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31 May 2010
At war with the blots on Irish landscape

Long established as one of Ireland's most courageous guardians of the built and natural environment, Ian Lumley has been An Taisce's (Ireland's National Trust) heritage officer for 10 years. To be committed to the environment in Ireland, where even archaeology has been compromised, excavation reports are merely part of development plans and many EU environmental and wildlife directives have been ignored, would appear a hopeless battle. Wood Quay, Tara and now the massive bridge planned for the Boyne, which will have a devastating impact on the ancient landscape, show that heritage suffers at the hands of vested interests. But Lumley sounds surprisingly positive: "I put the effort into clear-cut cases where there is a breach of European law, as well as national and local policy."
     Cynics regard An Taisce as an independent but powerless organisation run by do-gooders and funded by its 5,000 members, yet Lumley knows otherwise. "The present generation of county managers and politicians have left an appalling legacy of badly planned sprawl. An Taisce tends to get most publicity for its involvement in the planning system, when in reality most of our resources are directed towards schools and education projects for the future."
     "Local authorities in Ireland," Lumley says, "are entirely at the mercy of vested backyard interests and systemically disregard EU law, national policy and, most dramatically of all, their own development plans in making planning decisions." He believes An Bord Pleanála (the independent statutory administrative tribunal that decides on appeals from planning decisions made by local authorities in Ireland) does provide a safety net and overturns "some of the more outrageous decisions". However, it has consistently granted permissions to roads and waste projects. There is also a direct link between road building and one of the major environmental threats in Ireland: the operation of unauthorised quarries to supply construction materials.
     If a single issue dominates An Taisce's concerns, it is the impact of road building on society. It is imposing car dependency and urban sprawl, "replicating what happened in the US in the 1950s during the post-war Eisenhower administration". Between now and 2015 an additional 850km of road is planned. How aware are the Irish of their heritage? "The treatment of the Irish landscape, particularly as regards dumping, confirms poor practical concern. Awareness is one thing; performance is quite another."
     Lumley concludend saying "I believe in Ireland; it is as Praeger said in his 1948 radio address on the founding of An Taisce, when he referred to the heritage as needing 'protection against dilapidation, against injury, whether caused by carelessness, ignorance or ruthlessness, against sequestration for private ends, and in recent times often against the action of public bodies'." Lumley adds: "Look at the record of the National Roads Authority." The threats have been evident since Praeger's day, those risks persist and the situation has worsened.

Source: The Irish Times (22 May 2010)

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