From High Kings to Hiaces

More intrigue in the Valley of the Kings as possible archaeological trenches are dug with fears that it is to prepare the way for the new bypass through the Tara/Skyrne valley. Emma Browne reports


The NRA (National Roads Authority) have been threatened with legal action if they do not stop preparatory work they have begun on the Tara/M3 route. The NRA say that the work is merely clearing trees and shrubbery, which has to be done at a certain time of the year under An Bord Pleanála regulations. Some of the opposition groups say that it looks more like trench building in preparation of archaeological excavations than just hedge clearing. The NRA has not been granted archeological excavation licenses by the Minister of the Environment and Local Government, Dick Roche.

The Save Tara Skyrne valley group have sent letters to NRA through their solicitors demanding that they stop preparatory work they have begun on the M3 route. They are threatening legal action if the works are not halted within seven days of the NRA receiving the letter. (They sent the letter on 30 March.)

The solicitor's letter from the group said: "We call upon you to cease works immediately. If you fail to give us an undertaking within seven days of this letter that you will order all works to cease, we will have no option but to join you in proceedings where injunctive relief ordering works to cease will be sought"

The NRA are within their full legal right to begin clearing in preparation for the motorway as they have full planning permission from An Bord Pleanála and are working on the presumption that the motorway will be built. Vincent Salafia argues that the work was instigated by the Chief Archaeologist, Mary Deavy and therefore could be viewed as preparatory work to archaeological excavations.

Vincent Salafia has also said that the road could be delayed until 2015, due to legal proceedings and archeological excavations.

The NRA originally made an estimation of a year for archaeological excavations. This was based on a belief that five archaeological sites would be excavated. Now there are 38 sites that will have to be excavated, yet the NRA has not allocated more time for these.

The NRA employs 20 archaeologists. The archaeologists who object to the motorway feel that an independent body should oversee the archaeological excavations, done by the NRA, to ensure that time constraints do not compromise archaeological excavations.

The Carrickmines site took over two years to excavate. That was only one site, and wasn't large in comparison to the Tara sites. Also it is quite likely more sites will be discovered, which could further delay excavations. Joe Fenwick, an archaeologist at NUI, Galway has said that we should also have a higher standard of excavations at Tara because it is of such national importance and archaeologically unique. He says that you would need an "army of archaeologists" to do it in a year.

Minister Dick Roche said that no decision will be made without first considering the Director of the National Museum's 18-page submission to the Minister.

Pat Wallace is thought to have been very concerned about the NRA's archaeological findings at Tara, and felt they downplayed the significance, in nature and scale, of the newly discovered sites.

Conor Newman, who is the archaeological expert on Tara, also feels that the NRA have not properly considered all the possible interpretations of their findings in their report sent to Dick Roche.

He says that when an archaeologist applies for a license they have to give a detailed interpretation of all the possibilities, and so the NRA should do the same too.

Two joint Oireachtas committees have been hearing submissions on the Tara/M3 motorway over the past couple of months. The Transport committee has yet to make its recommendations.

A Government spokesperson said that "a draft report is currently being prepared but is yet to be formally adopted by the committee". The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Local Government has given the transcript of its hearings to Minister Dick Roche, for his consideration. They did not take a vote on the M3 route although during the public sessions of the committee meetings there was much opposition against the proposed motorway, in particular from members Trevor Sergeant and Eamonn Gilmore.

Julitta Clancy of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society has questioned the impartiality of the Chair of the Transport Committee, John Ellis TD, after a radio show in February. He said that in his role he was there to do objective work yet it was clear that he personally supports the motorway and is dismissive of the Save Tara groups.

On the programme he said, "Look it, this is the annoying part of this for many people. I'm watching people who are commuting in and out of Dublin on the M3 on a daily basis. If you look at it you have 80 per cent of the people surveyed saying that they want this road… and there is a very small group who are absolutely trying to create havoc with regards to the M3, trying to prevent the project from progressing and absolutely damaging the economy of the area".

He also said that the committee will not take into consideration the fact that there could be long delays if this route goes ahead. He said it was a matter for the NRA to consider.

Construction is due to begin in spring 2006, although this seems unlikely to happen now. The NRA say the road will take three to four years to build once construction starts. But with more legal action promised if the road goes ahead, it could be much longer.