THE NATIONAL Roads Authority (NRA) has withdrawn its commitment to refrain from work on the M3 near Rath Lugh in Co Meath, after what it said was continual "violent protests", and damage to fencing and equipment.
Instead the NRA yesterday instructed contractor Eurolink to bring forward work on a "box cut" - an outline for a future road - within the construction zone at Rath Lugh.
The authority said the outline would demonstrate that the M3 would not encroach on the national monument or the protection zone around it.
Protesters reacted with dismay at the move, saying they had been trying to stop work on the Rath Lugh "esker" - a glacial ridge - since last September, on the grounds that it is an integral part of the 2,000-year-old fort.
Gardaí moved on to the site yesterday to allow workers to build a two-metre tall spiked steel fence to separate the construction site from a protest encampment.
At the same time, gardaí searched tents in the protest encampment.
By early afternoon excavators and trucks had removed the portion of the hillside that had stood in the motorway's path. The esker was the last obstacle in the path of the motorway through the Gabhra Valley, which runs close to the Hill of Tara.
Three protesters were arrested at the site yesterday, said Insp Pat Gannon from Navan Garda station. He said gardaí had searched the protesters' tents to look for weapons. None were found.
In a separate move yesterday, Minister for the Environment John Gormley visited the national monument and inspected maps and plans for the new road before declaring himself satisfied that the NRA proposals, if implemented as proposed, would result in the protection of the monument.
A spokesman for the NRA acknowledged that it had made a commitment on Saturday last to protester Lisa Feeney to have a one-month moratorium on construction work near Rath Lugh in order to persuade Ms Feeney to leave the tunnel she had occupied for more than 60 hours.
However, the authority said it understood that in return the protesters would not interfere with a "haulage road" and fence being constructed to allow the contractor to move plant and equipment past Rath Lugh.
The NRA said matters worsened last Tuesday when the contractor "sought to erect fencing on the project boundary line, which is outside the area covered by the national monument preservation order.
"In addition the contractor sought to commence the construction of the haul road that had been clarified with the tunnel protester on Saturday evening. In both areas violent protests ensued and the contractor ceased work due to safety concerns for his operatives and the protesters".
The NRA also said contractor's equipment had been daubed with excrement and urine, something which was later confirmed by the Garda press office, which added that such daubing had been going on for the last week.
However, Ms Feeney said yesterday she had no knowledge of violent demonstrations and said her fellow protesters were engaged in a peaceful protest. She said she had heard nothing about vehicles being interfered with in any way.
Ms Feeney also maintained that the creation of a fence was never agreed with the NRA. The only contact protesters had with the fence that she had been aware of was in relation to people crawling under it, she said.
Ms Feeney said she could not see why the NRA had reneged on its commitment to a moratorium on construction work "as I have kept my side of the bargain, I came out of the tunnel".
Dr Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin of the Save Tara Campaign also said she have not heard anything about such incidents, adding that she sincerely hoped they had not happened.
Paddy O'Kearney, a spokesman for the Rath Lugh Direct Action group, said it was very upset that its efforts had failed.
"There isn't anything we can do," he said, gesturing towards dozens of gardaí lining the newly-built fence.
Of the claims that protesters threw excrement, or damaged construction fencing, he said: "It's absolutely not true".
A few protesters tried to run on to the construction site yesterday afternoon but were held back by workers and gardaí.
Others stood in a circle as a robed "druid" conducted a memorial service for the esker.
The Irish Times