Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Adjournment Debate

Road Network.

10:00 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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The route of the M3 at Tara is very controversial. It is certainly true that the NRA did not recommend the most important route, which was the one that would least damage the archaeology of the area — I believe it was termed "the pink route". Nevertheless, because of due process and planning, legal and other issues that were examined at the time, Fine Gael believes the route must proceed and we support it.

However, the Green Party has a different view. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, said:

We are not willing to lose our archaeological past or give up our sense of ourselves and from whence we come. The current political mood questions where we are now and the way the Government wants to move forward. It is bent on building roads and servicing the building industry at whatever cost. That is its idea of progress. It is not progress, it is destruction, it is bad transport and social planning and ... it is destroying the essence of our heritage and our ability to understand it.

As late as 14 May 2007, Deputy Cuffe, on behalf of the Green Party, said: "The Green Party wants all work on this controversial motorway to come to an end, in particular the massive floodlit Blundelstown interchange." It is, however, still there and the Minister has not arranged for it to be removed. Deputy Cuffe continued: "Instead we are calling for the upgrading of the existing N3 Road." The reality is that the Green Party has betrayed its base. It has betrayed what its members said no later than 14 May 2007.

In its election manifesto, the Green Party was so bold as to say that where there is concern about potential damage to our heritage, it will investigate how this can be minimised within the scope of the contract or by renegotiation. However, the facts are that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has been on planet Bertie for perhaps only a few weeks and the Minister's sacred site has been visited by the person who held office before him, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, who is quoted as having said that the question of the M3 was discussed. He said there was nothing underhand about his decision. He believes it was discussed during negotiations with the Green Party.

I ask the Minister, Deputy Gormley, whether it was discussed. Where does he stand on this issue? In what position has the Government left him standing on this issue? Is it not a fact that he has been left to defend the indefensible from his party's point of view? When the Minister said that Fianna Fáil visits its sacred sites, he said it is in "the tent at the Galway races, where they pay homage to their gods and the gods bestow them with gifts for doing their bidding". The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, has done the Minister's bidding. He has visited the Minister's sacred site and from the Minister's perspective he has allowed to develop something to which the Minister's party is totally opposed. To paraphrase the words of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, "It is a strange place, Planet Bertie". It is certainly strange and alien to his party's sensibilities.

The facts are the Minister has failed at the first hurdle. His predecessor emasculated the Green Party by going against one of its core values, which was highlighted on 14 May when the Minister, Deputy Gormley, stated this controversial motorway must come to an end. I call on the Minister to defend himself if he can.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.

The statutory role of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in respect of an approved road development lies in the issuing of directions as to how works of an archaeological nature are to be carried out on an approved route. The recent determination of statutory directions by my predecessor, Deputy Roche, arose in circumstances where a national monument was discovered during the carrying out of archaeological works on the approved route of the M3. The discovery was made subsequent to the approval of the road development by An Bord Pleanála. Neither that approval nor the environmental impact statement prepared for the scheme dealt with what was then an unknown monument.

I first knew of Deputy Roche's directions when I received a text in this Chamber on the evening of Thursday, 14 June. Neither I nor any of my party colleagues had any prior contact with Deputy Roche on this issue. On 15 June 2007, following my appointment as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I examined my Department's file regarding the directions given to the National Roads Authority on the Lismullen national monument. In making the directions in question, the then Minister followed the procedures prescribed under the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 2004.

I have received unequivocal legal advice from the Attorney General that, without a change in the material circumstances relating to the newly discovered monument, it is not open to me to review or amend the directions given by my predecessor. I am aware of media reports in recent days of apparent new national monuments discovered near the site of the national monument at Lismullen. These were reported to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in early May and I have been informed that they are not regarded as national monuments. I have asked the director of the National Museum for his advice in respect of these souterrains.

The House may be also aware of the recommendation of the director of the National Museum that a special committee should be quickly installed to ensure excavation of the national monument at Lismullen is carried out to the highest and most transparent standard. This recommendation has been accepted and is referred to in the directions. The national monuments service of my Department, Dr. Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum, the National Roads Authority and Professor Gabriel Cooney, head of the school of archaeology at UCD, are represented on the committee. At my request, Dr. Conor Newman of the department of archaeology at NUI Galway, recognised as an expert on Tara, has also agreed to join the committee. Last week I visited the Tara-Skryne valley with Dr. Conor Newman and Dr. Pat Wallace.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Was the Minister on his bike?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The committee meets for the first time tomorrow to advise on the conduct of the archaeological investigations to be carried out under the directions. It will continue to meet as often as is necessary over the course of the excavation of the monument.

I assure the House that I am fully committed to preserving Ireland's internationally renowned archaeological heritage. It is my intention to consult in the coming weeks with a wide range of interests in the area to hear their views. That process started last week and I intend that it will be continued and intensified.

It is interesting that the Fine Gael Party has raised this issue this evening. I always had the impression — the Deputy has confirmed it — that Fine Gael was totally committed to the building of this road through the Tara-Skryne valley——

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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The Minister was completely opposed to it.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party)
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——and that it would, had it been in government, have insisted on the current route being followed. Fine Gael is not in government and what we are hearing from it at present is sour grapes and nothing more.

To ensure the highest levels of transparency and accountability, I also intend to release the entire file on Lismullen to the media in the near future.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.25 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 June 2007.