ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley last night said he did not have the power to overturn his predecessor Dick Roche's controversial decision to proceed with a motorway near the Hill of Tara.
On his first day in the job, the Green minister spent the day at the centre of a bitter row as tensions heightened between his party and Fianna Fail.
But after consultations with a number of parties including the Attorney General, Mr Gormley eventually conceded that, despite his commitment to protecting the Irish heritage, he could not revoke Mr Roche's order.
Just before clearing his desk, Mr Roche signed an order allowing a national monument near Tara to be studied and then destroyed to make way for the new M3.
In a statement, Mr Gormley outlined the consultations pursued by Mr Roche before he gave the go-ahead to the motorway, including expert archaeological advice that the alternative of leaving the monument in place would result in its destruction by the elements.
Given what had taken place prior to the order being made, Mr Gormley said: "It is not open to me to set aside the recent directions.
"Without a change in material circumstances affecting this case, there is no basis for amending the quasi-judicial determination recently made. I have consulted with the Office of the Attorney General who confirm this position."
Earlier in the day, Mr Roche claimed he had done Mr Gormley a favour by giving the green light to the motorway route. "Any minister sitting in my office in the Custom House looking at that file and having to make a decision would have made the decision I have made. I did the man some service by not passing the buck," he said.
But Green Party acting leader Trevor Sargent laughed at Mr Roche's claim, saying he thought that "many archaeologists would disagree with that".
He added: "Unfortunately, some habits die hard and who knows what the dying days of administrations are festooned with - appointments and decisions that seem to be rushed, whether or not they are - but that's certainly the perception."
Mr Sargent described the outgoing minister's decision as "unfortunate".
"The Green Party has made very clear that it was unfortunate that the minister chose to take action just as he was leaving office on an issue which he knows is important to supporters of the Green Party."
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern yesterday backed Mr Roche's decision but said he had not known about it or discussed it when he told the minister he was being dropped from the department.
Fine Gael and Labour immediately rounded on the Greens and Mr Gormley.
Labour's Eamon Gilmore said Mr Gormley did have the power to reverse the decision under a section of the National Monuments Act.
"If Mr Gormley takes the time to seek legal advice he will be told this."
Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd said Mr Gormley had to rule on the M3 decision of his "Fianna Fail political masters".
Fionnan Sheahan and Senan Molony