CAMPAIGNERS AGAINST the M3 motorway claim they have stepped up their campaign by occupying a tunnel they say they have secretly dug under the proposed route that passes through the Tara Valley in Co Meath.
A group calling itself the Rath Lugh Direct Action Camp last night said protesters are already occupying the tunnel and were capable of sealing themselves in. They said that construction traffic passing over the tunnel would leave it vulnerable to collapse.
Derek Berrill, a spokesman for the group which is affiliated to the Save Tara campaign, said the passageway was located in front of the Rath Luth promontory fort in the Gabhra Valley.
"It has been occupied since March 6th. We have moved in because we are never too sure when they plan the next move against us," said Mr Berrill.
He said that work had commenced on the tunnel in secret in August 2007. He would not specify its exact size. "I can say the tunnel is big, although I am not in a position to give the diameter," said Mr Berrill.
"It goes directly down and then goes halfway under the route itself, crossing about halfway across [the width of the proposed] motorway."
The protesters say they intend to occupy the tunnel indefinitely to prevent construction traffic from passing overhead.
They say they also want to draw attention to what they say is continued erosion of the landscape from construction traffic.
Mr Berrill said they were "absolutely certain" that the tunnel itself would not cause damage.
Michael Egan of the National Roads Authority said there was no independent verification as yet that any tunnel had been built.
Entering a caveat that protesters have claimed actions in the past that did not materialise, Mr Egan said that if a tunnel had been dug then the contractor, and if necessary the Garda Síochána, would have to deal with the situation.
"They have no right to be on that property. They are trespassing above and below the ground," he said.
The Department of Environment said it had no reason to believe that any activity close to Rath Lugh was endangering or damaging the monument.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley's spokesman said that issues surrounding the construction of the road were matters for the Department of Transport and the authority.
The spokesman said that Mr Gormley yesterday signed a permanent protection order for the Rath Lugh promontory fort - until now it has been protected by a temporary order. This order, he said, was a coincidence unrelated to yesterday's development.
He added that the department was unaware as to the existence of a tunnel.