Someone falling into the River Erne would be swept away by the time a life ring from the Allingham Bridge hit the water.

That was the message Cllr Barry O'Neill expressed vehemently at Tuesday’s meeting of the Municipal District (MD) of Donegal.

The new life rings were placed on the bridge before Christmas. But the Erne is an unnaturally fast-flowing river because of the ESB turbines at Cathleen’s Falls power station.

Cllr O’Neill held nothing back in a scathing attack on the ESB and Donegal County Council for this grossly inadequate approach to public safety.

It is well documented that Cllr O’Neill is unhappy with the high ESB fence that blocks access to the riverbank. It makes it impossible for people to respond in a water-based emergency. There are life rings along the bank on the river side of the fence. But someone witnessing an emergency would not be able to reach them in time.

Cllr O'Neill previously called for enforcement against the ESB for failure to comply with a Bord Pleanala retention order.

One of the conditions of retention was that accessible life rings were available. They should be placed at appropriate points along the river bank.

“One of the problems is the speed of the river as a result of the turbines,” said Cllr O’Neill. “It moves so fast that if you threw a life ring from the bridge 80 or 100 feet up, the unfortunate person would be swept out to sea before the life ring even hit the water.”

He said he had witnessed emergencies where people were tracked along the river bank.

“There is no other way to save someone,” he said.

The meeting then heard it was the council and not the ESB who put the life rings on the bridge.

Cllr O'Neill was outraged.

He said: “I think Donegal County Council did this because of what I said about enforcement at the December meeting.


“It is totally unacceptable. It is the equivalent of someone being told by An Bord Pleanala that they had to change a window and Donegal County Council coming out and changing the window for them. I have never seen anything like it.”

Cllr O’Neill’s views about the disregard for water safety are supported by expert bodies. The Donegal branch of Irish Water Safety previously submitted a letter outlining the speed at which a person would be carried out to sea on the River Erne.

Cllr O’Neill told members he would raise the matter at every meeting until it was resolved.

“If someone falls into the river and dies, Donegal County Council will be responsible,” he said.

The furious councillor concluded by saying the ESB didn’t give Jack Sh*t about the people of Ballyshannon or the heritage of the River Erne.

Picture: The River Erne from the Allingham Bridge with the ESB power station in the background

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