Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Táim fíor-bhuíoch den Leas-Chathaoirleach as an deis a thabhairt dom an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú ar an Tosú inniu. Tá a lán moill ag baint leis an rud seo agus ba cheart don Aire Stáit an scéal a thabairt dúinn faoin méid atá ag tarlú.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter in respect of the submission of the town of Kells and its monastic sites, among others, as part of a tentative list of properties for future nomination to the world heritage list. The Brú na Bóinne site, comprising Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in County Meath, is a world heritage site. Under the previous Government, work was done in 2008 to nominate other properties for submission to UNESCO, the international body that classifies places as world heritage sites. The monastic site at Kells was included as part of a list of early medieval monastic sites in Ireland. There are a number of such sites, including Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Inis Cealtra, Kells and Monasterboice. Kells, or Ceanannas Mór, is where St. Colmcille established a religious settlement in 550 AD It is one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. There are a number of buildings and places of interest in Kells, including St. Colmcille's house, the Kells monastic site, the Market Cross and the round tower.All of these symbols are synonymous with the town of Kells. Will the Minister of State give an update on what has happened since 2010 when the application for world heritage status for the town and its archaeological site was made? When the application was made in 2010, we were told by the then Minister, John Gormley, that the site would have to be on a tentative list for at least one year before it could be inscribed as world heritage site. We were also told that it would take at least two years for this process.
I know from those who have raised questions about other sites, which have been put forward for tentative status, that it appears precious little has been done by the Minister responsible for it. Talking to some of the local councillors in Kells, it has not appeared on any local authority agenda since the last local elections. I would have thought the local authority would have been a key partner with the Department Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in ensuring the Kells monastic site receives world heritage status.
A significant amount of work has been done in the town of Kells over the past five years by voluntary and community groups, including the Tourism Forum, the Local Heroes programme and many others, to promote the town. They should not be left in a vacuum. The ultimate responsibility lies with the Minister and the local authority. I would be grateful for an update on this position.
Tá mé ag glacadh na ceiste seo ar son an Aire sinsearach, an Teachta Heather Humphreys. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Byrne as ucht na ceiste seo a ardú. Tá suim mhór agam san ábhar seo ós rud é go bhfuil ceangal dearfach idir mo chontae féin agus Contae na Mí, mar shampla i gcomhthéacs Naomh Colm Cille. Dá bhrí sin, tá mé sásta labhairt fá dtaobh den ábhar seo inniu.
Having a site progressed from being on a national tentative list to its inscription by UNESCO on the world heritage list is a long and involved process which requires comprehensive management plans for the site, full agreement with local interests, significant local authority actions and support and the production of highly detailed nomination documents that require significant financial investment. Each stage of the process has to be quality controlled and checked by experts to ensure the nomination documentation reaches the high standards laid down by UNESCO. We are working at all times to UNESCO standards and requirements and not to any local framework.
Ireland's current world heritage tentative list has come about from a comprehensive, thorough and detailed process undertaken by a panel of Irish and international heritage experts specifically appointed for that purpose. The tentative list produced by the expert group contains a list of seven potential nominations, including early medieval monastic sites of which Kells forms part, along with Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Inis Cealtra and Monasterboice. The expert group felt these six sites were exemplars of the early Irish Church's rich cultural and historical past which played a crucial role in Europe's educational and artistic development.
In September 2013, my Department held a seminar to explain the next steps in the process to the local authorities and local groups from the areas with proposals which had successfully made it on to the tentative list. The objective was to gauge the extent of the support which would be available to advance these proposals, as well as to set out the work that would be involved and the associated costs. The seminar was followed by a series of working group meetings related to each of the sites. My Department, together with world heritage experts, was there to facilitate discussion.
My Department's view is that without strong local enthusiasm and backing there is little prospect of success for any nomination. This bottom-up approach is also UNESCO's favoured policy. As Kells is in a serial nomination with other sites and is part of a representative sample of Irish monuments, unless all the component parts enjoy local support, there is much less scope for a nomination to proceed any further. The representatives who are now most actively engaged with my Department in pushing on with their proposals on that basis are those from The Burren and the Royal Sites of Ireland.
Although other nominations may not be moving ahead as quickly, this does not mean that they are removed from the tentative list. My Department would be delighted to engage again with representatives of the areas in the early medieval monastic sites nomination, if the local communities, and especially the local authorities which must generally take the lead, are interested. However, without all involved firmly on board, the rationale for the nomination does not have the necessary standing or completeness.
My Department has sought, and continues, to work with local interests to bring forward the nominations of the internationally important archaeological sites on our tentative list. This will continue to be the approach.
For the Minister, who is legally and internationally responsible for arranging world heritage status between UNESCO and the Government, to claim there is not enough interest in these areas is outrageous. I have never seen a town so committed to its heritage tourism than Kells. The people are working tirelessly and are engaging with the Department. One group met with the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, last June about protecting some of these sites but it has heard nothing back. Perhaps the Minister could deal with that. That was a complaint I heard two nights ago. The town of Kells and the groups there are doing tremendous work. The idea they are to be blamed for this not progressing is outrageous. To blame the local authority is also outrageous because it is the Minister who takes the lead under the UNESCO proposals.
The Minister is passing the buck. It is about time the Minister got the groups and local authorities from all the monastic sites, Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Inis Cealtra and Monasterboice, together to get this going. The truth is this has been going nowhere. It is the Minister who needs to take the lead. It is surprising to see The Burren as one of those sites actively pushing on. I know Deputy Michael McNamara from County Clare was complaining in the same vein as me about this issue only a few months ago. I have certainly heard nothing about the Royal Sites of Ireland being pushed. The Minister needs to re-engage urgently with all of the communities and local authorities in the areas to push this on. It is her responsibility, no one else's.