The National Monuments (Amendment) Bill was not introduced out of any concern for national monuments or the environment but more out of an indecent haste to speed up and facilitate the completion of the south-east section of the M50 motorway. The M50 motorway, conceived in the 1970s as a circular route around Dublin, was to serve all national primary routes serving the capital city. However, it was recently described as the only motorway in the world with a cul-de-sac in the middle. While practically completed at each end, it has been held up in the middle at Carrickmines due to archaeological considerations in the area of Carrickmines Castle.
Had the motorway proceeded as planned, unwarranted and major vandalism would have been visited on what remains of the castle and its artefacts. The "Carrickminders" have a case and their concern for this part of our heritage has been vindicated in court on several occasions. In the interests of completing the roads network in the area, it is vital to facilitate the completion of this motorway, while preserving the archaeological remains. The delay in progressing this motorway has lasted for more than ten years. What should have been completed ten years ago has now cost an additional €55 million. Croatia, whose application to join the EU was recently granted candidate status, added no less than 88 miles of motorway to its already vast and comprehensive motorway system this year.
As Deputy Gilmore has pointed out, delays concerning alternative routes for the M50 had major implications for Leopardstown Racecourse. The ten-year delay was also caused by the alterations of the previous Dublin County Council plans, involving a somewhat more modest motorway to Sandyford, and a distributor road to the N11 at Leopardstown. A series of environmental impact statements followed on alternate routes, which also went to a plebiscite of residents. Any self-respecting environmental impact statements should have established the difficulties that would subsequently arise concerning the castle and the extensive site surrounding it. How could such a study not take cognisance of such a site that has been compared in its significance to the Wood Quay site that sparked so much domestic and international controversy in the mid-1970s?
This study was followed by a public inquiry in Dún Laoghaire Town Hall which further contributed to the enormous expense and delay. However, there were no results to show as it turned out to be an exercise in futility. Most observations and suggestions from the public were not taken seriously as mere lay people were not considered to have a constructive idea or contribution to make about the roads system or the local road infrastructure in their area. However, a well-briefed local group, the southern cross motorway study, made a positive and lasting contribution to the motorway debate. The group, comprising local residents including architects, engineers and other professionals, briefed local representatives in the mid-1970s so successfully that the remainder of the then Dublin County Council was convinced to unanimously defeat the council's roads planners' proposal to bisect Marlay Park with a proposed motorway on a unanimous 18-0 vote.
The nightly traffic reports of motorised chaos in the areas of Ballinteer, Dundrum and Sandyford Industrial Estate all emanate from the failure of successive county councils to anticipate upcoming road blocks. The former Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council both failed to notice the archaeological significance of Carrickmines Castle when planning the motorway.
However, this Bill is not just concerned with expediting the completion of the M50 motorway and its provisions are considerably more wide-ranging. The Bill allocates or subdivides powers relating to national monuments among the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Arts, Sport and Tourism, and Finance, and the Office of Public Works. That the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have vested powers to direct that national monuments may be injured or destroyed borders on the sacrilegious. The excuse given for such potential acts of vandalism is the consideration of the wider public interest. How wide is "wide" and who determines the "width" of the public interest?
The Minister may consider archaeological considerations but will not be restricted to this by the Bill. He will be empowered, just like the Dún Laoghaire environmental impact study and public inquiry process, to ignore such archaeological data and concentrate on what he considers the wider public interest requires. This will permit the Minister to issue orders that all items of archaeological interest or significance that may block a particular development be destroyed. These would undoubtedly be items of enormous significance to our heritage. To destroy them at the stroke of a ministerial pen is bordering on the criminal.
It is abundantly clear from this that all archaeological sites, finds or artefacts are to be subjugated to what the Minister would feel is not in accordance with the wider public interest. In other words, archaeological or historic sites are considered secondary or subordinated to the provision of motorways, for example. School educational tours are organised to heritage sites around the country because educationalists realise the importance of inculcating respect for our heritage among our youth.
Heritage tourism is another aspect that should not be lost sight of. Numerous organised tours from abroad flock to Ireland each year, attracted by the heritage, culture and history of Ireland. This heritage tourism represents a significant contribution to the national income and is widely publicised among the Irish diaspora and other nationalities. Monuments are central to the tourism industry. People are always interested in the history, culture and heritage of the countries they visit, and Ireland is no exception.
Since this Bill is specifically about national monuments and their impact on a particular motorway, it can be taken that it will be used in respect of future motorway projects. One motorway that has aroused a considerable amount of controversy and public feeling is the proposed M3. I understand that the M3 scheme has been agreed and that it is inviolable. It is difficult to fathom how the scheme could be objectively re-evaluated in this situation. Perhaps if a modicum of flexibility and consultation were undertaken in relation to the M3 there might have been a prospect of some agreement being reached about the line of this motorway. There was no evidence of any will to listen to rational suggestions from conservationists to preserve the archaeological sites and treasures that have been discovered there.
The archaeological finds in this area were recently described as among the world's most significant, even more so than Pharaoh's tombs and the Chinese terracotta warriors. If they are treated under the terms of this Bill it is likely that they will be bulldozed indiscriminately at the behest of the Minister because of the "wider" public interest. The line of the motorway appears to be sacrosanct, to the exclusion of all heritage or archaeological items at the Minister's discretion.
Some of our monuments are wide open to being stolen by avaricious individuals and even companies and groups obsessed with transporting Irish artefacts abroad. We have had examples of this in my constituency of north Monaghan where a mass rock on the Bragan mountain was stolen. A penal cross remains on that mountain and it too is vulnerable and unprotected. It is possible that the thieves may return and take the cross too. Many of these items end up in the private residences of individuals and on occasions in corporate offices as a backdrop to their corporate business. It is time we wised up to the illicit trade in items of Irish archaeological and heritage interest that are disappearing and reappearing in the homes and offices of wealthy individuals abroad. It is somewhat remiss of the Government and typical of the attitude to national monuments inherent in this Bill that little or no effort is made to prevent illicit trade in items of heritage or archaeological interest or significance.
The Bill provides for consultation by the Minister with the director of the National Museum. This would appear to be another cosmetic exercise because it merely allows the director 14 days to reply to the Minister's so-called attempt at consultation. He has to reply in 14 days, having examined, over a period of little more than a week, the implications of a particular archaeological issue that may have taken years to discover. One can understand the need for urgency and haste in such matters, but 14 days is a ridiculously short period of time in which to adequately evaluate the feasibility or otherwise of a particular heritage item. National monuments are a reflection of our past, the glorious and inglorious, the tragic and the triumphant, and it is important that legislation should be in place to protect and preserve them.
Regarding the progressing of motorway projects to enhance the roads infrastructure, I am fully in favour of providing the highest quality of roads. However, when the progress of such a system conflicts with the preservation of heritage sites or national monuments, every effort should be made to reach an accommodation between the two. It is a case of preservation of our heritage balanced against what is regarded as "progress" in the matters of roads. There should be no question of the Minister having power to destroy national monuments if they conflict with what he deems to be the wider public interest. The wider public interest would appear to be the development of motorways as part of an integrated road infrastructure system. There is no doubt however that archaeological excavations should be carried out, and the ultimate care taken to ensure that our archaeological heritage is not undermined.
The Bill's provisions to permit the completion of the M50 are to be welcomed. However, the other wide-ranging powers to be given to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the area of heritage should be regarded with the utmost caution. I agree with an earlier speaker who stated that emergency legislation does not make for good law.