Hopes for progress in efforts to save the Tara heritage site were dashed on Thursday this week after the National Roads Authority (NRA) tore up an agreement with conservationists to temporarily cease work on the motorway through the area and began removing earth from the base of a national monument.
The fort is thought to have been constructed around a key burial site for warriors from Tara, Ireland’s fabled ancient capital.
A ten-point agreement -- including a commitment that all work would cease for one month at the Rath Lugh fort -- was signed by the NRA after protester Lisa ‘Squeak’ Feeney agreed to emerge from a tunnel after spending 60-hours at a sit-in this week.
Feeney had warned construction workers that efforts to remove her would lead to the collapse of her man-made tunnel. Agreeing to leave her underground chamber only after coming under considerable pressure from her family and the NRA, she emerged to cheers and some forebodings among more experienced activists.
Those forebodings were to prove correct as the Dublin goverment immediately backtracked on the deal.
The 26-County Minister for the Environment, John Gormley of the Green Party, was on hand at the site of the standoff in County Meath on Thursday as the decision was taken to move the diggers in. Refusing to speak to the protestors, Gormley gave the go-ahead for the NRA to advance construction to within yards of the fort’s unstable gravel foundations.
In a highly provocative move, aggressive security personnel and between 50-100 gardai police were deployed as part of the heavy-handed move to evict protestors, sealing off an area to prevent actions similar to the tunnel strategy
The young campaigners could only look on as scores of Gardai flanked construction workers as they built a two-metre tall spiked steel fence to separate the construction site from the protest camp.
At the same time, gardai ransacked tents, claiming to be looking for weapons. None were found.
By early afternoon on Thursday [yesterday] excavators and trucks had removed the portion of the esker ridge that had stood in the motorway’s path. The work on the esker, which forms part of the fort, appears to openly violate an existing preservation order.
Three protesters were arrested at the site as the diggers moved in. Amid heavy security some eight diggers are continuing today to bringing in topsoil and earth. There was no evidence of work being carried out to shore up the esker, as had been claimed.
Labour Party environment and heritage spokeswoman Joanna Tuffy criticised the Minister for the Environment for failing to speak to protesters during his visit to the Rath Lugh site and said it was “surprising and disappointing”.
She said the number of gardai and security personnel at the road works site was “disproportionate” to the numbers of protesters.
“A far more effective focus of State efforts could be put into a process of liaison and communication with all stakeholders that could help allay their concerns about the future of Rath Lugh,” she added.
Last night, an NRA spokesman said “all deals are off” after protesters said intimidating things to workers who were trying to erect the new fence.
Paddy O’Kearney, a member of the Rath Lugh Direct Action camp, said the protesters may soon be left with no alternative but to “digger dive” -- or throw themselves in front of construction machinery -- in an effort to halt the works and protect the national monument.