Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. P. Breen: Many Deputies spoke earlier in the debate about the definition of a national monument. I appreciate that the Minister has said he intends to define “national monument”, but the matter is not clearly dealt with in this Bill. It is important that such a definition be included in the Bill.
Interpretation is a real problem in planning because different people have different views. One person might interpret something differently to another. Fine Gael sees a real problem in implementing the Bill because the definition of a national monument is not sufficiently clear. One of the issues at Carrickmines related to whether what was discovered constituted a national monument. That the debate was allowed to drag on shows that we face a mess in respect of road projects and national monuments.
Mr. P. Breen: In a country like Ireland, there is every chance that a road project will unearth something of importance. I referred earlier to the discoveries at Waterford. Historical monuments are discovered in most road projects throughout the country. Should projects be delayed? Should monuments and artefacts be taken away to be put on display elsewhere? The Romans did not come as far as Ireland in their day, but Roman ruins are preserved in other parts of Europe, particularly city centres.
Mr. P. Breen: I know. Part of the old town is on display in the centre of Brussels. I appreciate what the Minister is saying. A strong argument has been made that the Carrickmines site would not have been found — it would have remained undiscovered for many years — if it had not been for the M50 motorway project. No requests were made for the preservation of the site at the beginning of the M50 works. We did not realise the importance of the site until the artefacts were discovered and their importance ascertained.
Fine Gael believes it is important to preserve our past. Ireland would be a much poorer place without such preservation. The option is not to bulldoze and destroy, but preserve and remove, while allowing daily life to continue as it must. I referred to the national development plan when I spoke earlier about the roads projects that have to come on stream. We have a different style of life now. We have to decide whether to take artefacts away or to leave them on site.
Mr. Cuffe: The Bill represents a dark day for archaeology as it will allow the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to disfigure, deface, injure and interfere with national monuments. It will allow the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to sell or export our built heritage.
Mr. Cuffe: It will lead to a very dangerous concentration of power. Its contents mirror the type of thinking in the dark recesses of the Minister’s mind. I will trace the Government’s attitude to archaeology. The Minister abolished Dúchas. He transferred its functions from the then Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to the current Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Mr. Cuffe: ——but the Minister now has the audacity to consolidate its powers within his fiefdom. If the Minister takes all these powers under his remit, I will be deeply and gravely concerned for the future of archaeology.
Mr. Cuffe: The Minister said on “Prime Time” last Thursday that there will have to be an agreement between the various bodies. He is not allowing such agreement to be reached, however, because the national museum will have no power of veto.
Mr. Cuffe: The Minister will have the right, if he consults the national museum, to ride roughshod over anything it says. That is written into the Act. I ask the Minister to read the Act — I am sure he is familiar with it. The Minister is introducing this Bill under the pretext of addressing the problems with the M50 at Carrickmines. The legislation, which is being rushed through in less than two weeks, will allow him to deal with any archaeological site, anywhere in the country. To say, ostensibly, that the Bill addresses a problem that arose at Carrickmines in south Dublin is a dangerous way to introduce legislation. The Bill will allow the Minister to intervene anywhere in the State, which is a dangerous precedent. The Minister could have examined other options if he had followed the advice about Carrickmines that I gave him in writing two years ago. I said back then, essentially, that the road can move but the castle cannot.
Mr. Cullen: I am trying to deal with it, despite of the best efforts of the so-called Green Party, which is trying to undermine me. Every time I try to do something positive in respect of waste management in this country, the Green Party Members are the first to try to undermine me.
I wish to discuss some of the detail of the Bill. There is a real concern about the process by which the views of the director of the national museum are sought. The director is not given discretion in allowing the works to proceed, however, because the Minister can over-rule him or her. I do not believe that is the right way of doing things. I am concerned by the time limits in the Bill. Decisions have to be made within 14 days, which is far too short a time frame to deal with issues relating to our heritage.
Mr. Cuffe: I suggest not less than five weeks and not more than eight weeks. It would be better than two years, which is how long we have been waiting in respect of Carrickmines. I also draw attention to the requirement to notify the Minister of discoveries. I suggest that, first, notification of discoveries should be made in writing because there is no reference in the Bill to notification being given in writing and, second, that notification be given to the director of the National Museum as opposed to the Minister.
Mr. Cuffe: He stated: “We will have to have agreement between the various bodies before works can proceed”, yet within the body of the legislation the Minister does not allow for that agreement. He is only consulting. He does not give the power of agreement or veto to the director of the National Museum.
Mr. Cuffe: The Minister should at least include in the legislation the terms of section 15 of the 1994 Act, in which the Minister requires the consent to be put before the Houses of the Oireachtas for several sitting days. I do not see any sign of that on my preliminary reading of the Bill. I am concerned that this Bill, while being justified as an attempt to deal with the impasse at Carrickmines, will allow a Minister to do what he or she wants to disfigure, deface, injure or interfere with a national monument in a way that is unprecedented.
Mr. Cuffe: That has been in the legislation but not within the remit of the Minister or the director of the National Museum. This is a dangerous Bill and I intend to table many amendments to it on Committee Stage.
Mr. Cuffe: I wish to record that the IT systems in the House were down until approximately noon today, which allowed no e-mails to come to my Leinster House office since last Friday. That seriously interfered with my ability to take advice on the legislation.
Mr. Ring: I do not intend to make a major contribution. I hate to see emergency legislation being rushed through the Dáil. The Minister recently visited my town of Westport, and we were glad to see him there.
Mr. Ring: They did, but the Minister must remember that if Mayo County Council had got away with what it proposed at the time, it would not have gone ahead. The Minister was in Westport House, one of the few remaining country homes that has not been bought by the private sector or destroyed and built on by developers, as happened in Castlebar in respect of a listed building — there was a mix-up over documentation and a listed building was knocked down. My political office is in a listed building. It can restrict one in certain ways but there is nothing wrong with that because it ensures that I or any other person who buys such a property is obliged to ensure that whatever we do within the planning process is done within the law, and agencies have to be in place to deal with that.
I did not come in here to talk about Westport House but I am reminded of something. The Minister was not the Minister for the Environment at the time I refer to, it was Deputy Howlin. I complimented the then Minister, Deputy Howlin, at the time because Mayo County Council wanted to bring that further into the estate but, to be fair to the then Department of the Environment, officials went down to the area with the then Minister’s programme manager and worked out an agreement.
I was in favour of the Westport sewerage scheme when we were in government from 1995 to 1997 — it was in the programme for Government. I cannot remember the title but we put it in the plan for 1996 to 1999 and for the first time it got moving. To be fair, the current Minister and previous Governments played their part in terms of that scheme. However, major problems arose with the management and the owner, Jeremy Browne, or Lord Altamont as he is known, who has done more for Westport over the years than Bord Fáilte, Ireland West Tourism or any of the tourist agencies. He promoted and restored Westport House with very little grant aid from the State at a time when it was difficult to get funding. He experienced major difficulty because of the way the property was tied up and a Bill went through the Seanad and the Dáil to deal with that serious legal issue — the property had to be passed on to his first son but he had only daughters. The Minister will recall that Bill going through the Dáil.
Mr. Ring: That issue was dealt with. It is wonderful that Westport House is still there and thousands of people every year have the pleasure of visiting what is probably one of our most historical buildings. It is regrettable that many of the artefacts were removed from the house and sold abroad. At the time I put pressure on the State to buy them. It bought some of them in past years, and I am delighted about that. The house is now in State ownership.
I have pushed for the State to work in partnership with Lord Altamont. There should be a partnership in that regard. There should not be conflict. There has been conflict over many years between members of Mayo County Council and Lord Altamont regarding the estate, instead of trying to talk to him and assist him.
It is important to keep that estate up and running. The Minister visited a site in the area on a beautiful day. He travelled down the road and turned into the right. Lord Altamont applied to Mayo County Council for planning permission on two or three occasions but because he opposed the location of a treatment plant in the middle of his land right behind his house, he found it difficult to get planning permission. That is wrong. The council should be working with him rather than against him.
This legislation is not all good, but it is not all bad. What happened in regard to Carrickmines was something that could not continue. Somebody had to step in. The courts made a decision and that is the reason we are dealing with this legislation. There was also a case in another part of the country where the protection of a particular snail held up progress on the completion of a road. We cannot allow such delays. We need development, but a proper balance must be struck. A proper balance needs to be introduced to this legislation. There are dedicated, environmentally aware people who want to ensure that whatever heritage can be preserved is preserved, but there is also an element of people who want to object and hold up the construction of roads for the sake of doing so.
We need infrastructural development but if there is an archaeological find, there should be some procedure in place to deal with it quickly. If it can be saved and the State can play its part in doing so, that should be done. The spokespersons from all parties will go through the Bill in detail on Committee Stage and I hope the necessary amendments are made to ensure the State agencies have the necessary powers in this regard.
I am concerned that in the last 20 years, power has been taken from the Dáil and elected representatives and handed over to officials who are not answerable to anyone. One issue that came up on the doorsteps during the recent elections, particularly in rural areas, was that power was being taken from local authorities and given to non-elected officials who are not answerable to this House or to the people.
This Bill gives power to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to override State agencies that have been established to protect our national heritage. I am not one who wishes to see heritage concerns go before people’s concerns. However, I have seen the vandalism carried out on many historic estates and buildings. There are examples of builders knocking historic buildings on a Sunday night to make way for further housing developments. These buildings should have been protected by the State agencies. However, when the State does not do its job, there is no other way to deal with such vandalism. The State will always protect itself, particularly in the courts. The more I see of the performances of courts, the more I am convinced they are not working. One wonders sometimes if the judges actually know what is happening. Judges must have experience of the cases they are dealing with, whether they involve heritage and environmental protection or the family courts.
I dislike emergency legislation. I prefer well-thought out legislation that allows the Opposition an opportunity to fully examine it and put down amendments. However, this Bill will remove powers from certain agencies. Deputy Cullen’s full ministerial title is Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. However, it is hard to see how a portfolio containing both heritage and local government responsibilities can work without conflict. Both portfolios should be separated to allow for one Minister responsible for the environment and local government and another for heritage and avoid any conflict between the two. Though I disliked the former ministerial portfolio for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, it was a better arrangement than this one.
This Bill gives too much power to the Minister. Over the years, we have seen those in the building industry gain more powers than elected representatives. There would not be half as many tribunals of inquiry if this was not the case. In a few weeks, that power will be seen again at the Galway races. Builders will be running into tents, fat with all the money bulging out of their pockets, but emerging thin because the money will be put into the bags of others. Their interests are more important than our national heritage. This Bill should not be rushed through the Dáil. Damn all of our national heritage is left because much of it has been demolished when it should have been protected by the State. What little is left must be protected.
Mr. Connolly: The National Monuments (Amendment) Bill was not introduced out of any concern for national monuments or the environment but more out of an indecent haste to speed up and facilitate the completion of the south-east section of the M50 motorway. The M50 motorway, conceived in the 1970s as a circular route around Dublin, was to serve all national primary routes serving the capital city. However, it was recently described as the only motorway in the world with a cul-de-sac in the middle. While practically completed at each end, it has been held up in the middle at Carrickmines due to archaeological considerations in the area of Carrickmines Castle.
Had the motorway proceeded as planned, unwarranted and major vandalism would have been visited on what remains of the castle and its artefacts. The “Carrickminders” have a case and their concern for this part of our heritage has been vindicated in court on several occasions. In the interests of completing the roads network in the area, it is vital to facilitate the completion of this motorway, while preserving the archaeological remains. The delay in progressing this motorway has lasted for more than ten years. What should have been completed ten years ago has now cost an additional €55 million. Croatia, whose application to join the EU was recently granted candidate status, added no less than 88 miles of motorway to its already vast and comprehensive motorway system this year.
As Deputy Gilmore has pointed out, delays concerning alternative routes for the M50 had major implications for Leopardstown Racecourse. The ten-year delay was also caused by the alterations of the previous Dublin County Council plans, involving a somewhat more modest motorway to Sandyford, and a distributor road to the N11 at Leopardstown. A series of environmental impact statements followed on alternate routes, which also went to a plebiscite of residents. Any self-respecting environmental impact statements should have established the difficulties that would subsequently arise concerning the castle and the extensive site surrounding it. How could such a study not take cognisance of such a site that has been compared in its significance to the Wood Quay site that sparked so much domestic and international controversy in the mid-1970s?
This study was followed by a public inquiry in Dún Laoghaire Town Hall which further contributed to the enormous expense and delay. However, there were no results to show as it turned out to be an exercise in futility. Most observations and suggestions from the public were not taken seriously as mere lay people were not considered to have a constructive idea or contribution to make about the roads system or the local road infrastructure in their area. However, a well-briefed local group, the southern cross motorway study, made a positive and lasting contribution to the motorway debate. The group, comprising local residents including architects, engineers and other professionals, briefed local representatives in the mid-1970s so successfully that the remainder of the then Dublin County Council was convinced to unanimously defeat the council’s roads planners’ proposal to bisect Marlay Park with a proposed motorway on a unanimous 18-0 vote.
The nightly traffic reports of motorised chaos in the areas of Ballinteer, Dundrum and Sandyford Industrial Estate all emanate from the failure of successive county councils to anticipate upcoming road blocks. The former Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council both failed to notice the archaeological significance of Carrickmines Castle when planning the motorway.
However, this Bill is not just concerned with expediting the completion of the M50 motorway and its provisions are considerably more wide-ranging. The Bill allocates or subdivides powers relating to national monuments among the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Arts, Sport and Tourism, and Finance, and the Office of Public Works. That the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have vested powers to direct that national monuments may be injured or destroyed borders on the sacrilegious. The excuse given for such potential acts of vandalism is the consideration of the wider public interest. How wide is “wide” and who determines the “width” of the public interest?
The Minister may consider archaeological considerations but will not be restricted to this by the Bill. He will be empowered, just like the Dún Laoghaire environmental impact study and public inquiry process, to ignore such archaeological data and concentrate on what he considers the wider public interest requires. This will permit the Minister to issue orders that all items of archaeological interest or significance that may block a particular development be destroyed. These would undoubtedly be items of enormous significance to our heritage. To destroy them at the stroke of a ministerial pen is bordering on the criminal.
It is abundantly clear from this that all archaeological sites, finds or artefacts are to be subjugated to what the Minister would feel is not in accordance with the wider public interest. In other words, archaeological or historic sites are considered secondary or subordinated to the provision of motorways, for example. School educational tours are organised to heritage sites around the country because educationalists realise the importance of inculcating respect for our heritage among our youth.
Heritage tourism is another aspect that should not be lost sight of. Numerous organised tours from abroad flock to Ireland each year, attracted by the heritage, culture and history of Ireland. This heritage tourism represents a significant contribution to the national income and is widely publicised among the Irish diaspora and other nationalities. Monuments are central to the tourism industry. People are always interested in the history, culture and heritage of the countries they visit, and Ireland is no exception.
Since this Bill is specifically about national monuments and their impact on a particular motorway, it can be taken that it will be used in respect of future motorway projects. One motorway that has aroused a considerable amount of controversy and public feeling is the proposed M3. I understand that the M3 scheme has been agreed and that it is inviolable. It is difficult to fathom how the scheme could be objectively re-evaluated in this situation. Perhaps if a modicum of flexibility and consultation were undertaken in relation to the M3 there might have been a prospect of some agreement being reached about the line of this motorway. There was no evidence of any will to listen to rational suggestions from conservationists to preserve the archaeological sites and treasures that have been discovered there.
The archaeological finds in this area were recently described as among the world’s most significant, even more so than Pharaoh’s tombs and the Chinese terracotta warriors. If they are treated under the terms of this Bill it is likely that they will be bulldozed indiscriminately at the behest of the Minister because of the “wider” public interest. The line of the motorway appears to be sacrosanct, to the exclusion of all heritage or archaeological items at the Minister’s discretion.
Some of our monuments are wide open to being stolen by avaricious individuals and even companies and groups obsessed with transporting Irish artefacts abroad. We have had examples of this in my constituency of north Monaghan where a mass rock on the Bragan mountain was stolen. A penal cross remains on that mountain and it too is vulnerable and unprotected. It is possible that the thieves may return and take the cross too. Many of these items end up in the private residences of individuals and on occasions in corporate offices as a backdrop to their corporate business. It is time we wised up to the illicit trade in items of Irish archaeological and heritage interest that are disappearing and reappearing in the homes and offices of wealthy individuals abroad. It is somewhat remiss of the Government and typical of the attitude to national monuments inherent in this Bill that little or no effort is made to prevent illicit trade in items of heritage or archaeological interest or significance.
The Bill provides for consultation by the Minister with the director of the National Museum. This would appear to be another cosmetic exercise because it merely allows the director 14 days to reply to the Minister’s so-called attempt at consultation. He has to reply in 14 days, having examined, over a period of little more than a week, the implications of a particular archaeological issue that may have taken years to discover. One can understand the need for urgency and haste in such matters, but 14 days is a ridiculously short period of time in which to adequately evaluate the feasibility or otherwise of a particular heritage item. National monuments are a reflection of our past, the glorious and inglorious, the tragic and the triumphant, and it is important that legislation should be in place to protect and preserve them.
Regarding the progressing of motorway projects to enhance the roads infrastructure, I am fully in favour of providing the highest quality of roads. However, when the progress of such a system conflicts with the preservation of heritage sites or national monuments, every effort should be made to reach an accommodation between the two. It is a case of preservation of our heritage balanced against what is regarded as “progress” in the matters of roads. There should be no question of the Minister having power to destroy national monuments if they conflict with what he deems to be the wider public interest. The wider public interest would appear to be the development of motorways as part of an integrated road infrastructure system. There is no doubt however that archaeological excavations should be carried out, and the ultimate care taken to ensure that our archaeological heritage is not undermined.
The Bill’s provisions to permit the completion of the M50 are to be welcomed. However, the other wide-ranging powers to be given to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the area of heritage should be regarded with the utmost caution. I agree with an earlier speaker who stated that emergency legislation does not make for good law.
I am totally opposed to this cynical legislation. The cynicism of the Government’s approach is glaringly exposed in the print on the Bill itself, dated 11 June 2004, the day of the local and European elections. The Government dared not publish this regressive Bill before the elections because it knew it would become a major issue and that it would receive an even bigger mauling at the hands of the electorate. The Bill was published on polling day. Shame on the Government for forcing through this profound change in our heritage legislation, with a guillotine in the Dáil tonight and a rushed-through Committee Stage tomorrow.
This Bill was hatched in secret. There was no consultation and no opportunity for proper scrutiny in the Oireachtas and there is no time for an informed public debate outside this House. The Government would like to pretend that the Bill is about Carrickmines, and certainly it is, but as other speakers have pointed out, it uses that experience as an opportunity to give sweeping new powers to the Minister. These powers threaten our national monuments and national heritage, and it is of no comfort to us that the Minister proclaims that it will be exercised with care. It puts powers in the hands of this and future Ministers to allow the destruction of national monuments so that roads can be run through them regardless of the loss to our national heritage. This is retrospective approval for the destruction that has already been carried out at Carrickmines and a recipe for the destruction of national monuments in the future.
We must ask what is the driving force behind this Bill. It is certainly not the protection of heritage or the environment, nor is it good planning. The driving force is the powerful development lobby which has ensured that the Government’s transport policy is almost totally concentrated on road construction. Vast swathes of the country, including the constituency I represent, are deprived of public transport, without a railway line or an adequate public bus service. We have had to campaign over many years to improve our non-national and national roads. Because they do not serve the prosperous south and east, development of our national routes, the N2 and N3, has been subject to continuous delay, not because of the presence of national monuments heretofore — though the issue arises on the N3 — but because of lack of will on the part of the Government and the prioritisation by the NRA of works in the east and south of the island.
We want integrated transport development, including public transport and the development of the N2 and N3. However, we do not want unbridled development at the expense of our heritage and environment. The route of the N3 through an international heritage site at Tara, Ireland’s valley of the kings, is not acceptable and should be redrawn. Yet, the Bill provides the Minister with the means to force through such projects.
I note in passing the sharp differences in attitude between Fine Gael and their proposed partners in any future alternative being presented in a general election. As the Labour Party and the Green Party have shown their clear opposition, Fine Gael has taken a strange position on the Bill.
The Bill should not proceed. There should not be legislation which confers further dictatorial powers of this nature on this or any other Minister or which would directly affect the future preservation of our heritage sites and national monuments. I roundly reject it.
Mr. Ferris: It is undisputed that the Bill has been brought forward as a result of the impasse at Carrickmines. However, it will have consequences for the heritage of the State that go far beyond the situation at Carrickmines. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is exploiting the Carrickmines situation to introduce legislation which will substantially reduce heritage protection. The legislation is being rushed through the Dáil. The Bill is to be guillotined tonight and it is proceeding to Committee Stage in the morning. There was no prior consultation with interested parties despite the fact that this legislation will fundamentally change heritage protection systems in the State. Justifiably, many ask if the National Roads Authority played a role in the drafting of the legislation. The Minister needs to address this suspicion and must explain his failure to hold consultations regarding the legislation.
Resolution of the conflict between those seeking to protect our heritage and those involved in infrastructure construction can only be assured if there is an inclusive process of consultation involving all interested parties. Understanding the mistakes made in the case of the proposed Carrickmines interchange will provide a far better solution to preventing such situations recurring than the introduction of this legislation, which seeks to scrap heritage protection and give sweeping powers to a Minister who has a close affinity with the National Roads Authority.
The Minister cares little for heritage protection. After all, he abolished Dúchas and under his watch heritage across the State is under threat. From Tara’s green valley to Trim Castle to the round tower in Clondalkin, the Minister has propagated an anti-heritage ethos which puts the profit and interests of developers before all else.
The reported inquiry of the European Commission into the south-eastern motorway shed some light on the Carrickmines debacle. It found a number of shortcomings in the environmental impact study, including a defective, non-technical summary, under estimations or omissions regarding the impact of the development, an insufficient historical study and a lack of schematic maps. The report states:
The report goes on to assess the archaeological input into the environmental assessment process and found a number of errors which had serious consequences, including the fact that the site was not afforded a full historical, topographical study which might have suggested serious historical interest and its uncertain extent. It went on to state that the necessary sources for these studies were readily available. The report raises very pertinent questions regarding why the very large roundabout at the Carrickmines interchange became such an unalterable component of the south-eastern motorway development, even when the archaeological consequences became fully apparent. The report also states that, at one point, consideration of risk to Leopardstown racecourse seemed to have been given more prominence in the consultants’ report than the risk to the cultural heritage.
The lesson to be learned from Carrickmines and the European Commission report into the early stages of the development is that giving more leeway to the destruction of national monuments will not address any of the failures which brought about the Carrickmines situation. In fact, this legislation will increase the likelihood that developers will be less thorough in carrying out initial investigations into the possible implications for heritage, safe in the knowledge that, should they encounter a national monument, the Minister has wide ranging powers to consent to the destruction of monuments. Shamefully, provisions in the Bill allow the Minister to grant consent to carry out works to a national monument which may result in the destruction of part or all of the monument after archaeological work has been carried out.
It has been claimed with some merit that the Bill will legalise badly designed roads. It provides no disincentives to unscrupulous developers who wish to push projects through in a way that suits their own desires to make fast profits regardless of whether they cut through heritage sites. They remain safe in the knowledge that they will ultimately be permitted to destroy national monuments. It is important to note that alternatives to both the Carrickmines interchange and the M3 motorway were put forward by conservationists seeking to preserve these sites. The current legislation will result in a situation where developers will have no motivation to compromise. History and heritage obviously have no worth for those committed to unbridled capitalism and the supremacy of the free market. The Bill devalues our national heritage and, consequently, Sinn Féin will oppose it.
Mr. J. Higgins: The Bill raises the ghost of the Fianna Fáil Taca gang of the 1960s. If we remember, this group laid siege to Georgian heritage in Dublin, wanting to replace it with monstrous concrete and glass structures. They enjoyed the political patronage of Fianna Fáil, which they bought with the lucre gained from heritage destroying speculation. They did enormous damage to the heritage of our national capital.
The modern Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government try to do things with a bit more subtlety. However, at the end of the day, they serve the same masters — the speculators, the big contractors and the big developers, whose main and, in many cases, only aim is the maximisation of profit rather than the well-being of our community and, in this case, our heritage. The Bill is designed to make sure that no repository of our national heritage, even if thousands of years old, will stand in the way of plans to construct anything from roads to hotels or housing estates — whatever might be the particular project of the developers in question.
The Bill gives the Minister draconian powers. Using the excuse of Carrickmines, the Minister brings this Bill forward as a Trojan horse to give him powers to make possible the destruction, at his whim alone, of national monuments which could in many cases be of great antiquity. Section 4, which replaces the equivalent section in the 1930 Act, puts the functions previously vested in the Commissioners of Public Works in the hands of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There are no safeguards envisaged in sections 4 and 5. It is entirely a decision for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The Bill makes possible the destruction of any location or object of antiquity, should the Minister decide it is in the public interest. It is clear that the term “in the public interest” is intended to mean the interest of development and building infrastructure in a particular location and within a particular timescale. In other words, it is intended to have a very narrow meaning, facilitating developers and those who may be in the business simply for a quick buck, rather than having the meaning of the wider public interest, namely, preserving our historic heritage and architectural sites of great antiquity. The Bill gives to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government totalitarian powers to destroy national heritage sites. The pathetic excuse of consultation with the director of the National Museum, in the pathetic timescale allowed, puts no obligation on the Minister to take advice from this or any other source.
The people of Ireland, in wishing to protect their national historical antiquities, can have no confidence whatsoever in the leadership of the present Government. The lead for the heritage destruction powers vested in the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the Bill comes right from the top. It comes from the Taoiseach and the Cabinet committee on infrastructure. In remarks made more than once, the Taoiseach described in the most insulting terms those who value conservation of our natural environment, our ecosystems and our national heritage. The Taoiseach poured scorn on them on many occasions rather than taking seriously how important these considerations are to the heritage of our society and to the future heritage of our people.
In the past two days, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in interjections made in the course of the debate, indicated his ignorance of ancient heritage and the value of heritage sites. He referred on a number occasions to going to Carrickmines and being more than surprised not to find a castle-like structure to greet him. If George W. Bush wandered out to Carrickmines, we can imagine him exclaiming, “Gee, where is the castle?”
Mr. J. Higgins: It is incredible coming from a Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who wants to have entrusted in his hands alone the protection of our entire national heritage, as it conflicts, or might conflict, with the thrust of various forces to build whatever project might be at hand. Given a Taoiseach as crass as the Taoiseach we have, which he has clearly shown in his remarks, and a Minister who thinks every ancient site should have a superstructure on top of it——
Mr. J. Higgins: ——is it any wonder we had the travesty this weekend at Dún Mór near Coomeenole in Corca Dhuibhne, where the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government did not appear to understand that much of our ancient heritage is covered by cumulative layers of vegetation and earth?
Mr. Cullen: I was reflecting the views of people in this country who are shocked that they are being presented with something that is not factually correct. There is an impression in this country that there is a substantial castle at Carrickmines to be demolished.
Mr. J. Higgins: The magnificent Céide Fields in Mayo were unveiled from metres of peat and stand as a magnificent achievement for archaeology enshrining a crucial part of our heritage which is thousands of years old. However, when we find these attitudes starting at the very top, at prime ministerial level, it is no wonder we have an individual bringing his bulldozer onto a site at Dún Mór near Coomeenole in Corca Dhuibhne to destroy Bronze Age ramparts dating back to approximately 1000 BC. The Minister might ask, “What Bronze Age site? I only flattened a few earth ditches.”
The Minister is determined that any road the National Roads Authority wishes to drive through our national heritage will go through. The ancient history of Tara Na Rí is an inconvenience to the road builders, therefore, there is a threat to dozens of crucial national heritage sites in the Tara area. We are expected to put our entire trust in the Minister to stand between the destruction of these sites and the developers.
Mr. J. Higgins: If the Minister is serious, he will institutionalise in legislation proposals and possibilities for dialogue with the archaeological community who are intimately involved in the protection of our national heritage, and put in place mechanisms by which these heritage sites will be protected and around which road routes and developments will be built. However, other considerations often intrude. Why was a roundabout sited at the location of the ancient Carrickmines Castle? It was done to facilitate the future development of lands which were corruptly rezoned. Similarly, there are other interests, above all the maximisation of profit by private individuals, driving the agenda.
I was struck by the short-sightedness of some people, such as one of the Fine Gael speakers, who believe that this legislation will resolve the traffic jams in the vicinity of Carrickmines. I live beside the M50 motorway and for hours every morning, evening and weekends, it is a solid traffic jam. There is plenty of road but nowhere to go. That is due to the dependency on roads as opposed to providing for public transport and for rail transport. The controversy that has developed about the Tara area is ironic given that there is an unused rail line which could extend from Blanchardstown into County Meath.
This is a sinister Bill and it will be a bad day’s work if it is passed by the House. The Bill calculatedly cuts out the archaeological community and other genuinely interested parties from effective decision-making in the protection of our national heritage. That is extremely serious.
Tubaiste mhillteanach dár n-oidhreacht náisiúnta a bheidh ann má ligtear don Bhille seo dul tríd an Dáil anocht. Ní Bille na séadchomharthaí atá i gceist ach milleadh na séadchomharthaí mar tugann an Bille cumhacht thar chuimse don Aire Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta and Rialtais Áitiúil scrios a dhéanamh ar láithreacha oidhreachta náisiúinta más rud é go seasann siad idir lucht mór tógála agus forbartha agus a gcuid tograí. Tógann an Bille seo sinn sa Stát seo siar go dtí laethanta na heagraíochta Taca sna 60í nuair a bhí na buic mhóra lucht tacaíochta Fhianna Fáil agus na buic mhóra tógála san tionscal tógála ag scriosadh ár n-oidhreacht náisiúnta arís is arís eile. I mBaile Átha Cliath sna 60í scriosadar oidhreacht náisiúnta ré Sheoirseach, mar shampla, chun blocanna móra oifigí a chur ina háit agus, ar ndóigh, proiféad mór a dhéanamh. Cad a rinne Fianna Fáil ag an bpointe úd? Thug an páirtí isteach an Bille chun Iontráil agus Áitiú le Forneart a Thoirmeasc 1970, a drineadh Acht dó i 1971, chun an lámh láidir a chur ar na daoine le radharc agus le fís a bhí ag iarraidh ár n-oidhreacht phoiblí a chaomhnú. Tá an rud céanna ar siúl againn anseo anocht arís. Tá an Bille atáá phlé ag iarraidh scrios a dhéanamh ar iarrachtaí na ndaoine úd i láthair na huaire a dteastaíonn uathu ár n-oidhreacht a chaomhnú.
It is an incredible parallel that we have this National Monuments Bill 2004 with, in a grotesque way, the Prohibition of Forcible Entry and Occupation Act 1971, which was introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government to repress those far-seeing and visionary people who understood in the late 1960s the importance of preserving our national heritage in the case of Georgian Dublin. The mohaired men and Fianna Fáil supporters in the Taca and related organisations wanted to lay waste to Georgian Dublin and replace it with piles of concrete and glass to bolster their profits. The response of the then Fianna Fáil Government was to introduce repressive legislation to stop the citizens who were protecting our national heritage. We owe those people a huge debt of gratitude that they stood up and fought because, despite losing some important heritage, they made our society aware of the need to protect a great deal more.
Mr. J. Higgins: ——instead of following an approach in which the national interest is in the protection of our heritage while allowing the development of infrastructure and other projects alongside it.
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): Ireland has a rich heritage which is certain to be affected by the unprecedented development activity that is taking place at present. We cannot always avoid such impacts so we must devise policies and strategies to deal with this issue. Mechanisms are in place to achieve these aims, including an administrative and professional structure.
Development and conservation can happily co-exist as long as there is a common understanding of basic guiding principles. Early planning is an essential element in striking the right balance and this Bill is consistent with such principles. In issuing the consent in 2003, which was subsequently found to be invalid, a clear signal was given at that stage that the Government wants the M50 completed as soon as possible. There are significant public interest factors relating to safety and the economy that influenced that decision as well as the fact that extensive archaeological work has already taken place in Carrickmines. Just under €7 million is being spent in Carrickmines and more than 130 archaeologists are employed there.
The Bill addresses the technical glitch identified by the High Court that prevented the M50 from being completed. In addition, the legislation must provide a proper framework for balancing heritage protection with development of other projects. The Bill restates many of the consent provisions of the 1930 Act. It provides a clear, single-tier consent process which overcomes existing arrangements that were described by the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court hearing as “torturous”. The Bill also provides clear criteria to be considered in assessing an application for consent consistent with best regulatory practice. It simplifies the approvals process by removing the need for separate excavation and other licences where a consent is granted and allows for newly discovered national monuments not anticipated at EIS stage to be dealt with. Others who do not support the Bill do not want a process in place to deal with them. Importantly, Carrickmines and other affected national monuments on the SEM will be specifically exempted from the need for consent.
I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate. While there are many issues which divide us, potential consensus emerged. There was general agreement that the M50 must be completed without further delay. We are also united in our belief that heritage is fundamentally important even if there are disagreements on how its protection should be enshrined in law. I reassure those Deputies who have fears about this legislation. Deputy Morgan considered the Bill anti-heritage, but the opposite is the case. It does not permit damage to archaeology, even after the necessary approvals have been received in the planning process, without ministerial approval. The penalties for damaging a national monument have been dramatically increased. Deputies Cowley and Gilmore believe the Bill gives me an unfettered power and Deputy Haughey sought assurance that I am not taking extra powers under the Bill. The existing legislation already provides for these powers. It was found to be inoperable because of a consent and a technical glitch.
The Bill changes the status quo through its introduction under section 14 of the requirement for consultation with the director of the National Museum. This requirement did not exist before. Although I am introducing a consent process, I am being accused of doing the opposite. I can clearly show that these powers did not exist in the Acts at all.
Mr. Cullen: Contributions from Deputies Durkan, Sargent and Morgan mentioned the need for better analysis in identifying monuments in advance to avoid problems in the future. I agree, but I must emphasise that Ireland is to the fore in Europe in site identification. The Archaeological Survey of Ireland has received tremendous praise abroad. The results of surveys have caused 120,000 sites to be given statutory protection. There is no other country in Europe that approaches our level of heritage protection.
The code of practice with the NRA has set up much improved advance systems and testing of routes for archaeology purposes. The fact remains, however, that we are undertaking the biggest investment in infrastructure in the history of the State and new sites are bound to be discovered, given that much material of archaeological interest is underground and unknown.
I have great sympathy with the concerns of Deputy Olivia Mitchell as raised in her thoughtful contribution and appreciate her recognition that a single-section Bill dealing with Carrickmines alone would not be sufficient to deal with future cases.
Mr. Cullen: I appreciate her suggestion that the process of consent should have a time limit but I must balance that with the need to give sufficient time for complex cases which affect what is a non-renewable heritage resource. I agree with the Deputy that there is a need to put in place a mechanism to define national monuments. There is a need to update and consolidate all the National Monuments Acts by creating one new Act. There will be further opportunities to consider the whole code at that stage, including a scheme for designating monuments of national importance. These are complex issues and for these reasons it would not have been possible to address them comprehensively in the context of this current Bill. In the meantime, the Department will continue to play its pivotal role in the protection of archaeological heritage through the many functions it performs and the various initiatives with which it is involved.
Mr. Cullen: The fort is of national significance and is one of 120,000 sites in the Record of Monuments and Places. The Department has been in discussion with the land owner since August 2002, when other disturbances to the site were brought to our attention. The extent and significance of this site were explained in detail to him during a visit to the site in 2003 and in various correspondence. Attempts were being made to agree a plan with him to ensure he would be able to farm his land in a manner consistent with the protection of the monument. He appeared to be willing to co-operate in operating a plan which would protect the monument. In these circumstances, a preservation order was not put on the site.
In light of the recent reports of damage, an official inspection of the fort was carried out on 21 June. It has been confirmed that a section of double-earth bank with intervening ditch measuring approximately 82 m. in length has been levelled in the recent past. This double entrenchment formed part of the eastern boundary of the promontory fort which ran north-south on the landward side of the headland. These earthworks may belong to the later prehistoric period or, at the very latest, to the early mediaeval period, between the sixth and eleventh centuries, when many of the promontory forts in the country were in use. In addition, damage to other sections of the earthworks had been caused and a number of later field boundaries were also removed. The old stone, contrary to media reports, has not been disturbed.
The Department has asked the Garda to investigate the matter and pursue a prosecution under the National Monuments Acts. The only breach would be for lack of notification of works affecting the monument. Although the owner might claim that his discussions with the Department represent a form of notification, this would not apply to all the activity on the site. There are no penalties in the present Act for damage caused to a recorded monument. The consolidated legislation will address this. In addition, a submission has been made to have a preservation order placed on the remaining monument.
Mr. Cullen: Under this Bill I have raised penalties substantially, from €50,000 to €10 million. The present legislation is weak — I accept that. That is why we are trying to resolve this issue by bringing in a fully consolidated Bill. I agree with many Members about the need for a system to define national monuments, although it will be difficult. We will have to make a serious attempt at this but it is not always possible to define things satisfactorily even with the best available technology. That is what this extra legislation seeks to do. During the building of the N25 in Waterford I saw the technology that was used to try to establish what was there. It was not until the archaeologists went on site and began to dig that they could achieve this. The more they got into the site, the more they found.
I will not allow to stand on the record of the House some notion that I am a vandal. It was ironic that Deputy Higgins referred to the Céide Fields. I had direct responsibility in that project and accepted the medals and honours on behalf of the OPW when it was completed. The projects in which I have been involved are worthwhile and I am glad to hear Deputy Higgins pronounce upon that tonight. My track record over the five years before I was given my current appointment stands up to scrutiny by anyone.
Mr. Cullen: Senior counsel opinion on various aspects of the debate was read into the record. This was not a specific legal opinion but rhetoric. I deal with the office of the Attorney General on behalf of the Government. The office has studied this legislation in great detail. In fact, it was extraordinarily complex legislation and that it why it took some time to come to the House.
Deputy Burton accepts the need for the Bill to deal with the situation in Carrickmines but is deeply worried about wider powers resulting from the Bill. There are no wider powers. I am at pains to explain this to the House.
One aspect of the existing legislation with which I have difficulty is the archaic language used. The 1930 Act contains the words “to demolish or remove wholly or in part or to disfigure, deface, alter, or in any manner injure or interfere with any such national monument”. This is what is already in our Acts; it is not something I have brought in.
One of the reasons we need to redefine and consolidate the Acts is that archaeology, in terms of the existing Acts, was defined as a find occurring in certain circumstances. However, archaeology in this country is now development-led and we need a statutory framework to deal with that. We need to introduce consultative processes. Some of the comments made during this debate have been grossly unfair to all the archaeologists involved with the Department of the Environment and other Departments.
Mr. Cullen: Leinster House 2000 was a very difficult project to put in place in one of the most historic precincts in the country. I put enormous effort into that. I have not heard anybody describing it as an act of vandalism.
Mr. Cullen: The Deputies opposite are not interested in heritage, archaeology or anything else. They are clearly interested in playing a game, in looking in 40 different directions at the same time, and do not want to get involved in the substance of these discussions which are clearly about protecting archaeology. Apart from Carrickmines there are major projects under way where there is no mechanism, because of the Supreme Court and High Court rulings, for anybody to step in to shout “Stop” and protect the archaeology.
Mr. Cullen: This Bill seeks to do that. I am glad it is being done. I am glad of the wide consultation I have had in putting this together. I am equally glad to be funding and seeking the advice of the Heritage Council, a serious body which is directly involved in archaeology. I am also pleased to be the first Minister responsible for heritage to strengthen the role of the director of the National Museum who had no role under existing legislation. It will be a valuable contribution to the process that the Minister will, for the first time, have an obligation to consult the director of the National Museum. That is what is new in the legislation, not what has been represented by other Members around the House.
Mr. Cullen: It does not. If the Deputy travelled around the country he would not hear that view expressed. This is a rapidly developing economy. I doubt if any of us could walk out of Leinster House to any part of this country and not to set foot on some area that is archaeologically important. I want to protect that and to find a way of dealing with it. I want to give it a legal basis and to find methodologies of mitigating the impact on the archaeology. That is what we are engaged in.
Mr. Cullen: I am glad we have exposed many in the House as not having any particular interest in archaeology. I am proud to be part of a Government and particularly part of a party, Fianna Fáil, that has a tremendous track record in protecting and putting archaeology to the fore.
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Ardagh, Seán.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Brady, Martin.||Brennan, Seamus.|
|Browne, John.||Callanan, Joe.|
|Carey, Pat.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Coughlan, Mary.|
|Cregan, John.||Cullen, Martin.|
|Curran, John.||Dempsey, Tony.|
|Dennehy, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Ellis, John.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Glennon, Jim.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Hanafin, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Jacob, Joe.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Killeen, Tony.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moloney, John.|
|Moynihan, Donal.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M. J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donnell, Liz.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Keeffe, Batt.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Malley, Tim.||Parlon, Tom.|
|Power, Peter.||Power, Seán.|
|Roche, Dick.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Smith, Michael.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Dan.||Wilkinson, Ollie.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Breen, Pat.|
|Broughan, Thomas P.||Bruton, Richard.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Connolly, Paudge.|
|Costello, Joe.||Cowley, Jerry.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Enright, Olwyn.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Gormley, John.|
|Higgins, Joe.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kenny, Enda.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McHugh, Paddy.|
|McManus, Liz.||Morgan, Arthur.|
|Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.||Murphy, Gerard.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Pattison, Seamus.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Ryan, Seán.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Upton, Mary.||Wall, Jack.|
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