The Irish Times reported on Monday, 10th May 2010, the NEW National Monuments Bill that will introduce a single licensing regime for all archaeological activities has reached the final stages of being drafted.
John Gormley, Minister for the Environment, promised when he took up office in 2007 that he would deliver a new National Monuments Act, which would prevent another incident like the Hill of Tara and the M3 motorway from occurring again. The Bill was not published as expected in 2008, and in 2009 Gormley promised to bring the National Monuments Bill to the Cabinet before Christmas. Now, 3 years on, The Bill having reached the final draft stages, is expected to be published sometime in 2010.
Gormley is being urged to accelerate delivery of the National Monuments Bill in order to ensure that the M2 motorway does not harm the Bru na Boinne with calls for the minister to strengthen the legislation by incorporating the the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention into Irish law.
A number of key concerns have already been identified by the National Monuments Forum (NMF) and brought to the attention of legislators in order to lobby for fullest legal protection possible for Ireland's ancient sites and to ensure sustainable development is properly implemented in Ireland. The NMF is recommending that Environment Minister Gormley incorporate the UNESCO World Heritage Convention into the Bill, in order to adequately define and protect those sites in Irish law. A full report on the legislation, and its impact on national monuments and World Heritage Sites will be prepared and send to UNESCO and the UN High Commission on Human Rights.
The call is being made after the The National Roads Authority (NRA) announced that the preferred route for the Slane Bypass will run within 500 metres of the Bru na Boinne World Heritage Site, and at least 40 other significant ancient sites.
Dr George Eogan, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at University College Dublin, who performed extensive excavations at the Bru na Boinne, said: “If this plan goes ahead, it will have a significant impact on the landscape and will result in the World Heritage Site being boxed in between two motorways, the M1 and the M2. Five hundred metres is simply too close, and it is conceivable that Newgrange could lose its World Heritage Status.”
The ancient Bru na Boinne site around Newgrange may lose its World Heritage status if the proposed M2 motorway goes ahead; consequently, if changes are not made to the new motorway plans, the area near the Boyne in Co Meath is likely to lose recognition from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
The site can be saved if Environment Minister John Gormley fast-tracks the new National Monuments Bill. Vincent Salafia, NMF spokesman, claimed the minister has created unnecessary delays which place Ireland’s heritage at risk: “We urge Minister Gormley to deliver this long overdue legislation and to ensure it is strong enough to protect Newgrange from this outlandish proposal.”
The National Monuments Acts 1930-2004 gave the Government authority to protect archaeological sites and monuments identified as such by the Archaeological Survey of Ireland. This Bill clearly proved ineffective in providing protection to Ireland's ancient monuments in the face of more road building and infrastructure development, hence the requirement for a new National Monuments Bill with the intention to consolidate and modernise national monuments legislation to replace existing acts to afford stronger protection for heritage.
Fears of a fudged Bill persist after the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004 failed to prove effective in offering total protection to ancient monuments and saw claims of an “anti-heritage ethos behind the Bill” which put developers and the interests of the National Roads Authority before safeguarding the National heritage. The 2004 Amendment was regarded with suspicion of an underlying theory to permit the destruction of national monuments to facilitate further infrastuctural developments. The Minister for Environment is now being urged to show real interest in Heritage protection and has an opportunity to put in place mechanisms into the new Bill to ensure that prior to the commencement of future developments proper procedures and impact assessment studies are put in place, with the removal of provisions in the existing legislation which allow Ministers to grant consent for the carrying out of works to a national monument which may result in the ultimate destruction of part or all of the monument.
The M3 motorway was contested because the route passes near the Hill of Tara and through the archaeologically rich Tara-Skryne valley. The planned route corridor was initially approved by An Bord Pleanála (Ireland's planning appeals board) on 22nd August 2003. Exactly 4 years later, on 22nd August 2007, they directed that the excavation of the Lismullen monument did not require fresh planning approval.
The National Roads Authority (NRA) was formally established as an independent statutory body under the Roads Act, 1993. The Authority's primary function is 'to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads'. For this purpose, it has overall responsibility for planning and supervision of construction and maintenance works on these roads.
Perversely, it often is the building of new roads that uncovers new archaeological finds but then ultimately leads to total obliteration of the site.
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