Minister for the Environment Dick Roche has suggested that major battlefields may be given protected status similar to that given to historic buildings.
He said such status is to be introduced in Britain for historic battlefields, and the development could be considered by a new expert group advising the Government on the issue.
Mr Roche was speaking at the first meeting of the group which is to produce a study identifying the number of potential battlefield sites across the country.The group includes archaeological and academic experts and will advise on what protections should be given to Irish battlefields.
At present more than 75 battlefields are listed on maps in Ireland, but there is a significant question as to the level of protection they attract from development. The sites include some of the key turning points in Irish history, such as the Battle of Aughrim in east Galway, and the Battle of Kinsale in Co Cork.
There has been limited research to date on the size and extent of many of the battlefields. There is also growing concern about the threat posed by current levels of development. It is felt that a new system for protecting key battlefields is needed.
Yesterday Mr Roche said the study and expert group would "give us a greater understanding of each battle site.
"It will also assist in the development of strategies in the areas of protection, education and recreation. There is an undoubted and sustained interest in this topic. It has historic resonance and relevance within the all-island dimension. Most importantly, the results of this study will help our citizens to understand and better appreciate the history that has shaped our nation."
He said certain Irish battlefields had "iconic status in the public's minds as crucial turning points in the nation's history". There was a growing awareness of and interest in battlefield sites in Ireland and worldwide, he said.
The group's work is expected to generate some controversy however, due to disagreements over the location and extent of some battlefields. The designation of some battlefields may also face resistance from landowners, over potential restrictions on development .
© 2007 The Irish Times