The European Commission has begun legal action against the 26-County government over the continuing construction of the M3 motorway through the Tara Valley.
The decision will provide a boost to campaigners who are trying to force Minister for the Environment John Gormley to consider re-routing the motorway away from the partly-excavated ancient city of Tara, which dates from pre-Celtic times. Gormley, the leader of the Green Party, has relatedly claimed he is powerless to halt the construction of the road.
The legal move may not halt the construction of the road, but it will force Dublin to defend its position at Europe’s highest court.
European Commissioners have accepted the argument that the National Monuments Act in the 26 Counties does not offer enough protection for important archaeological sites.
An explanatory note read: “The commission considers Ireland’s approach to decisions involving the destruction or removal of historic structures and archaeological monuments to be in contravention” of a directive requiring Environmental Impact Assessments.
The decision not to order a second Environmental Impact Assessment when a significant archaeological site was discovered at Lismullen, close to Tara, is in contravention of EU directives.
“Because the prehistoric site was only identified in 2007, its significance could not be taken into account in a 2003 assessment of the motorway project,” the note added.
The draft commission decision does not seek a court injunction that would force the Government to stop work on the motorway.
NEW SITE FOUND
Meanwhile, a significant new archaeological site has been found in the path of the M3 motorway at the Hill of Tara. Believed to be a fortified complex, the ring enclosure is being examined prior to what is exepcted to be its imminent destruction.
Campaigners were only alerted to the presence of the previously unknown site on Tuesday night by a local source.
Minister Gormley has been urged to place a preservation order on the site, as he did with Rath Lugh, another national monument threatened by the motorway. According to section 14 of the National Monuments Act, all work must cease immediately when a monument is discovered during the course of roadworks.
Located between the defensive fort of Rathmiles and the burial ground at Soldier Hill, the newly discovered site is further proof that the Hill of Tara constitutes a vast archaeological complex.
Activists plan to occupy the site today, after it emerged that the demolition of the site is imminent.
“This fort is certainly worthy of National Monument status, as it lies at the heart of the Tara complex,” said one activist at the site.
“Is the Government reluctant to recognise the importance of new sites for fear of facing further scrutiny from the European Commission?”
‘TaraWatch’ spokesman Vincent Salafia said:
“It is highly disturbing that the presence of yet another significant archaeological site has been concealed from the public.
“It would appear that Minister Gormley is still failing to be open and transparent on this issue, as he claimed he would be on taking office.”