The following Tara Information Note - Questions and Answers was posted by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government.
Can the Minister change the route of the M3 motorway?
No, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not have the power to reroute the motorway away from the Tara Valley. The route of the motorway was chosen by Meath County Council and the National Roads Authority five years ago and approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2003. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and local Government has no role in deciding on that route.
Many commentators and some politicians have confused the issue of preservation orders on national monuments with a power to order a re-routing of the road.
Under National Monuments legislation, the Minister has the power to impose preservation orders on national monuments, but this would not mean a re-routing of the road. At most, a small section of the route might be affected. It would not lead to a re-routing of the road away from the Tara Skryne Valley.
Why does the Minister not impose such a preservation order?
In order to impose a preservation order, Minister Gormley would first have to receive advice from relevant experts to do so. His stated intention is to act on the best advice available to him and he has said he is prepared to act on such advice if he receives it. However, since he has entered office in mid-June, he has received no such advice in relation to any of the sites.
By the time he entered office in mid-June, the excavations had been completed on almost all of the 38 archaeological sites identified along the route. None of these were national monuments. The excavations amounted to preservation by record or the removal of all of the archaeological remains.
What about Lismullin - Why does the Minister not impose a preservation order on that site as it has been declared a national monument?
In the first place, Minister Gormley's predecessor issued directions allowing for the preservation by record, or removal of the archaeological remains at Lismullin, which has been declared a national monument.
Minister Gormley has received legal advice that he cannot reverse that decision unless he receives important new additional information on the site, which was not in the possession of the previous Minister. Again, the Minister has received no such advice.
He also took the decision to release the Departmental files on Lismullin late last month in order to ensure openness and transparency on the whole issue.
What advice has Minister Gormley received on Lismullin?
When he entered office, Minister Gormley appointed an expert committee to advise on the Lismullin site. The members include Conor Newman - the foremost archaeological expert on Tara and a long-standing critic of the current route - and Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum who has also been highly critical of the current proposed route.
This committee has advised that the remains at Lismullin are too fragile to remain in situ and must be recorded and removed.
What exactly is at Lismullin?
The surviving elements of the Lismullin monument consist of two outer circles and one inner circle of stakeholes (indentations in the ground, 15-20cm in diameter). These stakeholes provide evidence for the existence in the past of a circular enclosure (80m in diameter), with a smaller inner central enclosure (16m in diameter). Two further rows of stakeholes show evidence of an entrance and passageway from the outer enclosure to the inner enclosure.
These archaeological features have been heavily truncated by ploughing in the past. The surviving features are shallow and fragile. The soil in which the stakeholes are located is particularly light and sandy. There is no structure above ground.
What is John Gormley doing to protect our archaeological heritage?
Minister Gormley has launched a major review of archaeological policies and practices, arising out of controversies such as Tara. The aim of the review is to identify measures to further strengthen our heritage protection measures and ensure best practice in the field of archaeology. It is the most wide-ranging review ever to have been carried out in this area.