Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Commencement Matters

National Heritage Plan

10:30 am

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. Reconciling reasonable and understandable aspirations of local communities to continue the tradition of burial in or near their local historic burial ground with the need to preserve and protect the archaeological heritage is always a difficult task. On behalf of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out the efforts her Department has been making to achieve this in the case of Annaghdown graveyard over the past number of years.

I listened with intent to the threat of one of Senator Healy Eames constituents to come back and haunt everyone. I am wondering if the Minister for Foreign Affairs is included in that threat or is it the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who will be primarily the subject matter of the haunting.

I would like to first explain briefly the major archaeological and historical importance of Annaghdown. The ruined ecclesiastical buildings at Annaghdown were among the very first such structures to come into State care as national monuments. They represent the site of a major early historic monastery, one which was of such importance that it became a diocesan centre when dioceses were first established in Ireland as part of the great 12th century church reform. It has long been established by archaeological research that the core of an important early historic monastery was very likely to have been surrounded by an extensive settlement, the surviving buried remains of which are today of great archaeological interest. The importance of the site at Annaghdown is reflected in the strong legal protection afforded it under the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2004, which legal protection the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is charged with implementing. The ruins of the ancient monastery are in the ownership of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the graveyard is in the ownership of the local authority. Section 14 of the National Monuments Act 1930 as amended by the 2004 Act makes works affecting national monuments of which the Minister or local authority are owners subject to a requirement of the consent from the Minister. This requirement also extends to any ground disturbance in proximity to such a national monument.

I will now set out for the House the dealings the Department has had with the local community group at Annaghdown in respect of the proposed extension to the graveyard. In 2013, the national monuments service of the Department had extensive discussions with the local graveyard committee with regard to a proposed graveyard extension. This resulted in an agreement to assess the possibility of a small extension to the north of the graveyard. Following initial examination, which indicated a high probability of archaeological finds in the area, the local committee decided to look for other potential sites and did not proceed with the detailed assessment. In 2014, the local community found a landowner who was willing to sell a plot of ground across the road to the east of the existing graveyard. However, following archaeological test excavation in January 2014, carried out in accordance with a consent granted by the Minister, it was established that this site was, on the grounds of importance of archaeological features there, unsuitable for any development.

The local committee then approached the Department again about a site immediately to the north of the existing graveyard and applied for permission to carry out archaeological test excavation. The Minister granted consent for this and it was carried out in December 2014. The results indicated that very important archaeological features are present there and, in particular, confirming that the monastery at Annaghdown was surrounded by a substantial enclosure, a very important archaeological find which adds considerably to the interest and national importance of Annaghdown. On that basis, the site must be considered unsuitable for development.

In March of this year, a professional archaeologist made inquiries with the Department on behalf of the local graveyard committee about the possibility of developing a different site for a graveyard extension. This site, as currently proposed, would require a new entrance on to the public road. The entrance and access route proposed would cross through the field where the important archaeological features were uncovered in January 2014. The Department has advised that archaeological investigation of the site would be appropriate given its size and proximity to the site of the ancient monastery. Such investigations would again require the consent of the Minister but the Department has not yet received any application for this. The Department has also advised that the proposed entrance and access road should be relocated to the north western boundary of the site in order to avoid the areas of archaeological significance. As is evident, the Department has sought and continues to seek to work with the local community to achieve a solution to the question of how to protect the nationally important archaeological heritage at Annaghdown while facilitating as far as possible the desire of the local community for a new burial ground in the vicinity. This will continue to be the approach taken by officials of the Department and they will be happy to discuss the matter further with representatives of the local community and public representatives.

Comments

Michael Goaley
Posted on 30 Jun 2015 5:01 pm (Report this comment)

My thanks to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr.Charles Flanagan on his support and excellent summary of the problem, as Senator -Eames did in her comment.
I spent my first year 1956-1957 as curate in Rosenallis where I was happy to have met his late father Oliver J. on a few occasions. I ask him to urge the present Minister to make an exception in Annaghdown's urgent need for a graveyard extension allowing for the fact that it is a Protected site and NHA. I am sure she can add a legal proviso that any possible historical treasures found in future digging will legally have State protection.
Please, Minister, make that urgent exception in our case.

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