Adjournment Debate. - Preservation of National Monuments.

Deputy Brendan Griffin has been given permission to raise on the Adjournment the preservation of national monument sites, especially Derrynaflan and the Grave of An Gobán Saor which has been desecrated.

I thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss as a matter of urgency the preservation of our national monument sites, especially the Derrynaflan site in Killenaule, County Tipperary, where the Grave of An Gobán Saor has been desecrated. I have decided to share my limited time with Deputy Seán McCarthy.

I come from south Tipperary. We are privileged that this historical site is situated in my county. I was appalled to learn that since the High Court decision the site has been plundered and pillaged and the Grave of An Gobán Saor desecrated. I know the site quite well. I am bringing this matter to the Minister's attention and ask her to use her good offices to ensure that this and other historical sites are preserved.

There are approximately 150,000 ancient monuments in Ireland, about 700 under the care of the Office of Public Works and at present 48 to 50 of those are undergoing restoration. I realise it would be physically and financially impossible to protect each monument and I understand the problems facing the Minister, but I urge her at least to publicise the present penalties which can be imposed if people using metal detectors destroy archaeological sites.

I will not discuss the High Court decision where the judge said that the finders of the Derrynaflan hoard — a magnificent chalice, wine strainer, paten and bronze bowl valued at £5.5 million — should give the hoard to the State and receive £5.5 million compensation. I understand the State will appeal that decision in the Supreme Court and, consequently, the matter could be deemed to be sub judice. Therefore, I will not discuss that aspect of the matter.

I am concerned about the weakness in the present legislation. There is a Bill at present going through the Seanad, the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill and I urge the Minister to introduce on Committee Stage suitable amendments to ensure that a similar situation will not arise again, that there will be no confusion about the ownership of archaeological finds and that the State will not be liable to pay huge sums by way of compensation. This would be the appropriate time to effect such amendments.

We should bring home to the people the fact that the use of metal detectors is forbidden under existing legislation, although the penalties for defacing a national monument site are pitifully small. That point is being addressed in the new amending legislation. Some people might get the impression, because of the High Court finding, that there is open season in the use of metal detectors. This is what has happened at the Derrynaflan site. In the hope of finding more treasure, people have attacked the site with spades and shovels and used metal detectors causing great damage to this historical archaeological site. It is believed in places like Derrynaflan that there are other hoards waiting to be found. According to local lore a pair of golden gates and other chalices are still to be found. I am afraid that in their enthusiasm people will lose all sense of proportion and will attack, dig and destroy these ancient monuments.

I appeal to the Minister to bring it to the attention of the public that the use of metal detectors is forbidden, that if people are caught using them they will be fined and under the new legislation will be liable to a jail sentence. We should educate the people that these historical hoards are part of our heritage and do not belong to any individual. If found, they should be handed over as a patriotic gesture to the National Museum for the benefit of all.

These briefly are my views on this matter. Once again I thank you, Sir, for giving me the opportunity to raise it and I await with interest the Minister's reply. I urge her to use her good offices to bring home to the people the value of these monuments and to emphasise that they should not be desecrated.

Derrynaflan Abbey, a 13th century church, and an Gobán Saor's Grave have been in the guardianship of the Commissioners of Public Works since 1935. With the finding of the hoard close to the Abbey in early 1980 the commissioners decided that it was necessary to bring the entire archaeological site at Derrynaflan under the protection of the National Monuments Act. Accordingly, they placed a preservation order on the site on 5 March 1980. An area in excess of 80 acres is involved. The making of a preservation order makes it unlawful for anybody to interfere with the area involved without the written consent of the commissioners. However, it does not affect the owner's title to the property.

Following the reported interference with the site of the Gobán Saor's Grave at Derrynaflan by landowner Mr. Denis O'Brien, an archaeologist from the National Museum travelled to the site on the morning of Monday, 15 December. Mr. O'Brien told him that he had visited the site on Friday last, 12 December and had noticed nothing out of the ordinary. On the afternoon of Sunday, 14 December, he arrived on the site with a friend, at about 2.30 p.m. He found that the Gobán Saor's Grave had been vandalised and concluded that he must have surprised those involved as clothing and a shovel were found scattered on the ground close to the grave. He notified the Garda on Sunday evening.

The area dug was inside the area fenced off by the Office of Public Works in 1980. A trench 8 ft. long and 2 ft. wide was dug to a depth of 1.5 - 2 ft. An extension 50 cm. x 50 cm. had been dug at the west end of the north side. The spoil was thrown up on either side of the trench and contained pieces of human bone. The medieval grave slabs which had lain on the ground had been turned over before digging began and these had been covered by the upcast from the trench. Bones which had been removed from the grave seem to consist largely of those of a single child. A few larger bones may be those of a second individual. The trench will be filled in.

The Garda are investigating the case with a view to bringing a prosecution. While the Garda are doing everything they can to watch archaeological sites and to bring prosecution where offences are committed, we will not be able to preserve our heritage unless our citizens in general are vigilant and bring anything they see and which appears in the least suspicious to the notice of the Garda. I would like to pay a special tribute to Mr. Denis O'Brien for the concern he has shown for the site at Derrynaflan and while he did not in this instance succeed in preventing the destruction of the grave, he may have secured material which will lead to a successful prosecution.

I would urge Deputies to use their influence to encourage the public at large to be watchful of our heritage sites; if they do so we will defeat the few who would vandalise these sites for monetary gain. I would also like to issue a warning to anyone thinking of seeking treasure in our archaeological areas. The Garda have been asked to keep a special watch and anyone found despoiling them will be prosecuted. In case anyone feels that the present fines are not a real deterrent I would remind them that they could face a jail sentence of six months. They cannot be sure that this will not be imposed on them. I would remind them too that in addition to fines they could be liable to very hefty legal costs if found guilty of interfering with a national monument.

I have just come from the Seanad where we have been debating the Committee Stage of the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill, 1986. Under that Bill the fines will be increased to a maximum of £50,000 and/or 12 months in jail. There is a similar penalty for being found in possession of a metal detector in a national monument or in an archaeological area. This is a measure of how seriously we regard the threat to our monuments. There is also provision in the Bill which will enable the Commissioners of Public Works to mobilise a large number of concerned citizens to watch our archaeological areas.

I hope that this Bill will pass through the Dáil early in the New Year. I know that Deputies on both sides of the House welcome the provisions of the Bill and that they will accord it a speedy passage. I would not like to underestimate the threat there is to our archaeological heritage but I am confident that, with these additional legislative provisions and with the whole-hearted support of the people at large, we will defeat the vandals and preserve our heritage.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 December 1986.