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The M50 Motorway

Andrew McGrath

The State continues its campaign to build a motorway through the Tara-Skryne Valley. The fact that it is both economically and culturally destructive is not an issue. The exchequer is a taxpayer-funded bank, dipped into at will for prestige projects like this, regardless of cost or of the degree of cultural destruction. In fact, given the evidence, it would appear that the greater the cost, and the greater the interference with natural and cultural heritage, the better. The ‘route options’ for the motorway did not include the ‘option’ of avoiding Tara altogether, or for that matter not building the motorway and instead adopting a transport policy incorporating railways.

While the NRA pretended, as part of its sales pitch, that provision would be made for reopening the Navan-Dublin railway line, this has not been done. This too is deliberate: even though a road upgrade and bypass scheme was proposed as far back as 1999, the State has forced the issue by refusing to upgrade the existing N3, and refusing to provide a rail link. It is only in conjunction with the building of the M3 motorway that upgrades will begin on the existing N3 route, using EU structural funds.

Giving the National Roads Authority responsibility for archaeology was another signal, as though any more were needed, that regard for heritage was not high on the agenda. The defence of this policy that is often invoked, that but for the roads programme there would be no excavation at Tara, is doubly duplicitous. On the one hand, it conceals State’s own poor heritage record, as seen in the insensitive and frequently brutal ‘restoration’ efforts carried out by State authorities, evincing little concern for the intrinsic value of heritage sites. On the other hand, it ignores the fact that the NRA’s professed interest in archaeology is little more than public relations.

It is by now well known that, under the existing heritage legislation, a site can simply be bulldozed on ministerial order. What is less well known is that the State, and those licensed by the State, is under no legal obligation to even record what it finds in the course of its ‘excavation’. If a significant site is uncovered, the Minister can simply command that it is destroyed without even a record being made or a proper excavation being carried out. Even if one were to grant that the NRA, in spite of its vested interest, dutifully reports every find to the Minister, there is no reason to believe that a thorough record is being kept of all the sites that are being destroyed.

But there is no reason to grant the NRA the benefit of the doubt: a 1300 year old souterrain at Roestown was hurriedly destroyed, with the NRA claiming, incredibly, that such sites were ‘relatively common’ in Ireland. The NRA has no expertise in archaeology, and therefore has no business making such statements, yet the Minister has put the Tara-Skryne valley in the NRA’s hands. The NRA refused to allow an independent assessment of the souterrain, and have cordoned off a large area at Lismullen, with 24-hour security, fuelling suspicions of a major find there. The national monument at Rath Lugh was likewise attacked in late December: Coillte, whose remit is to maintain the forests of Ireland in the name of the public, illegally transferred land at Rath Lugh to the NRA through the device of a Compulsory Purchase Order. The NRA proceeded to fell mature trees with reckless abandon, and attacked the monument itself using earth moving equipment.

As things stand, the State’s road programme makes no reference to actual infrastructural requirements, and dismisses as irrelevant all considerations of rational planning, environmental sensitivity and value for money. Instead, elected representatives are loyal, from beginning to end, to the interests of those who had nothing to do with electing them.

© The Tara Foundation, 2007