beacons on the buildings.

The protesters claim that according to a government requirement laid down more than 20 years ago, the beacons on the Ballymun Towers flats, the highest residential buildings in the country, should be permanently lit. The seven, 16-storey blocks are owned by Dublin Corporation.

But the beacons have no back- up power system and have been put out of action by faults and strikes by electricity workers. Without adequate beacons lit at all times, the residents fear the flats are vulnerable to an air accident similar to Sunday's disaster in Amsterdam.

Yesterday they staged a mock funeral to highlight their case. 'We're saying that if the housing safety and maintenance issue is dead at Ballymun we should coffin it and they (Dublin Corporation) should bury it for us,' Sean O'Cionnaith, a residents' spokesman, said. 'We're only minutes away from Dublin airport and when we see an accident like Amsterdam on the TV screen we feel we're sitting targets.'

In 1989, 5,000 residents signed a petition over the back-up power supply. 'Their reply scolded us for 'the inordinate amount of alarm' raised over the beacons, and accused us of being irresponsible,' Mr O'Cionnaith said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport confirmed there was a requirement imposed on Dublin Corporation to provide permanent warning beacons on the buildings. She said the stipulation had been 'an aeronautical requirement'.

The Irish airports authority, Aer Rianta, said yesterday that overflying of the towers had largely ceased with the construction of a new runway four years ago. But residents claim helicopters and light aircraft still fly close to the blocks. And Mr O'Cionnaith stressed the new flight paths did not remove the risk in the case of an aircraft returning to the airport in an emergency by the shortest route.

A spokeswoman for Dublin Corporation said a prototype back-up power system was now being tested in one tower block.

(Photograph omitted)