Wednesday, February 22, 2006

European Court of Justice may have final say over heritage dispute

The Blundelstown Interchange (52 acres), 1,000 metres from top of the Hill of Tara

The battle for Tara is not over yet, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

The Irish Times

Thursday, 02 March 2006

The odds were stacked against anyone succeeding in a legal action against the M3. So it is not surprising that the High Court has found in favour of Minister for the Environment Dick Roche and his "directions" allowing this controversial motorway to snake past the Hill of Tara.

The 2004 National Monuments (Amendment) Act rewrote heritage protection legislation in such a drastic manner that the Minister was given sole discretion in deciding whether any archaeological site is a national monument and what to do with it - including authorising its demolition.

That was Martin Cullen's contribution to the statute books following the row over Carrickmines Castle in south Co Dublin, when archaeologists and conservationists were blamed for holding up completion of the M50. The Government was determined this wouldn't happen again. However, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the final appeal in the Carrickmines case by Dominic Dunne and, in particular, on his challenge to the constitutionality of the 1994 legislation.

The court's tardiness - it recently deferred its decision for the fourth time - may have proved fatal for the Tara case.

Mr Justice Thomas Smyth referred to the appeal before the Supreme Court in his lengthy judgment yesterday. But its tone and content suggests that he would have ruled against plaintiff Vincent Salafia anyway, on other grounds - including his delay in taking the action in the first place.

Mr Justice Smyth had ruled that it was not necessary to call expert witnesses and have them cross-examined. This hampered the plaintiff because it meant that the court did not hear from, for example, Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland.

Dr Wallace made it clear to Mr Roche last April that he opposed routing the M3 through the Tara valley, arguing that it is an archaeological landscape that deserves to be protected. He was particularly critical of the Blundelstown interchange, just 1.2 kilometres north of the ancient capital of Ireland's kings.

It might also have been instructive to hear oral evidence from the Government's Chief Archaeologist, Brian Duffy, who backed the National Roads Authority and Meath County Council, even to the extent of suggesting that the M3 motorway itself would become part of Tara's legacy in the years to come.

His perverse view was strongly opposed in affidavits by three leading experts on Tara - Dr Edel Bhreathnach, Dr Conor Newman and Joe Fenwick - who argued that Tara must be seen as part of a much wider archaeological landscape which would be irreparably damaged by a motorway running right through it. Mr Roche could have decided that the NRA and Meath County Council would have to go back to the drawing boards and devise an alternative route. Instead, he chose to issue "directions" on how the 38 archaeological sites along the existing route should be treated.

The "directions" he issued on May 11th last were carefully crafted to suggest that the interests of Ireland's heritage were being looked after, thereby (hopefully) fire-proofing his decision against legal challenge. However, in the absence of a Supreme Court ruling on the Carrickmines appeal and the thorny issue of whether the 2004 National Monuments (Amendment) Act fulfils the onus on the State to protect our heritage, this confidence may be misplaced. The battle, in other words, is not yet over.

Even if the Supreme Court was to rule that the 2004 legislation is constitutional and subsequently rejected an appeal by Mr Salafia against yesterday's High Court judgment, the European Court of Justice may take a different view, on the basis that Tara is part of Europe's heritage too.

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Andrew Kottenstette said...

I know this is unrelated to the invitation (Thank you!), but have any of the archaeological agencys involved enlisted the help of the firm, Archaeoptics, in surveying before the roadway has begun?

Here is there website:

Thanks again. Wish I could attend.
~Andrew Kottenstette

Marcel Grube said...

Tara hill is sacred to a lot of people. Why not bend the highway around it if it is important to get it there anyway?

TARA hill means to me a place where time and change should be negated, so don't ruin that!

Mace Ruby

Sámot said...

Poor 'oul Tara; We must remember that a majority of the local population seem to support the road. If they are convinced of the greatness of this enterprise, it's hard for outsiders like ourselves to object. Having said that, the site is of national and to an extent international importance, so it's sad that we are brought to this.

Our country is being run by philistines and Tara merely represents the struggle those of us with environmental or cultural concerns encounter in every corner of this booming economy. This is what happens when economies take off, so if you are from an allegedly 'poor' country, take careful stock of the things you do have. Community care, respect for nature, perhaps even a healthy superstition.

Years ago that last factor would have prevented anybody from interfering with ancient sites in Ireland, and the landscape was littered with them. Today it takes only an indifferent driver (and very few of the lads I know, being from a small village, could give a hoot), for an earth-mover to destroy an ancient structure. It would actually take the driver much more effort to save such a feature. As a result, smaller, ostensibly less important sites, are lost all the time -perhaps as many as a third of our national monuments have vanished in the last decade (an Taisce).

So while Tara is a sad case, she really only offers us a symptom of the disease from which we suffer. The automibile is our king today. Of all the people over twenty five reading this, I wonder how many of you don't own a car? It's the decision we've made ourselves which brings us these consequences.

Am I wrong? So what to do? Well, I'm as open to suggestion as anybody! Bring it on!


Mickej said...

I can picture it now: The Land of Forty Shades of Green soon to become The land of Forty Shades of Gray! Shameful...

When we alter or take away man's heritage and legends, also taken away is his/her soul.

I had dreamed for years of visiting the land of my heritage - Ireland -and top on my list was to spend a day at The Hill of Tara. That dream finally became a reality in 2003. With its quiet solitude, Tara afforded the experience a swelling of pride within me...from where I came...who I am...why I am. Will that same experience be afforded those who visit in the future?

I pray the bureaucrats will chanage the positioning of this highway...far away from the Hills of Tara.