The statutory provisions relating to the use or possession of detection devices for archaeological purposes, and in relation to discoveries of archaeological objects generally, are set out in the National Monuments Acts.
While it is unlawful to be in possession of, or to use, a detection device on any monument site protected under those Acts without Ministerial consent under section 2 of the 1987 National Monuments (Amendment) Act, such consent is only otherwise needed where the device is being used for the express purpose of searching for archaeological objects. Therefore, where a person using a detection device other than to search for archaeological objects finds such an object and complies with the legal requirement to report it to the National Museum, they would not have committed an offence under the National Monuments Acts. In summary, if an archaeological object is discovered by chance, provided the find is reported as required, no offence would be committed.
I do want to emphasise, however, that unregulated and inappropriate use of metal detectors does cause serious and irreparable damage to Ireland’s archaeological heritage. Unsupervised recovery of archaeological objects can greatly diminish, and could entirely eliminate, any research value that might be gained from a particular discovery. Archaeological objects must be excavated in a structured scientific manner, with careful recording of their association with other objects, structures, features and soil layers.
I believe that the Deputy would support me in wanting to retain a system where important cultural heritage material found in the State belongs to the people and is not liable to fall into private ownership and that he would back the existing legislative framework rather than seeking to introduce changes that would be inappropriate to the circumstances as they exist in Ireland.
I consider the present legislative framework, and the manner in which it is implemented, to be reasonable, proportionate and essential to preventing irreparable loss and damage to our national heritage. Therefore, I have no proposals to make any changes to the law as it applies to the use of metal detecting devices.