|29 May 2005
Rows over protection of Tara
Eighteen months after An Bord PleanŠlaís decision, and almost nine months after Meath Co Council and the NRA finally revealed the extent of the archaeology that had been uncovered by their testing, the Irish Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dick Roche, has issued directions for the excavation of upwards of 38 archaeological sites between Dunshaughlin and Navan in order to pave the way for a motorway to cut through Irelandís premier cultural landscape.
The minister says that his directions 'protect heritage' and 'do not deny the people of Meath and the surrounding counties the modern transport infrastructure that they need' He also states that 'heritage protection remains a priority in this area.' But many people believe what is happening is just the opposite, as a uniquely important and ancient landscape has been sacrificed in the interests of protecting a private/public partnership contract.
Strong words were also exchanged between the director of the Irish National Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, and the Irish Government's chief archaeologist, Brian Duffy, over the plan to run the M3 motorway past the Hill of Tara. Dr Wallace said 'there appears to be an attempt to downplay the importance' of some of the archaeological sites along the route.
Mr Duffy poured cold water on the museum director's call for Tara's landscape to be designated as an 'archaeological area', saying Dr Wallace 'offers no definition of the archaeological and cultural landscape that he says exists' around the hill. "Simply stating that the Hill of Tara and the complex or association of monuments and sacred spaces in its surroundings constitute an archaeological landscape does not define that landscape or allow for its delimiting on a map," Mr Duffy wrote. He was responding to an 18-page letter from Dr Wallace in which he said the Tara complex was the most important of its type in Ireland, "if not in Europe", and deserved "the fullest and most generous archaeological protection".
Minister for the Environment Dick Roche was statutorily obliged to consult the museum director prior to issuing directions on how archaeological sites along the route should be handled. Dr Wallace took exception to the use of 22-tonne mechanical excavators in stripping topsoil to expose archaeological features, saying "the chances of retrieving archaeological objects in the face of heavy machinery of this sort are ... very limited indeed". But Mr Duffy, in his response to Dr Wallace's letter, said 'mechanical testing' was carried out under a number of excavation licences issued following consultation with Dr Wallace, and "no questions were raised or concerns expressed" at that stage.
Sources: The Irish Times (23 May 2005), The Irish Examiner (25 May 2005)
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