I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I welcome the thrust of the Bill as presented to the House. During the debate on the Bill last week, one of the finest contributions was made by a Member from the opposite side who explained her support for the Bill clearly, succinctly and reasonably.
For approximately 16 years I was a member of the national monuments committee of Cork County Council. The committee was set up in 1985. It is a great pity that more councils throughout the country did not follow our example in setting up such a committee. In 1985, despite a meagre budget of £25,000, we did tremendous work. There were a number of non-elected members on the committee — people with a particular interest in archaeology, the environment and monuments generally. I will not give their names, but their contribution was immense. We travelled to Goleen, Barryscourt and other places where amazing work was done in designating national monuments and so on. If that model was followed by other counties, the problems we face today may not have occurred. I am not aware of any other local authority that has a national monument committee, and that is regrettable.
In every electoral division in Cork the committee considered archaeological sites of all types, including forts, churches and old castles, such as Castle Donovan in west Cork. Places of interest were logged and mapped and records were kept by Cork County Council. Whenever a development was carried out the local planners were aware of artefacts, monuments or sites of archaeological importance that might be impinged upon and the county council was given advance warning.
This Bill is the result of the Minister's duty to find a balance between development and conservation. Motorways and water and sewerage schemes need to be built and a balance must be found in the interest of the common good. I chaired the Joint Committee on the Constitution during its consideration of property rights and one of the main themes that emerged was the common good. Should projects be delayed in the interest of the common good? If we are to be parochial, we could take the example of the snail that held up construction of the Kildare bypass. In my area, a water scheme has been held up since 1985, when a public hearing took place at which the then Department of the Environment and Local Government decided to reschedule the scheme because of a water lily. The scheme was later moved at great expense and delay. The Minister has allocated funds for it and, I hope, building will be commenced shortly. In another area the discovery of an otters' bed resulted in an appeal to An Bord Pleanála, which resulted in further delays.
There are 20,000 people in Cork whose water supply is inadequate. This scheme is being held up because of certain extreme elements. The water lily concerned has since vanished of its own accord after costing the Department several million euro. I looked for the otters' bed in a location near the sea and a local man in his late 70s told me he had not seen an otter in the area for more than 40 years. Sometimes we need to get a grip on reality.
This Bill focuses on the problems created by the Carrickmines Castle site. Of course we must take into account the importance of archaeological and heritage sites such as this. However, there are similar sites everywhere in the country because of our ancient heritage. We must decide on these in the interest of the country and the people who live here. We must protect our heritage without going too far.
This Bill gives the Minister power to make a direction in certain circumstances. This is a sensible provision. Somebody must grasp the nettle. If there are delays which cost the taxpayer millions, the Minister is accused on the one hand of delaying projects and on the other of not protecting the environment. Somewhere in between there must be a fair balance. The Minister must be lauded for achieving that balance in the Bill. I have been a Member of the Oireachtas for almost 11 years and I have seen Ministers hammered over delayed projects. Questions are raised such as why this or that water scheme is not going ahead, why there is no major sewerage scheme and why this or that motorway is not finished.
One will find some item of archaeological interest in every part of Ireland if one digs. In my area, the Sheep's Head Peninsula, there is a hill-walking committee called Slí Muintir Bheara, with which I am involved. With the help of people who are enthusiastic about going on walks and investigating historical sites, we discovered, with advice from experts in UCC, what we thought was a cláirín of stones on top of a mountain called Seefin. This turned out to be a megalithic tomb which, it was later confirmed, dates back to 2000 BC. We discovered two or three more of these in the Beara Peninsula. The town of Castletownbere was built facing towards the mountains for fear of attack from the sea. Sensible people will support the protection of important archaeological finds.
I do not have figures but perhaps when replying the Minister might indicate the cost in economic terms of delays during the past seven years since this Government took office. What were the legal costs of going to court? I do not deny that people have a right to object. In this instance, An Bord Pleanála was involved and will continue to play a role. However, I would like the Minister to give some indication, not necessarily today but perhaps some time before the Bill is concluded, of the cost to the taxpayer of delays in proceeding with projects such as the N11, the Dundalk by-pass or the Kildare by-pass. There was fierce criticism following the spending of millions of euro on electronic voting but, listening to today's debate, people probably regret that it was not introduced. However, it will be introduced at some stage. What we want to know is the real cost associated with delays to such developments as the M50.
To people who might say I am anti-environment, I am not taking away from the argument put forward regarding the importance of the historical Carrickmines Castle. However, the completion of that part of the M50 is of critical importance not alone to people living in and commuting to Dublin but to the whole country. We need a network of motorways, and we have made significant progress throughout the country. However, we are some years behind the European model which has a network of road and rail, and particularly motorways, throughout developed Europe.
Motorways and infrastructure developments are planned for many years. The plans for the Cork-Dublin motorway have been in existence for the past two decades. The plans for the M50 have also been in existence for a long time. The Supreme Court granted an injunction against Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in relation to the Carrickmines site. The court was unhappy with the current legislation. Consequently the Minister was obliged to bring in this amendment Act of 2004 to get around the difficulty.
The Bill will make provision for appropriate protection of our archaeological heritage along the routes of approved road developments, including the south-eastern section of the M50. It is not a case of giving the Minister carte blanche to drive motorways and pipelines through any part of Ireland with absolute disregard for our heritage, our archaeological sites and national monuments. I congratulate the Fine Gael spokesperson who spoke on this last week. I reject the notion being bandied about by some parties that this Government has no desire to protect the environment and our heritage. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Historically, one person who promoted our heritage and national monuments and was one of the leading lights in this regard was former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles J. Haughey. He was particularly supportive of the national monuments committee in the mid-1980s, a time when finances were strapped. I was a member of that committee for a number of years. It was a cross-party committee representative of all sides. Its budget was increased to close to €0.5 million. It is still quite small, but the committee works in conjunction with the OPW, another State agency, and the council. In all the areas we visited throughout the county, from Mitchelstown and Youghal to west Cork, the support of local engineers and the consultation process were second to none. It galls me to hear the current Government accused of lack of interest in heritage. Over the past 20 to 25 years of my political life, going back to my student days, this Government has always had a very strong handle on and a realistic and common-sense approach to the environment. I want to emphasise that the former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles J. Haughey was one of the most outspoken in his support for preserving our heritage and national monuments. The work he did then was ahead of his time and I want to acknowledge his significant contribution.
The Joint Committee on the Constitution, which I chaired, examined the issue of property rights in the context of infrastructure and so on. That committee was composed of members from all parties. Its deliberations were delayed for a couple of months in order to allow in other small groups — Sinn Féin, the Independent group and the Green Party. The committee came to certain conclusions which were supported by an eminent constitutional lawyer, Mr. Gerard Hogan. It was clearly of the view that Article 43 of the Constitution, which was set up in 1937 by the then Government and President, allowed for what it called the common good. We must consider the common good when building motorways. In some instances we are inclined to disregard it. The traffic problems involved in building motorways cause us all headaches and stress, but we must build them. We must make sensible provision, but we cannot allow every inch of the way to be stopped by protesters and court action and so on. If that happens we will need to do a serious economic analysis of the loss to the taxpayer that results when various projects are delayed. We are now in an era of great economic growth. Significant progress has been made in the past decade or so. This growth may not exist in ten or 15 years. We must, therefore, proceed while we have that advantage and take into account that in our booming economy traffic counts were never higher. I examined figures relating to the period from the middle 1980s to 2000, which show that the volume of traffic on our roads quadrupled. That created its own problems.
I want to put it on record that this is a caring and forward-thinking Minister. He must grasp the nettle. Thinking about the famous lily which upset our water supply in Bantry and has since died, the Minister must gild the lily, move forward and make sensible provision. This Bill does not give the Minister draconian powers. He will not be able to drive a coach and four through the legislation. The Bill contains safeguards. There is provision for a consultation process, and the issue may also be taken up by An Bord Pleanála. In a nutshell, the Bill allows the Minister to make decisions and give directions. I am certain that such decisions will not be taken lightly. We have a country whose young people are well educated and cognisant of our heritage, archaeology and monuments and they want to protect them.
Coming from an area which is very dependent on tourism, particularly places such as west Cork and Kerry, I have noted the numbers of people who now visit our country from mainland Europe and America and even China and the Far East.
Coming from an area which is very dependent on tourism, particularly places such as west Cork and Kerry, I have noted the numbers of people who now visit our country from mainland Europe and America and even China and the Far East. These visitors come here to explore our fairly unspoiled heritage. Barryscourt Castle in east Cork, which is run by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in conjunction with the OPW, is an excellent example of a castle which was falling into decay and which has now mushroomed. It has been protected and there is now an information centre there. The last time I was there one could look around and have a coffee in the coffee shop. That type of facility is the product of successful, caring Governments. I have already mentioned Charles J. Haughey but over the last few years successive Governments have not turned their back on the environment. I will take issue with anyone on that.
I support this Bill. It is necessary and we must take account of the common good in the development of this country. We must not delay forever large developments like the M50 or the eastern link road by neglecting the common good. It will cost the taxpayer a lot of money and it will cause many headaches for the general public. If it were to come to a plebiscite of the people of Dublin, they would want to protect their heritage, they would take account of the archaeological findings, but progress has to be made.