Adjournment Debate. - Christchurch Place (Dublin) Site.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me raise this matter this evening and the Minister of State for his presence.

This two-acre site has been vacant for almost 25 years and, because of bureaucratic neglect on the part of the local authority, a Jurys Hotel is being built there without the site having being properly surveyed for its archaeological content. Certainly Dublin Corporation are guilty in that they did not underline the importance of this Viking medieval site. The Office of Public Works who, in the first instance indicated that a maximum archaeological survey would take place there, backed-off and have now intimated that a minimum survey would be sufficient. As a matter of extreme urgency the Government should take the initiative of introducing legislation to prevent bureaucratic vandalism of this kind being perpetrated in our capital city. The National Monuments Advisory Council should be re-established to act as watchdog against this type of vandalism recurring.

It is nothing short of a national disgrace that one of our most important archaeological treasures, on a par with Wood Quay, is about to be built on. What will future generations think of the scant regard given to preserving our heritage? It must be pointed out that £2.2 million was the price paid for the central core area of this city, an area rich in treasure, in the artefacts under the ground there but also in that it would provide the key to the ethnic origin of Dublin. It is a disgrace this is being allowed to happen and I call on the Minister to intervene and give the House a guarantee that no development will take place until this site has been satisfactorily surveyed.

Only about one-quarter of the site has been surveyed to date. The present system of piling, of driving stakes into the ground, demonstrates that the site is more important than was first thought. It is quite ironic that large amounts of EC grants are being provided for questionable interpretative centres in the Burren and Luggala while no money is being provided for archaeological investigation of this kind.

The city has a city archaeologist, Mr. Andrew Halpin, who should be to the forefront of this sequel; yet we hear nothing from him. It is a shame on our capital city that the history of this Wood Quay saga that has remained with us over so many years should be repeated. Perhaps there is a misguided belief that people are jaded protesting against this type of unwarranted vandalism; I describe it in the strongest possible terms. I contend it is an uncivilised attitude to take. Legislation should be enacted to prevent development of this kind.

It would not be reasonable or satisfactory of the Minister to reply to the effect that the developers are complying with planning regulations when we know all too well that in this case the planning regulations were altered, with the threat of the relevant hotel group withdrawing from the site, exerting pressure of that kind. I appeal to the Minister to give the House that badly needed guarantee. Indeed his colleague, the Minister himself, is a Dublin man and I know the Minister of State takes an interest in these matters. I appeal to him to give every consideration to ordering an immediate halt until all archaeological forces are satisfied that the site has been fully surveyed.

I take, and always have taken, a personal interest in matters pertaining to our national heritage, in this case, archaeology.

Before speaking on the specific site, which is the subject of this debate, I should like to deal with urban archaeology in general terms. In 1989 the National Monuments Advisory Council published Urban Archaeology Guidelines, which were very well received. The purpose of the document was to produce a better understanding of the needs of archaeology in Ireland, to secure the collaboration of archaeologists, town planners and developers in protecting our heritage, and to suggest ways to secure both orderly development and sound conservation. I commend this document to Members of the Oireachtas, who are interested in archaeology.

One of the principles propounded in the guidelines is as follows:

Where neighbouring sites have been excavated and a stage has been reached, at which further digging with present techniques would not add significantly to knowledge, it is prudent to conserve archaeological deposits for further discovery and examination. When resources are scarce there may be no alternative to adopting this course.

This is being done internationally. The guidelines went on to say:

Development may proceed on sites, where it is decided to conserve suspected deposits but only in such a manner as would not damage, or would limit to a negligible degree, any damage to the deposits.

The document further says:

Where conventional foundations are not suitable, rafts or piling may be used.

Bearing in mind that a sizeable portion of the Christchurch Place site, about one-seventh, was excavated by the National Museum of Ireland in the seventies' I am satisfied that the present development is proceeding in accordance with these principles, that is the building is being built on piled foundations and the archaeological remains are being sealed in for future generations or archaeologists to investigate. However, in addition, an archaeological excavation is being undertaken to expose to view a length of the old city wall. This will add significantly to our knowledge of medieval history as well as providing an interesting feature for the public to enjoy.

This case is significant too in that it is the first occasion on which An Bord Pleanála imposed fairly stringent conditions in relation to archaeology and where they accepted the principle that the developer must pay. All the costs of excavation and monitoring by archaeologists of ground disturbance and the cost of post-excavation reports are the responsibility of the developer. The main conditions are: First, excavation of an area, to expose a portion of the old city wall. An excavation of an area of 26 metres by 10 metres will be undertaken here; Second, excavation by machine cuttings to establish the full line of the old city wall on the site. These cuttings have already been done to ensure that piling for the proposed car-park will not damage the wall; and third, monitoring by an archaeologist of all development works, including assessment of all potentially damaging works, such as pile driving, reduction of ground levels, excavation for pile caps and service trenches, etc. It was in relation to this condition that the archaeologist requested that areas being excavated for pile caps, should be archaeologically excavated. This work has now been completed.

I might add that the site was surveyed by archaeologists in 1989 to assess the nature of the archaeological strata. This survey included for the first time in this country the use of ground radar. While the results were not altogether convincing, the expense incurred by the developer in undertaking this assessment must be acknowledged. The Christchurch Place site was assembled by Dublin Corporation and sold to developers.

The provisions to be made for archaeology were not specified and, consequently, became a subject of contention, leading to an appeal to An Board Pleanála. Since the appointment last year by Dublin Corporation, with assistance from the Office of Public Works, of a city archaeologist, a new arrangement has been arrived at whereby in future the archaeological requirements will be settled in such cases, in advance, with the Office of Public Works. Hopefully this will ensure that there will be no further difficulties of this nature.

I am confident that, due to the conditions inserted by An Bord Pleanála, the archaeological work being undertaken and the positive attitude being adopted, we can conserve and preserve vital archaeological remains in this, our capital city, for examination by future generations.