Minister for the Environment John Gormley is to carry out a complete review
of the State's archaeological policy and practice and may propose amending
or even repealing the 2004 National Monuments Act.
This Act, introduced by Martin Cullen, invested the Minister with sole
discretion to decide the fate of any national monument that might be in the
path of a motorway. It was specifically designed to facilitate earlier delivery of
the Government's roads programme.
Yesterday, after releasing a file showing how his predecessor Dick Roche
made his decision to permit the "preservation by record" of a prehistoric
henge at Lismullen, Co Meath, Mr Gormley said he was already consulting
archaeologists on what should be changed.
"I want to be as open as possible, to find the best way of going forward", he
Asked if he would consider amending or repealing the 2004 Act, he said: "If
changing legislation emerges from this process, I will look at that." However,
he appeared to accept the route of the M3 past the Hill of Tara as a fait
"That goes back a long time before I came in here," he said. "I can't go back
and revise all those decisions. That's it. All I can do is look to the future and
see where we go from here."
He said he had been talking to Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey about the
need to minimise the visual impact of the motorway on Tara.
"I said very clearly that on this particular stretch I don't want to see the sort of
development you might get, like service stations."
Acting on advice given to Mr Roche by the Heritage Council, Mr Gormley said
he was looking at the possibility of having it designated as a Landscape
Conservation Area under the 2000 Planning Act.
However, this would only restrict developments that would otherwise be
exempt. He repeated an earlier statement that he could not "revisit" Mr
Roche's decision on Lismullen, which was made on the same day as he took
office three weeks ago. "The Attorney General's advice was that I couldn't do
that unless there was a material change in circumstances."
Asked what this might be, the Minister replied: "If they found something new in
excavating the area, and it would have to be a significant find, the legal advice
is that I could then revisit it. If there was another national monument
discovered, I would have to look at that.
"We're talking about one road, but there's going to be many, many more roads
built in this country," he said.ഊ"I'm not an expert on archaeology but I want to talk to all relevant
stakeholders on how best to go forward and archaeologists know I'm genuine
Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum, who flanked Mr Gormley at
the briefing, said the "kernel of this difficulty" regarding the M3 was that the
selected route was one that had been rejected by archaeologists because of
the impact it would have on Tara.
"I regard the whole place as a national monument," he said, adding that his
views on the M3 were well known. "My job is to give advice and I have to live
with whatever the decision is." If the motorway went ahead, it would have to
be "sheathed, shaded and screened".
The Campaign to Save Tara said the file on Lismullen released yesterday
showed that another site at Baronstown, "destroyed under cover of darkness
during the early hours of Tuesday morning", was considered to be a national
monument by Dr Wallace.
"We call on Mr Gormley to review and make public all documentation relating
to all archaeology in the valley," said Dr Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin. "These
documents should be assessed from a heritage standpoint and not in relation
to infrastructural development."
© 2007 The Irish Times