Minister for the Environment John Gormley has attempted to limit the embarrassment to the Greens over the destruction of a national monument on the route of the M3 at Lismullen by appointing a leading expert on the archaeology of Tara to advise on the excavation of the site.
The last-minute decision of his predecessor Dick Roche to sign an order permitting the road works to proceed after the excavation of the monument overshadowed Mr Gormley's appointment as a Minister.
He was initially criticised by the Opposition for not reversing the order and then for not challenging the advice he received from the Attorney General suggesting that he had no power to overturn it. The order allowed for the destruction of the monument after it had been excavated.
Mr Gormley has now appointed Conor Newman, a lecturer in archaeology at NUI Galway, to a special committee to advise on the excavation of the site which was uncovered during preparatory work for the M3.
Campaign group TaraWatch has welcomed the appointment.
Mr Newman is the author of Tara - An Archaeological Survey (RIA, 1996). In his submission to the oral hearing, he said the Hill of Tara was one of the most important and famous archaeological complexes in the world, and how it was treated would become "the yardstick against which our reputation as guardians of cultural heritage will be judged".
Mr Newman said that from the outset of the M3 project, the route now chosen "was identified as the least desirable from the archaeological point of view" and "the attrition rate on the archaeological heritage will be far greater here than for any other of the proposed routes".
The special committee, which had its first meeting yesterday, is chaired by Finian Matthews, principal officer with the National Monuments Service, and includes Prof Gabriel Cooney of the school of archaeology, UCD and representatives from the National Museum and the National Roads Authority.
The committee has been set up on the recommendation of Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum.
The Minister said the committee would advise on how to ensure that the excavation is carried out to the highest and most transparent standard.
TaraWatch welcomed Mr Newman's appointment but called for his remit to be broadened to allow him to inspect the newly-discovered souterrain complex.
Spokesman Vincent Salafia said a second beehive souterrain chamber has been revealed, and the National Roads Authority could not deny the site is potentially a national monument.
Fiona Gartland & Stephen Collins
© 2007 The Irish Times