Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Roads Infrastructure: Motion.
That DÃ¡il Ãireann,
âthe necessity to improve transport links along the Cavan-Dublin corridor;
âthe importance of the Hill of Tara national monument and its environs;
âthe inevitable road construction delays which will result and the inevitable destruction of heritage if the National Roads Authority persists with its current plan to build the M3 through the Tara-Skryne area; and
âthat the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is currently considering his options under the National Monuments Act;
calls on the Government to:
âaddress the current transport problems on this corridor by proceeding immediately with the Dunshaughlin, Kells and Navan bypasses, by other road improvements and the provision of a Navan-Dublin rail link;
âdirect the NRA to immediately reconsider other options for the proposed M3; and discontinue its plans to route the M3 through the Tara-Skryne Valley.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Shortall and Quinn.
Some of the worst traffic conditions in this country are to be found on the N3. Some 15,000 cars crawl through the town of Kells every day. Traffic backs up at Navan and Dunshaughlin. The road is in poor condition and it has one of the worst road accident rates in the country. Many of those who are stuck day in and day out in these frustrating traffic queues are young workers who have been forced by the high house prices in Dublin to commute from towns and commuter estates in County Meath.
There is no disputing the need for improved road and transport links along this corridor or the necessity to urgently resolve the traffic congestion which is the daily reality on the existing N2. In 1998, the national road needs study concluded that a dual carriageway standard road was needed between Kells and Clonee. In 1999 Meath County Council approved plans for a bypass of Dunshaughlin and planned to also bypass Kells and Navan. These plans, however, were effectively set aside by the National Roads Authority, which at the behest of the Government advanced a proposal for a 62.8 km motorway to run from Clonee to north of Kells, which would be built as a PPP and which would be tolled.
The NRA and Meath County Council commissioned consultants to produce a route selection report and to conduct a public consultation process. Eventually the NRA selected a route for the section of motorway between Dunshaughlin and Navan, which was not the preferred option of the vast majority of those who made submissions and which was not recommended under any of the environmental headings of archaeology, built heritage, water quality, landscape, air quality or noise level.
This route, which is the subject of the Labour Party motion, was subsequently approved by An Bord PleanÃ¡la in October 2003 following an oral hearing. A tendering process is now under way to select a single contractor to build the motorway. It is expected that construction will begin in 2006 or perhaps 2007 and that the motorway will be completed by 2010, provided there are no legal challenges or other delays.
While many concerns have been expressed about the proposed motorway, including the plans to toll it, the main worry now relates to the 14 km section between Dunshaughlin and Navan. This section of the M3 will cut through the Tara-Skryne Valley, one of the richest archaeological landscapes in Europe, and will include a major 26 acre floodlit interchange at Blundelstown, just over one kilometre from the northern edge of the Hill of Tara. It will also cut through the historic complexes of Lismullin and Dowdstown and will take away a major part of the nature reserve at Dalgan Park.
The unique archaeological, cultural and natural landscape of Tara and its environs, which has existed virtually untouched for almost 6,000 years, will be destroyed forever if the M3 is built on the route that has been approved. The NRA argues â no doubt this will be repeated in the course of this debate â first, that the Hill of Tara is not being touched by the motorway and, second, that every effort has been made and will be made to mitigate the archaeological impact of the motorway construction.
The leading authority on Tara is Dr. Conor Newman of NUIG. He has worked on Tara since 1982. He was director of the State's Tara survey organised under the discovery programme, which began in 1992. He has written extensively about Tara with his academic colleagues Dr. Joseph Fenwick of NUIG and Dr. Edel Bhreathnach of UCD. In his submission to An Bord PleanÃ¡la, Dr. Newman described the Hill of Tara as one of the most important archaeological complexes in the world. He pointed out that the Hill of Tara had to be considered in a wider geographical context. In his submission he stated:
The Hill of Tara represents the ritual and political core of a far larger territory or landscape. It cannot be regarded, or treated, in isolation from this broader landscape because this would be to divorce it from its cultural and geographical context. For the most part, people did not live on Tara; they buried their dead there and built temples. They lived instead in the shadow of their sacred mountain. This is why archaeologists and historians are concerned about any developments within the vicinity of Tara. Moreover all of our researches point to the valley between Tara and Skreen as an area of paramount importance throughout the history of Tara and this is spectacularly corroborated in the geophysical survey carried out as part of the EIA.
This valley between Tara and Skyrne is precisely where the NRA plans to build the M3 and it has been described by Dr. Newman as "chock-a-block with archaeological monuments and interesting and complex ones at that". It is estimated that there is an archaeological site along the route of the proposed motorway on average every 370 metres. Initially, the NRA sought to play down the number of such sites. In letters to newspapers and to other interested parties in February this year, the NRA claimed that there were only two recorded sites along the entire 60 km of the proposed motorway and that the geophysical survey had found a further three, that is, five in all.
By May of this year the NRA's interim report on test trenching along the route acknowledged that "to date approximately 28 archaeological sites have been confirmed or identified by the archaeological testing". On 1 June at the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government, the NRA mentioned 15 possible archaeological sites on which testing was ongoing and 23 other areas of archaeological potential, all remaining areas currently being tested.
On 21 September at a meeting between the NRA, Meath County Council and the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society, it was announced that the M3 between Dunshaughlin and Navan would impact on a minimum of 38 site monuments and complexes. In September also the NRA published 21 archaeological reports outlining the results of test trenching between Dunshaughlin and Dowdstown which identified a minimum of 38 sites, monuments and archaeological complexes, some of them between one hectare and two hectares in area, and representing an archaeological site on average every 370 metres along the route of the planned motorway between Dunshaughlin and Navan. This number and scale of sites and monuments are in line with the predictions of Doctors Newman, Fenwick and Bhreathnach and are a far cry from the claims made by the NRA prior to the approval of the motorway scheme.
It is remarkable that the NRA played down the possible archaeological impact of the M3 because at the An Bord PleanÃ¡la hearing Dr. Newman stated:
From the very outset this route was identified as the least desirable from the archaeological point of view; the attrition rate on the archaeological heritage will be far greater here than for any other of the proposed routes. This is not just my conclusion, it is the conclusion arrived at by the archaeological consultants involved in the route selection process. What is surprising, therefore, is that in spite of this, the National Roads Authority has selected this as the preferred route.
Dr. Newman, in his submission to An Bord PleanÃ¡la in September 2003, complained that the geophysical images produced by the archaeological consultants to the environmental impact statement were not included in the environmental impact statement. He wrote:
Instead what we got were interpretive drawings that we had to take at face value. This is completely abnormal practice. I have never encountered a situation before where the geophysical images were not provided alongside interpretive drawings. It is an industry standard.
Dr. Newman concluded that this had completely compromised the EIS, on which the motorway scheme was based. He said: "If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might have concluded that the geophysical evidence was part-buried because it proved so spectacularly the enormity of the archaeological dimension to this section of the motorway." No conspiracy theory is required. The facts speak for themselves. Only nine months ago, the NRA claimed there were only five archaeological sites on the route. Now even they admit there are 38. They would not listen to Dr. Newman and other experts. They buried the geophysical evidence which have confirmed Dr. Newman's warning that the Tara-Skryne Valley is chock-a-block with sites and monuments. For whatever reason, they selected the wrong route, and they now claim to be unable to change that. Their apologists are now attempting to blackmail the people and commuters of Meath that to be freed from the insufferable traffic jams, they must sacrifice the Celtic heritage of our country and continent.
Let us consider realistically what will happen if the NRA is allowed to persist with its planned route for the M3. For 38 sites that we know of so far, the NRA will have to request the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to exercise his new powers under the National Monuments Act 2004. On most of those 38 occasions, the Minister will be subjected to considerable pressure from international and expert opinion on the importance of Tara. The Minister will probably order an initial archaeological dig. After that he will still have to decide whether to halt the construction of the motorway or perhaps order the destruction or removal of the archaeological find concerned.
If he accedes to the NRA request he exposes the country to international ridicule. If he denies the request the motorway cannot be completed or will have to be rerouted. If he takes time to make up his mind, at the very least, he will delay completion of the road, probably adding hugely to the cost since, unlike the Carrickmines case, the option of sending the contractors further up the road will not be available as there is an archaeological site, that we know of, every 370 metres.
Inevitably there will be legal challenges and some will be taken in international courts. The long-suffering Meath commuter may yet become knowledgeable about the Valetta Convention as he or she suffers years of added traffic congestion and chaos.
This is an occasion when Government should face the inevitable. The M3 cannot be built through the Tara-Skryne Valley, as is planned. Any attempt to do so would destroy 6,000 years of Celtic heritage, prolong the traffic problems it was meant to solve and add hugely to the already estimated â¬680 million it is planned to cost the taxpayer.
The Labour Party proposes that the traffic problems of County Meath should wait no longer. The bypass of Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells should proceed without further delay. The portions of this motorway north of Navan and south of Dunshaughlin can be proceeded with. The section between Dunshaughlin and Navan will have to be thought out again. There are options. There are the routes which were already considered. There is the suggestion by the Ballinter Residents Association that there should be improved road links to the M2 which will be only 12 km from the planned M3. There is the proposal to reopen the Navan to Dublin rail line, which would considerably reduce the demand for car traffic.
There is a window of opportunity for the Government to dig the NRA out of this hole. That window, however, will close some time in the new year when a tender is accepted and contracts are entered into.
I, therefore, ask the Government to make the decision called for in the Labour Party motion. No other authority is in a position to make that decision. The NRA cannot withdraw from the motorway scheme which has now been approved, An Bord PleanÃ¡la will not unilaterally revisit it and Meath County Council is not in the driving seat. This is a decision that must be made by the Government. Doing so will protect our heritage, save the country from ridicule, save the taxpayers money and save the N2 commuter from an even longer wait for traffic relief.
I was interested in the Government amendment for three reasons. First, it is tabled by the Minister for Transport, not by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to whom the motion was addressed and on whose shoulders responsibility rests for making the immediate decisions relating to the permissions sought by the NRA. Second, considering the motion refers to the M3 and Tara, the amendment makes no mention of the M3. Third, the amendment makes no mention of Tara.
I take some comfort from that. The amendment does not address the centrality of the motion, the necessity to address the question of the section of motorway between Dunshaughlin and Navan which poses a threat to the Tara national monument. When the Minister for Transport replies to the debate, I hope he will tell us not what is in the amendment about the fine things the Government is doing to advance the roads programme and the national spatial strategy, but what it intends to do about the section of the M3 which is to run through the national monument of Tara.
County Meath has the fastest growing population of any county outside Dublin. It has grown by more than 22% in the past six years. Its population stands at approximately 135,000 and it is expected to increase to 180,000 by 2012. Many of the towns of Meath have become dormitory towns for people working in Dublin who have been forced out of homes in Dublin by spiralling house prices.
Large numbers of residents of towns such as Navan, Kells and Dunshaughlin commute on a daily basis to and from the capital. In doing so they face atrocious traffic congestion. The daily treck to and from work is becoming more and more difficult by the month. The journey between Navan and Dublin takes approximately two hours in the morning and the same in the evening. This adds four hours to the working day and an incredible 20 hours to the working week for people who must endure it. Many young couples leave home before 6.30 a.m. and do not return until after 8 p.m. There is no quality of life for people who live like this, especially when they have young children and hardly see them during the week.
These problems have come about not only because the Government has failed to control house prices but also because there has been no co-ordination of housing development and transport provision. In the absence of a development strategy, housing has been provided where developers have chosen to provide it and little thought has been given to how people will access work, schools, colleges and services generally. We were promised the greater Dublin land use and transport authority in the programme for Government but, like so many other promises, that has fallen by the wayside. While the NRA drew up plans to upgrade the N3, the Government decided in the national development plan to replace this with a full motorway. Initially this proposal was generally welcomed by the people of Meath as an essential element of a modern transport system, but it quickly became evident that the route selected by the NRA was not realisable because of its archaeological significance and sensitivity. The critical objections to the scheme relate to that section of the motorway between Dunshaughlin and Navan which, as proposed, would cut right through the Tara-Skryne Valley. The reasons for these objections are obvious. Tara is one of Ireland's foremost archaeological and cultural landscapes. There are 38 known sites of archaeological significance on the route.
This route, chosen by the NRA and supported by the Government, is known as the B route. Of the six routes considered, the B route is arguably the most sensitive. It is impossible to understand why this route was chosen. All the environmental experts employed by the NRA to assess the various routes stated that another route, known as the P route and located east of the Hill of Skryne, was the most viable. Under the headings of archaeology, built environment, flora, fauna, habitat, landscape, visual effects, air quality and noise quality, the P route was found to be the best option. In no category did this group recommend the B route but none of this information was contained in the EIS.
It is quite clear and inevitable that if the Government persists with plans to route the M3 through the Tara-Skryne Valley, the people of Meath will not see their motorway for a very long time. Given the strength of opposition to the proposed route, which is growing daily, it is absolutely certain that the motorway will be delayed interminably as each and every archaeological site in its path is excavated. If the Government does not agree to this, I believe each site will be challenged in the courts. The amended National Monuments Act is unlikely to speed up this process as the Minister has suggested. It is almost certain that the new Act will be challenged in the courts.
The residents of Meath, who are growing increasingly impatient with delays in providing a modern transport infrastructure, will be let down yet again. The M3 was designed as five separate contracts but, for reasons best known to the NRA, its construction is to be delivered in a single contract. The Minister should now direct that the contract be split into its component parts. The obvious thing is to proceed with the by-passing of Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells which would tackle the most serious bottlenecks on the M3.
The Government should also fast-track IarnrÃ³d Ãireann's plans to upgrade the rail connection from the Maynooth line between Clonsilla and Dunboyne. Priority should also be given to reinstating the rail line from Dunshaughlin to Navan. The permanent way is there, although there is some building close by. As a project and an objective for serving that part of Meath, which is the most poorly served part of the greater Dublin region, it should be afforded the priority to provide a full commuter service.
Given the delays in the M50 and the N11 it is quite possible that the M3, as proposed, may not be completed for a decade, with massive additional cost to the taxpayer. The transport needs of County Meath's residents require urgent attention. I call on the Minister to give that county the attention it requires by taking the necessary practical and pragmatic decisions. The Minister should proceed with the by-passes, upgrade the rail line and revise the section between Dunshaughlin and Navan. For the sake of our heritage and in fairness to the commuters of Meath, it is the only way forward.
I join my colleagues in supporting this reasoned and reasonable motion which, no doubt, the reasonable Minister, Deputy Cullen, will accept. The Labour Party did not table this motion because it is opposed to progress or because it does not recognise the chronic traffic problem confronting Meath and other parts of the country. In many respects, traffic jams are the problems of success and I would prefer to have those problems than the alternatives. That said, however, the measure of our ability to deal with such success is how we handle these problems but it should not be informed by our past attitudes.
I remind the Minister of some of our attitudes from the past. Wood Quay immediately comes to mind. It was a stubborn clash between officials and professionals â some from the National Museum and others from the department of medieval studies at UCD. In the case of Wood Quay, there was an obstinacy driven by a sense from some officials that once they had made a decision they could not be seen to reverse it because somehow or other this would be a loss of face.
There is no loss of face involved in this case but there is a potentially serious loss of heritage and no one wants that epitaph to be written on their professional career. Fast-forwarding from Wood Quay, we should ask ourselves what lessons we learnt from Mullaghmore and Luggala about that assertive statist attitude that says the State can do no wrong and does not need to listen to third parties â that once the internal experts have come to a view, nobody else could have a better or more informed view and that the State, in effect, is above the law. The State attempted to hold that view until such time as the Supreme Court said "No". As an agent acting on behalf of the citizens of this Republic, the State must abide by the same laws on planning and development as other institutions. It was a good day for planning when local and State authorities were obliged to go through the planning process.
The Minister has experience of the NRA in his own constituency. If this was a once off, accidental casualty of judgment perhaps we might be a bit more understanding and tolerant. Let us start with the Kildare by-pass, however, and the dismissive ignoring of warnings about the environmental impact of that by-pass. What happened concerning the delays? The commuters of south and mid-Kildare were just as inconvenienced by the delays when trying to get through Kildare town as were the commuters of Meath whom Deputy Shortall described earlier. Yet, because of an obstinacy of decision making at official level, this matter was taken to the courts â as was the right of those involved, invoking legislation the Government had supported â and the delays and their cost, both direct and indirect, were piled on the community in the form of stress in a myriad of ways.
The problem does not stop there because we have also had the Carrickmines experience. Whatever about corruption in the decision making and rezoning of the alignment of a road going through an area where the site was already known to have some archaeological artefacts, which could never be fully ascertained until the excavations were completed, the obstinacy of the NRA and those who are politically responsible for it seems to suggest an attitude of: "Put your head down, keep going. It'll be all right on the day and, sure, we'll push it through". Whatever options there were in respect of maintaining progress on the wider M50 road in the vicinity of Carrickmines, that is not an option now.
We have not stopped learning from our recent experiences. The Minister himself is deeply concerned about the implications of the site in Waterford. Anybody who had read Carty's Irish History â and God knows that was not a very accurate historical analysis of archaeological artefacts in the 1950s and 1960s â would have said that at the confluence of those three rivers, slightly further upstream from where the city of Waterford is located, one was likely to find within 100 metres of the banks of the river some archaeological remains. Yet for reasons, perhaps related to cost or to engineering and mechanical efficiency, a route was selected which to everybody's surprise, as Donnchadh Ã CorrÃ¡in has said, is perhaps the largest Viking site of significance to be found this century and possibly ever in Europe.
The Labour Party is pointing out that we have been here before. This is not some new accident. There is a pattern and a legacy of archaeological remains â originally calculated to be only five and which Deputy Gilmore has now announced are of the order of 38, which is one for every 370 metres. It will make the lawyers' fees in tribunals of inquiry look like chickenfeed by the time we get out of the courts if this matter proceeds down the legal path we seem destined to follow if the Government proceeds with this proposal.
We are not suggesting the Government should stop and build nothing because we recognise, as has been said, that we need a traffic resolution. On the Cavan corridor we are clearly saying that north of Navan and south of Dunshaughlin the route is not in contestation and the NRA should proceed. However, within that space alternatives exist, some of which have been mentioned by Deputy Shortall. On this side of the House we cannot take the Executive decisions to reverse the decision-making process that has already been statutorily completed. Only the Government can do that.
We are not trying to force the Minister to lose face. We do not say the NRA is a bad organisation. On the contrary, the activities of the NRA probably provide us with the best archaeological opportunity the nation and our culture has conceivably ever had. We will dig up more of this land than ever before with far greater safeguards than prevailed when the railways were built in the century before last at a time when no protection existed. We do not even know if we have everything that was found. Anything that was discovered was found by accident.
We now have a legislative structure, trained archaeologists â while not enough of them, far more than before â and an opportunity to do something that will allow people in 500 years' time to say, "Wasn't that some generation of Irish people, who notwithstanding their need to resolve all the problems of commuting, stress and strain, held back, looked at the matter again and decided to stop for the time being." We should not walk away from the matter. Let us just hold and see what we can find.
Archaeological techniques are developing and will continue to develop in terms of scientific imaging and all sorts of electronic surveillance that can enable us to ascertain in advance before putting a spade in the ground that the probability of finding something is much higher than we could have known ten, 15 or 20 years ago. It is not just what is found that is important from the point of view of analysis and interpretation but also where it is found and its relationship to other parts, places and spaces. We do not know enough about our past and we have an obligation and responsibility, if not a duty, to maximise its conveyance into the future for our children and grandchildren.
The Minister is at this point. We are not asking him to stop or walk away. We are saying he should just pause. The Minister has the ability, power and responsibility to make this pause. He should then proceed without delay with what can be done. He should consider the options that can maximise traffic efficiency and minimise traffic delays by proceeding with the three bypasses to which Deputies Gilmore and Shortall have already referred. In the short term, it would be possible to improve the flow of traffic in Dunshaughlin, Kells and Navan. This would not be wasted money. Nobody in Kinnegad today feels that the small mini-bypass around that village represents wasted money, as I am sure Deputy Cassidy would agree.
Yes. Yet that was a short-term alleviating measure, which in one respect will become redundant once the main N4-N6 motorway is built. It is possible to justify the apparent additional cost of those interim bypasses by completing them in the short term. The cost offset against the legal fees, the delays and the opportunity cost associated with those delays would be more than sufficient to justify the additional net expenditure.
We want the Minister not to press his amendment. The Whip's office must have been pretty stretched for imagination if this was all it could come up with today. We do not dispute the Government's roads programme, the expenditure or the necessity to take action. We are talking about a specific problem that has been encountered and not for the first time. This problem seems in part to reveal an inability within the NRA to recognise that sometimes the longest way home is the quickest way to get there. Sometimes the longest route is the shortest route.
If the Government persists with ratification of the tenders and the commitment to contract then we know from Carrickmines, Wood Quay, Luggala, Mullaghmore and Mutton Island in Galway that it will not stop here. Not just Irish citizens but also European citizens, aware that the European heritage lying beneath the soil in County Meath will be damaged, if not destroyed, by this intemperate and precipitate action, will use the institutions of the courts at national and European level and the delays the Minister dreads will become real. The costs that he does not want to contemplate will be higher than he could measure and the dissatisfaction among commuters, not to mention businesses and the local community, with the existing inadequate system of transport will get worse in the short term rather than better.
What is involved in accepting our proposal â a loss of face? I do not believe any Fianna FÃ¡il Minister would suggest that preserving the Celtic heritage of the country could be considered a loss of face.
No reasonable citizen on either side of the political divide would look unfavourably at the Government having second thoughts on the basis that, while it did so for the best possible reasons and in the best possible way because of the necessity to move quickly, it might have got it wrong. The Government could think about the matter for a second time and, because of issues it did not fully realise, comprehend or understand, decide to delay proceeding with the section between Dunshaughlin and Navan in order to come up with alternatives.
The Minister could indicate to the House tonight a willingness to take on board the thrust of what we suggest, a willingness to recognise that mistakes have been made in the past on routes resulting in damage, some of it irreparable and some of it impossible to quantify or measure, and that the Government is currently facing similar dilemmas in Waterford. Against the background of what the Minister now knows â not what he fears â he should tell the House in the course of the debate that in principle he is prepared to reconsider. We do not say he must take the actions set out in our motion, which are merely options and suggestions.
Ultimately the Minister has the executive responsibility and must make those choices. However, only he can make that choice. The NRA cannot unilaterally halt this project nor can the other agencies involved, only the Minister and the Government. That is why the Labour Party Members, holding the Minister to account, ask him to think again and to do what is best for everybody involved.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "DÃ¡il Ãireann" and substitute the following:
"commends the Government's commitment and proactive approach in the delivery of the upgraded national roads network;
ânotes the Government's commitment to the protection of our national heritage and the preservation of archaeological sites and features;
ânotes the ongoing liaison between the NRA and the national monuments division of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in preserving our national heritage and with dealing with archaeological sites and features in accordance with best practice;
ânotes that the roads programme is being implemented in full accord with the code of practice on archaeology for the national roads programme agreed with the then Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht in 2000;
âcommends the National Roads Authority, NRA, on its commitment and investment in placing archaeologicalissues at the centre of the road planning process â evident in the discovery of so many previously unrecorded areas of historical-archaeological importance;
ânotes that the national roads investment programme is being implemented as part of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 and supports the objectives of the national spatial strategy;
âconfirms the importance of the transport corridor that links north west, Cavan and north Meath to Dublin as one of the busiest in the country;
ânotes that the Government investment in our road network is essential to provide for balanced regional investment and is delivering shorter, safer and superior road journeys;
ânotes the comprehensive statutory public consultation procedures in place, under the Roads Act 1993, which are also being supplemented by extensive non-statutory local consultations by road authorities; and
âemphasises the importance of public private partnerships in harnessing the necessary skills and finance to support the earlier completion of the Government's ambitious national road infrastructure targets."
I am pleased to have the opportunity tonight to outline this Government's commitment to the protection of our national heritage and the preservation of archaeological sites and features. The ongoing liaison between my Department, the National Roads Authority and the national monuments division of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government to preserve our national heritage and deal with archaeological sites and features in accordance with best practice is also based on the code of practice on archaeology for the national roads programme agreed by the NRA and the then Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands in 2000. The NRA continues to demonstrate its commitment and investment in placing archaeological issues at the centre of the road planning process â evident in the discovery of so many previously unrecorded areas of historical and archaeological importance and indeed through the employment of archaeologists. Archaeological works conducted to date along the route of the M3, including test trenching, are being carried out in accordance with appropriate statutory authorisation â licences under section 26 of the National Monuments Act 1930, as amended.
The M3 route is a significant distance from the Hill of Tara national monument and, accordingly, the works to date do not require a special consent under section 14 of the Act, which concerns works or other activities that could impact on a national monument. In the event of archaeological features being discovered along the line of the motorway which are of national or international significance and which would warrant classification as a national monument, both Meath County Council and the NRA would seek the appropriate consent from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
The role of An Bord PleanÃ¡la, which concluded its oral hearing on this project in November 2002 after sitting for 28 days, the longest ever hearing for a national roads scheme, further supports the independent appraisal of the impact of the roads programme on issues including impact on archaeological sites and features. The hearing dealt at length with archaeological issues. The inspector concluded as follows in his report to the board:
Having regard to all of the evidence given at the hearing and the cross-examination on the archaeology impacts in the Tara/Skreen area presented at the hearing and to the details set out in the EIS, I am satisfied that the route as proposed would not have a significant impact on the archaeological landscape associated with the Hill of Tara, as indicated by the area designated as the core zone on the RMP Map SK 500. I also consider that the route proposed will not impact significantly on the archaeological landscape associated with the Hill of Skreen.
I am also pleased to have this opportunity tonight to highlight how this Government's continued commitment to investment in our roads network is providing a high quality national roads infrastructure that is contributing to the ongoing development of our national economy, providing further opportunities for regional development, safer roads, shorter and more reliable travel times and enhancing our quality of life.
Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006 and the objectives of the national spatial strategy, the ambitious national roads investment programme has seen investment of over â¬5 billion to the end of 2003. The Government's commitment to national road infrastructure is further underpinned with the â¬8 billion investment between Exchequer funding and public private partnership investment over the period 2004-08 announced under the multi-annual funding plan provisions in the last budget. The results of these commitments, including over â¬1.1 billion in the BMW regions, are already evident to all, with bottlenecks all over the country being removed, offering relief to many of our towns and villages. Projects that have been completed include the M1 from Dublin to Dundalk, bypasses of Kildare, Monasterevin and Cashel, phase one of the N7 Limerick southern ring road, the N22 Ballincollig bypass and the N11 from Ashford to Rathnew, to name but a few. Work continues on many other projects, including the bypasses of Fermoy, Ennis, Loughrea, Mullingar, Cavan, Ballyshannon and Bundoran, Kinnegad and Enfield, the Sligo inner relief road, the Dublin Port tunnel and the south eastern motorway, which will complete the M50 from the M1 to the M11. Planning is under way on projects such as the widening of the M50 and provision of free-flow interchanges, the Waterford city bypass, and the road from Kinnegad to Athlone.
Deputy Quinn mentioned the Waterford bypass, with which I am familiar. The problem is that everyone I meet in Waterford thinks that the ruins of Pompeii have been found, with entire buildings being dug up. That is completely untrue and it has discredited good work in so many different ways. I have spoken to many of the archaeologists from all points of view and they are pleased with the pace of work there. Like everyone else, I want a full excavation but the context has moved to preserving this site forever so millions of people can come to look at it. There is nothing to see unless the viewer is an archaeologist in the company of an archaeologist who can explain the site. It is meaningless. The artefacts are important and I take the point that the context of their find is equally important. Saving those artefacts, which have been given to the National Museum and will be put on display in time, is what is really happening.
Most people in Waterford think the situation is completely different. This is where problems start, when people get the facts wrong and present them in a distorted way.
There is a heritage policy. Archaeology has changed dramatically because it is now planning led. That is not a bad thing, as Deputy Quinn said, because we would not discover these artefacts without the massive investment in infrastructure. That is why they are coming to light. There are archaeologists who would prefer not to see these sites touched, for them to be built over and left in situ and undisturbed. It is the legitimate point of view of some archaeologists.
The problem for politicians is squaring the circle between the conflicting points of view because someone must decide. Ironically, I am in the House when the Opposition environment spokespeople have tabled a motion that is largely concerned with archaeology, an area which I dealt with for the last two years. Perhaps the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should be here with me.
We have a very good archaeology policy, the best in Europe.
Since the start of the NDP in 2000, 46 projects, comprising 327 kilometres of road, have been completed and there are 20 projects of 196 kilometres currently under construction. There are nine projects of 147 kilometres at tender stage and a further 12 projects of 167 kilometres are either through the statutory process or before An Bord PleanÃ¡la.
I welcome the opportunity to present the facts on the M3 Clonee-Kells motorway. The M3 Clonee to north of Kells motorway is a much needed project, consistent with both the national development plan and the national spatial strategy. It is vital infrastructure which will contribute to the ongoing success of the local and regional economy, bring better-balanced regional development, improve safety and access to and from Dublin, the ports and airport. In addition, this project will transform the quality of life for those people living in Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells. This project will result in reductions of through traffic of 75% in Dunshaughlin, 78% in Navan and 90% in Kells. It will also benefit everyone living along the existing N3 by removing the majority of the through traffic and associated congestion which currently affects their lives on a daily basis. The present road is not coping with the traffic volumes using the route and the situation will only worsen given the planned development in County Meath and further afield.
I am fully aware of the rich archaeological landscape in County Meath, the importance of the Hill of Tara and its significance to our national heritage. Both Meath County Council and the National Roads Authority are aware of the special place that the Hill of Tara holds in the national consciousness and of their responsibilities to protect it and the cultural heritage of County Meath. A great deal of time, expertise and expense has been expended in developing the M3 motorway scheme through the planning process and every effort has been made to mitigate the impact of the proposed road through the landscape surrounding the Hill of Tara.
As regards the proximity of the motorway to the Hill of Tara, the proposed road passes between the Hill of Skryne to the east and the Hill of Tara to the west. The route was carefully chosen to avoid the important core zone around Tara, which has national monument status. The chosen route lies 1.5 km. to the east of the limit of the record of monuments designated area and east of the existing N3. In other words, the motorway as it passes through the Tara-Skryne Valley will be a greater distance from the Hill of Tara than the existing N3 Dublin-Navan road. The scheme has been designed to minimise physical and visual impacts on the archaeological landscape around Tara.
Great care was taken by Meath County Council and the NRA to avoid any previously recorded or upstanding monuments when planning the route of the M3 project. Statements by various groups stating that the selected route was "the only route that was considered by the NRA" are incorrect. A total of ten route options in four broad corridors were examined as part of the route selection study for the Dunshaughlin-Navan section of the scheme which involves the Tara area. Project planning and assessment of route options was carried out over a period of more than three years. The impact on archaeology, implications for other aspects of the environment, effects on people and their homes, the extent to which farms would be severed, together with traffic, engineering and cost considerations were taken into account in evaluating the ten route options in the Tara area. The archaeological consultants engaged by Meath County Council to advise on route selection concluded that the preferred route which emerged from this process was viable in terms of archaeology. The preferred route was assessed as best or joint best under 14 of the 18 assessment criteria used as part of the environmental impact evaluation process and, accordingly, scored higher on environmental grounds than any alternative route.
The public consultation process saw 4,000 people attend public meetings. The preferred route was subsequently submitted to An Bord PleanÃ¡la for consideration. Following a 28-day oral hearing, during which extensive attention was given to archaeology and potential impacts on Tara, the board approved the M3-Clonee-north of Kells road project proposal. In this regard, it should be noted that the decision to approve the proposal was, inter alia, based on the board's conclusion that the motorway scheme "is necessary to provide adequately for the existing and projected traffic growth and would be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area". The board also concluded that the scheme "would not have significant adverse effects on the environment".
I understand that the NRA and Meath County Council are working on arrangements to advance the project to construction in accordance with the approvals obtained from An Bord PleanÃ¡la and both are committed to resolving archaeological issues in line with best practice and in a manner that fully complies with any direction which may be given by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, under the national monuments legislation.
I wish to set out in more detail the extent of the archaeological work carried out on the proposed route. In the case of the M3, a test trench was excavated along the centre line of the 59 km length of the route, with cross trenches being dug every 20 metres. I understand that the National Roads Authority and Meath County Council have carried out extensive archaeological investigations of the route of the M3, including test trenching over virtually the entire 59 km length of the scheme. This work, as would be expected, has identified a number of previously unknown archaeological sites and features. Reports on the sites concerned have been submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to assist him in determining the most appropriate manner in which to deal with the sites concerned. The reports concerned relate to a total of 38 sites on the 15 km section of the route between Dunshaughlin and Navan. The extent to which new sites have been discovered, approximately 2.5 sites per kilometre, is similar to the experience on many other schemes throughout the country and in some cases the incidence of sites on the M3 is substantially less than finds on other national road schemes. For example, on the M1 route, a total of 211 previously unknown archaeological sites were found over a distance of 60 km, an average of 3.5 sites per kilometre. In addition, in the case of the Cashel bypass, which was opened to traffic last month, 100 new sites were located on the 7 km route or 14 per kilometre.
I know that Deputy Gilmore was making a point about the exceptional number of sites, but that is not the case. The number is low relative to what people might have thought. I am just giving the House some other examples. I was aware of this before I left my previous Department. That is not to suggest in any way that the Hill of Tara and the Hill of Skryne are not extremely important. There is no question about that. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is better informed than I am on this. However, a balanced view must be taken of the fact that the level and extensiveness of the sites on this route are not as fulsome as people might have thought. This confirms, in a sense, that great and careful consideration was given to the route chosen, in the first place.
I take the total context into account. I am not for a second trying to suggest that the Hill of Tara is not important in a total context. However, I am trying to point out that great care was taken. Some of the points that people accept as facts are not true in terms of the extensiveness of the archaeological effort. Trenches have been dug every 20 kilometres on a 59 km site. On behalf of taxpayers, irrespective of any more work to be done, â¬30 million will be spent on archaeology on this route.
I am delighted that so many young people are now choosing archaeology as a profession and going to universities and colleges. It is wonderful, but let us understand why this is happening and appreciate that it is the taxpayer who pays for the phenomenal amounts being spent on these routes and to a much greater extent than in many other countries throughout Europe. I do not suggest we lower our standards to theirs, but the standards are high. Deputy Michael D. Higgins, as a former Minister of State with responsibility for the arts, was one of the key players responsible for raising archaeology and heritage matters to their present important levels. We all want to maintain those levels, but in the endââ
ââa balance must be drawn between doing full and excellent mitigation of sites from an archaeological viewpoint and balancing all that with the needs of ordinary men and women who spend four hours a day sitting in their cars trying to go to and from work. That is not a quality of life we want for our people, so we must balance all these issues. A balanced view in the context of the M3 is important.
The reports on the new discoveries on the M3, as submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, identify burnt spreads as the most common site type. Other sites include former burial locations, possible foundations of houses, including five of relatively recent origin. Overall, the new discoveries appear to be along expected lines and do not seem to be of unique archaeological value in their own right.
The National Monuments (Amendment) Act 2004 introduced new procedures for approved road projects. A separate excavation licence is not required where such a project has been approved by An Bord PleanÃ¡la, a process which includes consideration of an environmental impact statement which will have identified the impacts involved and the extent of mitigation needed. Instead, the Act requires that any archaeological works associated with that development must be carried out in accordance with the directions of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, following consultation with the director of the National Museum of Ireland, and accordingly proper standards can be so specified for the carrying out of those works.
That is belt and braces, as is the direct involvement of the director of the National Museum of Ireland.
There was no obligation previous to that for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to consult with the director of the National Museum of Ireland. It was I who introduced that section.
The Minister with responsibility for heritage matters was a co-equal with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and it was not a case of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government showing his colleague what he was proposing to do. The Minister knows that.
In regard to the section I amended when I brought it before the House, there was no obligation and there was nothing in legislation providing that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should consult with the director of the National Museum of Ireland. I introduced that as a new policy and a new direction in legislation, which is a belt and braces approach. At least give me some credit for doing some positive things.
The current position is that Meath County Council has applied to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for directions as to the carrying out of archaeological works associated with the M3 approved road project.
The archaeologists employed by Meath County Council on this project operate to the highest professional standards. The use of test trenching is part of the comprehensive and proactive strategy for dealing with archaeology on the route that was submitted to An Bord PleanÃ¡la during the oral hearing process. The test trenching process and other archaeological evaluation methods have been the subject of a published study undertaken by the Oxford archaeological unit co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, entitled Evaluation of Archaeological Decision-making Processes and Sampling Strategies. The study concluded:
All non-intrusive methods of site evaluation had merits ... and were all comparatively cheap, but they all had some serious failings and none were even moderately successful at evaluating the range of archaeological remains that survived. Machine trenching was the only effective means of predicting the character of the sites in this study and even though it was more expensive than other methods, the improved quality of information and greater certainty from which to devise a mitigation strategy made it cost effective.
The test trenching on the route of the M3 project was carried out by archaeologists who were familiar with the results of the previous surveys undertaken along the route. The purpose of these archaeological investigations is to identify new sites along the route. Those discovered are reported to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and will be dealt with in accordance with the requirements of the Minister. Rather than losing sites, this work is adding to the archaeological record long-forgotten sites that have no visible presence in the landscape.
This project is being implemented as a public private partnership. Attracting private financing and ensuring we can benefit from better allocation of risk between the public and private sectors while also availing of private sector project management expertise and design innovation in major road projects was central to the policy set out in the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Some â¬245 million will be made available by the private sector in 2005 through PPP investment. The Clonee-Kells project is one of ten key PPP projects of which three are already under construction. Attracting private investment and international private sector project management and design expertise means that the NRA can deliver large, key projects which are essential elements of the national roads programme more efficiently and more quickly than the traditional methods of financing and constructing road schemes which rely exclusively on the Exchequer as the source of funding. A further key element of the PPP programme is rigorous assessment of proposals from planning, design and value for money perspectives, not least to satisfy the due diligence requirements of financial institutions.
This Government's commitment to the roads programme is not just about concrete and tarmac or the undoubted quality of the workmanship that we can all see as our new roads are opened. At the core of this programme is our absolute commitment to making sure we have lasting foundations in place to protect and grow employment in every part of the country. When the roads programme is completed, Ireland will, for the first time, have a modern infrastructure to support economic and social life. At a time when commitment to balanced development has never been greater, the roads programme allows the regions to prosper. Investment in our roads is an investment in the future of our country and a statement of confidence in the future of communities throughout the country.
As I have already stated, I as Minister for Transport, particularly in the light of my experience as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, am firmly committed to ensuring that investment in the national roads programme is planned and implemented in a manner which ensures the protection of our national heritage and archaeological sites and features. I am committed to ensuring that the NRA works proactively with the national monuments division of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in ensuring that archaeological issues arising on national roads projects are resolved in accordance with best practice. In recent years the archaeological work carried out under the national roads programme has made a massive contribution to our store of knowledge about our past and I want to ensure we implement the national roads investment programme in a manner which minimises any adverse impacts on the environment and as far as possible protects our national heritage.
May I share time with Deputy O'Connor? I apologise for omitting to say this earlier.
I thank the Minister for sharing time with me. I compliment the Labour Party on tabling the motion and giving us an opportunity to hear a comprehensive speech by the Minister. I declare an interest. I am a well-known supporter of the Minister and his Minister of State and am always happy to support him.
Having listened carefully the Minister I support what he said. All of us are aware of the need for this scheme and the increasing congestion in the towns and villages of Kells, Navan and Dunshaughlin which are better known to my colleagues opposite. The new road will reduce traffic on the existing N3 and will significantly reduce through traffic in Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells.
The existing N3 experiences a high incidence of road accidents, which is unfortunate. I am informed the new road will reduce accident rates by up to 50%. This should be welcomed because there is not a day when we do not lament accidents. The need for a major improvement in the environment for those living adjacent to the existing N3 and to the towns and villages which the N3 passes through is essential. The capacity of the existing two-lane road is 13,800 annual average daily traffic against current traffic volumes which range from 15,000 to 28,000 per day.
I note that the options mentioned by Members so far for upgrading the existing N3 Dublin-Navan road are not feasible. There are 62 house farm entrances, 47 field entrances and two commercial entrances on to the existing N3 between Dunshaughlin and Navan. To close these accesses would require the provision of a series of local access roads, dramatically increasing the footprint of the road scheme and leading to increased severance and environmental impact. Widening of the existing road would involve demolition and encroachment on to existing properties. There are 184 houses adjacent to the existing road between Dunshaughlin and Navan. Perhaps Members opposite will confirm what they would say to local people, who would be clearly impacted upon if this route had been chosen. The chosen route lies within the corridor 1.5 kilometres to the east of the Hill of Tara which is approximately twice the distance from the Hill of Tara as the existing entry Dublin-Navan road.
The landscape architect who wrote the visusal impact section of the EIS concluded that in the overall context the proposed road would not have an appreciable residual impact and would quickly be assimilated into the fabric of the robust County Meath landscape. He recognised that for a period immediately following construction some locations would continue to suffer visual impact until planting became established. The preferred corridor has a number of other advantages, including the fact that it is outside the core Tara zone, and represents the best route in terms of serving traffic demand and impact on the existing network and is the preferred option for crossing at the River Boyne.
The archaeological considerations were fully taken into account in the entire road planning process. All Members, including those opposite, will be glad to hear the Minister's assurances in that regard. I hope that in the rest of this debate, account will be taken of the points he articulated. I look forward to hearing what Members have to say, including those from the area in question. I am always happy to hear them. I look forward to hearing the end of the debate tomorrow night and to supporting the Minister's position.
This is a very important debate. The first part of the amendment, which I cannot move but to which I will refer, refers to the need to commence work on the road forthwith. The reason is very simple. The capacity originally envisaged for the M3 was approximately 11,600 cars per day. The number of cars actually travelling on it is 21,700 per day, and this number is to rise to 36,500 per day by 2024. If the road cannot cope with the present number, it will not be able to do so in ten years' time. It is clear that something must be done and Fine Gael contends that the new road must commence now.
The amendment we will be moving tomorrow will state very clearly that we must immediately re-examine the issues with a view to finding a resolution that will address the concerns about the archaeological impact of the proposed road. The amendment will be simple, short and factual. If we do not find a way of resolving this issue, the delays to which the Labour Party referred will occur. Nobody, including members of the Opposition, wants them, and I do not believe the Government wants them either. Let us get together to solve this problem.
To address this issue we must first recognise the importance of Tara, the location of the primary prehistoric monument in this country. There should not be a road within miles of it. If it were in the Valley of the Kings, for example, would we consider it in the same light? Tara is just as important and sacred as anywhere else. The problem is that there is a road at Tara at present, on which people live. We must use the route and this begs the question of where we must locate the proposed road. Given the importance of the area, let us face the fact that we will find archaeological sites no matter where we put an alternative road. I accept fully the argument put forward by the Labour Party that the area is littered with archaeological monuments and is part of our history. We cannot say "No" to 5,000 years of history, nor can we say where it starts or stops. We know that the archaeological monuments exist and we would have to build the road on stilts if we were to meet the requirements that some people wish us to meet.
We must ask ourselves how we should proceed. The current argument is that development and progress are in opposition to archaeology, but Fine Gael believes this should not be so. We should be at a stage in our policy-making and development in which archaeology and development can go hand in hand. The argument at the core of the issue concerns whether we should be preserving in situ or preserving by recording. The latter will soon be at the core of Fine Gael policy. The road must be built and we must protect whatever archaeological sites we can, keeping them in situ if at all possible. If it is not possible to keep them in situâ it will not be in this case â we must find the route that will least affect the archaeological sites.
I praise the NRA for the commitment it has made to developing this country and for the money it is spending on roads and archaeology. We should not lose sight of this. I agree with the Minister regarding the spending of â¬20 million to â¬30 million on archaeology. It is an enormous amount and it is well spent. The archaeological sites found must be recorded and reported.
No, it does not. The Minister of State's amendment does not mention this area at all. I do not mind meeting him to discuss this matter and am prepared to do so afterwards. I want to see the problem resolved, as I hope he does.
We must have archaeology that is empathetic to development, and vice versa. If we achieve this, we will not have High Court cases or mass protests but clarity and vision. Clarity and vision in this area are what this country needs but it has not got them under this Government. Fine Gael will provide them when in Government.
That one should preserve sites in situ is one view in archaeology but it is not practical or realistic in this age. We must consider preserving by record. This is the reality and the road we must go down.
A pink option, as it was described by the NRA, was put on the table when it was making its decision. This option is the one that has the least effect on archaeological sites but, unfortunately, it is probably the most expensive. However, it has been researched and the associated route has been drawn on a map. The NRA has done much preliminary work on the pink option and it should be considered by the Government. The other option it should consider is that of working on the existing roadway. Perhaps it would be less disturbing archaeologically to expand the existing road in situ than to opt for the pink route or another route. We cannot put our heads in the sand and must face the reality that we must compromise on these issues.
We are not compromising archaeological finds if we protect them by recording them. What is important is not what is under the ground but that we protect and preserve archaeological artefacts when we find them by bringing them to our museums or keeping them in situ. It is most critical that we learn from them. We will have learnt nothing if we do not dig or work in the most appropriate way.
It is all very well to talk about sealing archaeology in situ, as the Minister stated. This is possible if one is building a house or shopping centre but not possible if one is building a motorway, given the massive downward pressure it would exert on a repository of archaeological remains. Let us face facts and do the business.
I watched "The Time Team" two weeks ago and saw archaeologists do a trial dig in Eamhain Macha in Armagh. They dug in the middle of what they believed to be nowhere and discovered important archaeological artefacts. No matter where one touches in a sacred landscape, such as that of Tara or Eamhain Macha, one will find sites of archaeological importance. Let us recognise this, minimise the impact and listen to those who are present in the Visitors Gallery, such as Professor George Eoghan, a former Member of the Seanad. These people know their business and spend their life working in this area. Theirs is a labour of love and it is a learning process for us to meet them and listen to them. Let us listen to them and find a realistic, practical solution to the problem. We must do this and, above all, build the road.
I support my colleague Deputy O'Dowd. I have the greatest sympathy with the issues raised by this motion and fully understand the frustration and desperation that drives those responsible for such a motion. I share many of the feelings that have been expressed by members of the Labour Party, but like Deputy O'Dowd I have come to a different conclusion. The proposed road must go ahead and there are ways of dealing with the problems that have been outlined.
The issue in question is one regarding which there is no right or wrong answer. All we can do once we have agreed that we want to build a road â there is virtually full agreement that we do â is arrive at the best answer, bearing in mind a variety of criteria, including archaeological criteria, that are very important regarding the road in question.
It is difficult to make a decision on the route of the road because we have all been lobbied heavily on this issue and professors on both sides have been cited. Film stars and others from all over the world, but not too many from County Meath, have expressed their views on it. As I tried to inform myself on it, I wavered from side to side in a way that I did not find necessary regarding the Carrickmines issue, which was very much more clear-cut. Most people realise there is a vast difference between the remains of a 500-year-old outer wall of a castle and archaeological sites in a 5,000-year-old landscape.
Tonight I have heard accusations, counter accusations, rebuttals and so on. The waters have been so muddied that we cannot have a rational debate on the issue, not least as a result of the presence of professional objectors associated with the campaign. There is a type of objectors' roadshow whereby they move from one cause to another â almost any cause will do. These types of objectors do very little to serve the people of County Meath who have genuine concerns, which perhaps could be addressed and ameliorated but for the "all or nothing" nature of the campaigns run by professional objectors who are more concerned with negative campaigning than with finding solutions to problems.
The waters are muddied further by the one-sided nature of the information available to all of us, particularly to the public. It is difficult enough for us as Deputies to get accurate information. Inevitably, our opinions are formed and informed, and our decision-making is influenced by the kind of information available to us. I heard today that the chosen route was the worst, but my information is that it is the second best in terms of avoiding the archaeology of the area. I assume that information is correct. What we did not hear is that what is best for the archaeology of the area is highly unsuitable in terms of the impact on traffic, environmental footprint, visual intrusion and so on. We heard all about the archaeological arguments but little about any of the other issues that must be considered when building a road. For instance, we did not hear that in the six routes considered initially â ten routes were examined â in the sensitive area around Tara the impact was measured across 18 different aspects, including traffic, safety, environment, visual intrusion, the impact on homes, people, businesses, hedgerows, farms, severance, community and archaeology. All these aspects are important. I accept archaeology is particularly important in such a sensitive area but the route that was selected was top in 14 of the 18 criteria examined. The next best option was way behind.
What was chosen in the end was neither the cheapest nor shortest route; it was the best route in 14 of the 18 criteria examined, as determined not by blinkered officialdom or people with a particular point of view, but by 18 well paid, independent professional experts in their field. If this is the best of ten routes, the logic of the argument is that if we drop or postpone this proposal there is an 11th route which will be better. Is there a route that will not meet with objections or that is better than what has now been determined? I do not think so. We have gone through the process. Whatever one might think about the process â I said previously to the Minister that I do not think a whole lot of it â we have gone through it and selected a route.
We have all heard calls for a compromise by building three bypasses and linking them together. I would like it if that were the solution, but it is not the case. Not only would it be dangerous but it would add significantly to the congestion on the road. It would create a number of bottlenecks. If anyone doubts it, they should ask the residents of Knocklyon or Sandyford who had a motorway spewing out into their area for a number of years. This is exactly what would happen if a number of bypasses were built and the traffic was fed back on to the narrow roads.
The people of Meath have a once-off opportunity to get 57 kilometers of high standard motorway, which would deliver them from the constant congestion of the Navan Road. It would reduce their business costs, improve safety, relieve the local feeder road of traffic and end the conflict between heavy commercial and commuting traffic and children travelling to school, tractors, animal movement, pedestrians, cyclists and all the normal activities which require a safer environment and slower pace. I am not sure if the chance which is currently available will be available in the future. I would be very reluctant to halt the process now and I do not think we would be serving the people of Meath well if we did so.
I thank my colleagues for allowing me to speak on this motion. As I am probably the only Deputy who lives on this route and within a certain distance of the proposed motorway, five minutes will not be sufficient time to speak on the matter. There is no doubt that most people who have problems regarding the Tara area believe in the merits of the motorway. Most people who live in County Meath are in favour of it, but they do not want it at the cost of the destruction of Tara. These people are entitled to a proper debate and answers on the issue.
There has been a request to discuss the matter further at committee level. If there is a question about the process, it should be answered. I spoke on the issue in committee a number of months ago but there has been no progress on the matter. If there had been progress, perhaps this motion would not have been tabled. There are questions to be answered and people's fears must be allayed. We must find a solution to the problem. There appears to be a civil war between them and us, which is not good enough.
The people of Navan, Kells, Cavan etc., want and need the motorway. I live beside the proposed route and have driven through the area every day since I began driving. The motorway was needed long before now. The motion seeks to find a solution to the problem. There will be inevitable problems with one section of the motorway. There are two sides to the argument. The Taoiseach said last week that he is not convinced by the arguments, but we need to find a solution, otherwise there will not be a motorway. This is my greatest fear as a representative for Navan, one of the areas affected. However, I do not want any area to suffer unduly as a result. Naturally, any motorway will cause some suffering, but we should avoid causing unnecessary problems in the Tara-Skyrne valley.
The only way to deal with the issue is for both sides to compromise. The construction of the motorway should begin while a compromise is being sought. Excuses are being made that one section of the motorway cannot begin because it will be tolled and it is just one project. This is the choice that was made. It began as three projects in 1999 when I first became a councillor. Why can it not be separated? I have 30 or 40 questions which I would like to ask on behalf of myself and others. If we received answers to the questions, it might help us move on. Can we begin with part of the project and solve the problem while the work continues? Construction should begin at Carnaross, Clonee and so on. As it will take three or four years to construct the motorway, perhaps a solution could be found in the meantime. This would not cause a delay and it would give people a fair chance to put forward their case and try to resolve the issue.
Bypasses are needed to relieve the traffic flow through Navan, Kells and Dunshaughlin. The suffering of 22,000 commuters who must travel each day from Meath to Dublin to work â it is another area where the Government has failed because these people should not have to travel to Dublin â trying to negotiate these towns cannot continue. There is also suffering involved for those who do not need to leave Navan, Kells and Dunshaughlin because they cannot conduct their business properly. The commercial viability of these towns is suffering and something must be done about the problem.
This debate relates to more than just the motorway. I am disappointed that alternatives have not been examined. A rail link has not been considered. The Minister should not shake his head. This aspect has not been considered. One cannot dispute the need for a railway line. There will always be disputes about motorways but a railway line would be acceptable to everyone. It would make common sense to build a railway line but the issue is not being discussed. The NRA and IarnrÃ³d Ãireann could not work together on the project. We will now have a motorway but not a railway line. The motorway could be delayed for years because of concerns expressed or there might be a decision to change the route. Alternatively, it might transpire that we can build only three bypasses and 90% of the motorway. Solutions need to be found. A railway could have been built by now, either on its own or in conjunction with a motorway, but that was not even considered.
We need to find a solution. People in the northern area need this motorway. A motorway alone will not solve our problems. A railway is needed. Development of the M50 junction is needed in order that people can get into Dublin. A motorway will improve conditions at off-peak times. At peak times there will be no great improvement. Something must be done. I ask for a review of this and an examination of other ways of solving transport problems.