That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage revised at Valletta on 16th January, 1992, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on the 9th day of January, 1997.
Tá áthas orm an deis seo a bheith agam an Coinbhinsiún seo a thabhairt faoi bhráid na Dála. Tá údarás an Rialtais fáighte agam chun rún a chur os comhair na Dála ag glacadh le téarmaí an Choinbhinsiúin. Beidh an tAire Gnóthaí Eachtracha ag déanamh ullmhúcháin chun an Coinbhinsiún a cheangail, faoi réir aontú na Dála don rún atá á mholadh agamsa anois. Táim ag tnúth le tacaíocht a fháil ó Chomhaltaí an Tí seo don rún.
The convention, known as the Valletta Convention, is one of the results of work by the Council of Europe on the co-ordination of policies on the protection of the archaeological heritage. It is a revised and updated version of the original convention signed in London in 1969, to which Ireland was not a party. Details of its signature and ratification are as follows: it was open for signature in Valletta, Malta, on 16 January 1992; it was signed by Ireland on that date; as of 7 January 1997, 27 out of 40 member states of the Council of Europe had signed the convention; of the member states which have signed, 11 have ratified; one non member state, the Holy See, has signed; and the convention entered into force on 25 May 1995.
Archaeology is concerned with the study of past societies through the material remains left by those societies and the evidence of their environment. The archaeological heritage consists of such material remains and environmental evidence and forms a resource which allows us to investigate and attempt to understand the past. The material remains of past societies in Ireland, dating from the earliest human occupation of Ireland at the end of 8th millennium BC right through to relatively recent times, take a wide variety of forms, including settlement and industrial sites and structures, field systems, ritual and funerary monuments and also artefacts, but collectively this archaeological resource should be seen as an archive which allows many fundamental aspects of the story of the people who have lived in Ireland over the past 9,000 years to be investigated and better understood in a way and to a degree which would not otherwise be possible.
As a resource, the archaeological heritage is a finite and non-renewable one. Given its importance and non-renewable nature it is essential to secure its protection and proper management. This does not mean preservingin situ all the material remains of the past, but it means we should try to ensure that, as a minimum, material remains of past societies which can contribute to our understanding of the past are not destroyed without appropriate archaeological investigation and recording, and that such destruction should not take place without good reasons, be they for the sake of archaeological research or to allow development necessary in the public interest.
The ratification of the Valletta Convention at this time is an important statement of our continuing commitment to the protection of the archaeological heritage. The convention provides member states with a means of proclaiming common principles for the protection of the archaeological heritage of Europe. It lays down European standards for the protection of this heritage and sets out a range of obligations which signatories undertake to implement. These obligations relate to the identification of the archaeological heritage to be protected, the implementation of statutory protection procedures and technical co-operation in matters relating to the archaeological heritage between parties to the convention.
The formal purpose of today's debate is to comply with Article 29 of the Constitution, which requires Dáil approval to international conventions which involve a charge on public funds.
The main undertakings to be given by states ratifying or acceding to the convention are: (1) to institute a legal system for the protection of the archaeological heritage — which is defined as all remains and objects and any other traces of mankind from past epochs, the preservation and study of which help to retrace the history of mankind and its relation with the natural environment and for which excavations or discoveries and other methods of research into mankind and the related environment are the main sources of information, and includes structures, constructions, groups of buildings, developed sites, movable objects, monuments of other kinds, as well as their context, whether they are situated on land or under water — and to make provision in that protective legal system for: the maintenance of an inventory of the archaeological heritage and the designation of protected monuments and areas; the creation of archaeological reserves for preservation and future study; and the mandatory reporting to the authorities by finders of the chance discovery of elements of the archaeological heritage and making them available for examination; (2) to apply procedures for the authorisation and supervision of excavations and other archaeological activities in order to: prevent any illicit excavation or removal of elements of the archaeological heritage; ensure that non-destructive methods of investigation are used where possible, that elements of the archaeological heritage are not left uncovered or exposed during or after excavations without provisions being made for their proper preservation, conservation and management and that excavations are carried out by qualified, authorised persons; ensure that the use of metal detectors and other detection equipment for archaeological investigation is subject to prior authorisation; (3) to make provision for: the acquisition or protection by other appropriate means by public authorities of proposed archaeological reserves; the conservation and maintenance of the archaeological heritage, preferablyin situ; and for appropriate storage places for archaeological remains which have been removed from their original location; (4) to ensure that: archaeologists participate in planning policies designed to protect and conserve sites of archaeological interest, and in the various stages of development schemes; that archaeologists and planners consult one another to permit the modification of development plans likely to have adverse effects on the archaeological heritage and to allocate time and resources for appropriate scientific studies of sites and publication of findings; environmental impact assessments and resulting decisions take full account of archaeological sites and their settings; elements of the archaeological heritage found during development work are conserved in situ when feasible; and the opening of archaeological sites to the public, especially any structural works necessary for the reception of large numbers, does not adversely affect the archaeological character of such sites and their surroundings; (5) to provide public financial support for archaeological research, increase the resources for rescue archaeology, ensure that provision is made in development schemes for covering, from public or private resources, the total costs of related archaeological operations, and provide in the budgets for development schemes for preliminary archaeological study and prospection, for a scientific summary record and for full publication and recording of the findings; (6) to facilitate the study of, and dissemination of knowledge about, archaeological discoveries, make or bring up to date surveys, inventories and maps of archaeological sites and take all practical measures to ensure the drafting, following archaeological operations, of a publishable scientific record before the publication of comprehensive studies; (7) to facilitate national and international exchange of elements of the archaeological heritage for scientific purposes, promote the pooling of information on archaeological research and excavations and contribute to international research programmes; (8) to educate the public in the value of archaeological heritage and the threats to it, promote public access to important elements of this heritage, and encourage public display of selected archaeological objects; (9) in the prevention of the illicit circulation of elements of the archaeological heritage to: arrange for the relevant public authorities and for scientific institutions to pool information on any illicit excavations; inform competent authorities in the states of origin of any offers suspected of coming from illicit excavations or unlawfully from official excavations; ensure that museums and similar institutions whose acquisition policies are under State control do not acquire elements of the archaeological heritage suspected of coming from uncontrolled finds or illicit excavations or unlawfully from official excavations; convey the text of the convention to museums and similar institutions whose acquisition policies are not under State control, and make every effort to ensure that such bodies respect the same principles in acquisition of elements of the archaeological heritage suspected of coming from uncontrolled finds, etc. as apply to museums and similar bodies whose acquisition policies are under State control; restrict by education, vigilance and co-operation the illicit circulation of elements of the archaeological heritage; and (10) provide mutual technical assistance through the exchange of information and experts in matters concerning the archaeological heritage, and encourage, under relevant legislation or agreements, exchanges of specialists in the preservation of the archaeological heritage, including those responsible for further training.
The convention also provides that a committee of experts will monitor the application of the convention and report periodically to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and that the European Union or any state not a member of the Council of Europe may be invited to accede to the convention. I am satisfied existing legislation and practice are adequate to give full effect to all of the obligations the convention will impose on the State on ratification.
The programme, A Government of Renewal, contains a number of commitments in the heritage area, many of which have been implemented during the past year and a half. The most notable of these are the establishment of the Heritage Council on a statutory basis in 1995 and the completion of the transfer of responsibility for heritage services to my Department last year. The Heritage Act, 1995, under which the Heritage Council was set up, provides for the establishment of a standing committee on archaeology, which effectively replaces the National Monuments Advisory Council in so far as the archaeological side of that body's responsibilities are concerned.
The programme also contains a commitment to continue work on a full national audit of archaeological sites. This work is being carried out by the national monuments and historic properties service of my Department under the Archaeological Survey of Ireland programme. This work commenced in the 1960s. In 1992, there was a programme of compilation of known archaeological monuments and sites was completed with the publication of the sites and monuments records, SMRs, on a county basis. The SMRs identify archaeological sites and monuments by reference to maps and townlands of location. A complementary urban archaeological survey of medieval and plantation towns, which has been incorporated in the SMRs, was completed in 1995. The SMRs are distributed to planning authorities and to various other agencies concerned with local and national development issues to ensure that those involved in large scale land use are aware of the existence of archaeological sites and so avoid damaging them.
The next stage of the survey, the compilation and publication of an archaeological inventory for each county based on extensive field work, is in progress. To date, inventories have been published for nine counties, while inventories for seven counties will be published this year or early next year. Work is well advanced on the remaining counties.
Article 7 of the convention obliges parties to it to promote archaeological research. Discovery Programme Limited is carrying out very valuable work in the archaeological research field. The Discovery Programme was established in 1991 with the twin objectives of carrying out focused archaeological research on Ireland's past and making this available to the academic community and the public at large. In January 1996 it was established formally as a non-profit making company, funded by way of an annual grant from the Heritage Council. At present it has four major projects under way, each looking at different aspects of the late prehistoric period. These are Tara, North Munster, the Western Stone Forts and Ballyhoura Hills. An additional £80,000 was made available to the Heritage Council in the budget to enable Discovery Programme Limited to continue its work on the Tara project. This additional allocation to Discovery Programme Limited increases its 1997 funding to £0.63 million.
Mar fhocal scoir, agus ag tagairt arís don rún atá á phlé anois, ba mhaith liom a dhearbhú arís go bhfuil an rún ag teacht os comhair an Tí seo de bharr riachtanais Airteagal 29, fo-Airteagal 5.2, den Bhunreacht, a deireann nach mbeidh chonradh idirnáisiúnta a chuirfeadh costas ar an gciste poiblí ina cheangal ar an Stát mura dtoileoidh Dáil Éireann le téarmaí an chonartha sin.
Molaim an rún don Teach.