Report ‘sexed up’ in Tara fraud

A leading archaeologist employed to survey the motorway through the ancient Irish capital city of Tara has said her findings were altered to support the motorway when in fact she pointed to evidence against it.

The Tara valley has been compared to Egypt’s Vally of the Kings in terms of its importance for western Europe’s pre-Celtic civilization.

In a devastating attack, Jo Ronayne - who was working for the National Roads Authority - says her findings were altered before being presented to ministers.

Ms Ronayne, who was an excavation director at the Tara site in County Meath, said she was warned to ‘change interpretations’ so as to ‘lessen to potential of numbers of sites’.

And she says she was excluded from meetings in which her evidence was altered before reports were passed on to the Dublin government.

The damning allegations will shatter the government’s defence that it would not change the Tara route because there was no significant archaeological site on it. And it has led to concerns that ministers, the public and the courts were misled about archaeological finds in order to pursue an aggressive policy of public destruction.

In May, Dublin officials ordered the eviction of the encampment used by conservation activists near the Hill of Tara. Last month, with the assistance of the gardai and a private security firm, protestors were forcibly removed from the area, removing the camp that around a dozen people had lived in, some of them for the past two years.

Ms Ronayne, who was directly employed by a subcontractor to the state’s National Roads Authority (NRA), has now implied in an explosive academic article that her role appeared to have been a sham.

“I didn’t realise that the testing and my reports would be used to facilitate rather than stop the project going ahead. Or that they don’t let you write the truth in the reports or give you enough time to do a proper job,’ she wrote.

The archaeologist remains utterly disenchanted with how she says her reports were used and portrayed. She said: “I held the licence and was responsible for the work, but the NRA archaeologist would come down and tell me what I should be doing.

“Directors or field archaeologists working on the sites were not allowed to attend meetings where decisions were made by the NRA’s own archaeologists about how to interpret and present what we were finding.”

She added: “A number of times I was told to change an interpretation which served to lessen the potential numbers of sites. We were also told to excavate large sections even tough you are not supposed to excavate in the testing phase.

“They edited our reports before the Minister saw them.”

In May 2005, following preliminary archaeological reports made by the NRA, the then-environment minister Dick Roche sanctioned 38 archaeological excavations in the Tara-Skryne valley in County Meath, effectively approving the route.

It was reports such as those complied by Ms Ronayne that Mr Roche would have been presented with before he eventually gave his approval for the project.

Following the decision to go ahead with the road, Ms Ronayne and a number of archaeologists refused to work on the excavations.

Since the route of the M3 was approved, there have been a number of protests aimed at highlighting the archaeological value of the stretch of motorway.

However, the results of initial test-trenching were often highlighted by advocates of the route of the motorway. In March 2005, Frank Cosgrave of the Meath Citizens for the M3 group, told the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government: “Nothing that could be described as a ‘national monument’ has been found.”

At the same meeting, Cork TD Billy Kelliher claimed the archaeological richness of Tara was “a bit of a myth.”

Since then, two national monuments have been encountered by motorway diggers.

Meanwhile, a debate on Tara at the sixth World Archaeological Congress in Dublin this week alsso heard that archaeologists working on excavations on the motorway feared they would be “sacked, blacklisted or bullied out of their profession” for not supporting the building of the chosen route.

“Lip service was paid to archaeology but archaeologists were used to destroy our heritage,” said Dr Maggie Ronany

“From the point of view of archaeology, the route chosen by the NRA was the least desirable and other routes were not properly considered because they were not profitable for developers.”

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