My function as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in relation to archaeological excavation is to regulate this activity through the licensing system under section 26 of the National Monuments Act 1930, as amended. So far this year over 500 such licences have been issued. The majority of archeological excavations are carried out by private sector archaeological consultants for the purpose of assessing the impact of proposed development on possible archaeological features or mitigating the impact of development on archaeological heritage. Others are undertaken for conservation or research purposes.
In deciding whether to grant an archaeological excavation licence, appropriate consideration is given by my Department to the need to maintain the integrity of affected archaeological sites. All archaeological excavation licences are granted subject to conditions requiring the excavations to be conducted to an appropriate standard and that reports on the results are furnished to my Department's National Monuments Service. They are published by the Department on the archeology.ie website as a reference and resource for research and educational purposes.
Market research clearly demonstrates that culture and heritage form an increasing share of the reasons why tourists come to Ireland. This is also true of domestic tourism and is reflected in the increasing visitor numbers at all our publicly accessible heritage sites and facilities.
My Department fully supports the appropriate conservation of Ireland’s heritage sites, both as important assets in their own right and to optimise their contribution to economic development and tourism promotion. The Department is in regular and ongoing contact with the Office of Public Works (OPW) and Fáilte Ireland to agree and devise shared priorities and policy approaches with respect to the management of these sites and their presentation to visitors.
The OPW is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of monuments in state care as well as any visitor services at these monuments. These services receive approximately 6 million visitors a year. In addition, my Department is providing €350,000 of funding to OPW in 2019 to assist in the conservation and presentation of historic buildings and national monuments in State ownership. The Department’s National Monuments Service works in close collaboration with OPW on survey, excavation and research work to optimise the protection, management, interpretation and presentation of national monuments in State care.
My Department also supports a programme of research excavations through the Standing Committee for Archaeology in the Royal Irish Academy.
In terms of future funding, Investing in our Culture, Language and Heritage 2018 – 2027 represents a major capital investment scheme of €1.2 billion in funding over the next 10 years as part of Project Ireland 2040. This plan will see increased investment in protecting and celebrating our heritage across the country. More details on the commencement and completion dates for projects and programmes, as well as the timing of the expenditure in relation to them, will emerge as we go through the process of appraisal and planning as required under the Public Spending Code.
The vision for heritage is a simple one - that heritage is valued and protected. Heritage Ireland 2030 is built around that vision: that the way in which we identify and protect our heritage is the best it can be. Heritage Ireland 2030 will support local communities in caring for their heritage and will also recognise the increasingly important role that local authorities play in protecting and managing heritage for the enjoyment and benefit of all. It will help ensure Ireland's heritage management structures meet modern requirements and comply with EU and international obligations. It will promote greater appreciation and understanding of the immense intrinsic value of Ireland's rich heritage including its natural and built heritage resources and highlight heritage as a valuable amenity for communities, farming, business and tourism. It will aim to place heritage at the heart of decision making and integrate key heritage protection and management principles in the work of all Government Departments.