THE decision by An Bord Pleanála to approve the National Roads Authority’s (NRA) plans to excavate and build over the national monument on the M3 motorway route is likely to be challenged in the High Court.
Vincent Salafia, of protest group Tara Watch, said a legal challenge was being considered following the ruling issued by the appeals board yesterday. It clears the way for an archaeological examination of the site at Lismullin, Co Meath, but for the site then to be recorded, rather than preserved. The monument includes two circular enclosures dating from between 1,000BC to AD400 and its preservation has been the subject of political and public controversy, including protests disrupting access to the site which was discovered in April.
Outgoing environment minister Dick Roche signed an order for the site to be recorded and the new road built over it in the days before John Gormley took over. The new minister subsequently approved the move after receiving advice on the matter.
The National Roads Authority had to seek clearance to go ahead with that plan from An Bord Pleanála, to determine if the work constituted sufficient change to the €1 billion scheme cleared by the board in August 2003 to require a fresh planning application. The board has decided that no material alteration has arisen to the road scheme.
Mr Salafia said that evidence from an independent archaeological expert suggests the site’s importance has been underestimated because it could be an ancient amphitheatre. However, An Bord Pleanála did not accept submissions from the public in considering the matter.
“We will take legal advice with a view to going to court. An Bord Pleanála is normally the place to appeal decisions, so the only place to go is the EU or to the courts, but it would take too long bringing it to the European Commission,” he said.
A judicial review would first require approval of the High Court before going to a full hearing and could add months to the timescale of the M3 project, scheduled for completion in 2010.
A NRA spokesman said excavation work began two weeks ago and should be completed in two months.
“The High Court has already found in favour of the national monuments legislation and confirmed the adequacy of the planning and environmental assessment procedures on this project. We’re confident that any further challenge in this area would fail on the grounds that it has already been tested and adjudicated on in the courts,” he said.
A Department of Environment spokesman said Mr Gormley did not have any comment in response to An Bord Pleanála’s decision.
The project has been delayed by about a year in total because of legal challenges and archaeological finds along the 60km route, which will join Clonee in south Meath to the northside of Kells.