The property referred to contains a national monument in my ownership as Minister. The day-to-day care of this national monument is undertaken by the Office of Public Works, OPW, on behalf of my Department which has overall policy responsibility for its long-term conservation. The property is also part of a larger special protection area, SPA, under the birds directive. My Department is aware that recent surveys have found larger colonies of certain bird species than were known previously. Some of the survey work was partly funded by the Department.
My Department continues to explore ways to optimise the protection and presentation of heritage sites under our control in a way that is compatible with conservation objectives and that provides excellent value for money outcomes to the state. In some instances this has included strategic land purchases. As it is in State care, the national monument on this site is fully protected under the National Monuments Acts. Any works at or in its vicinity may only be carried out with ministerial consent under those Acts. This will remain so, irrespective of future ownership arrangements. As we have discussed before, access to the site is very difficult and, therefore, any acquisition would bring little benefit in terms of visitor access to the monuments on the site. The same access issues also mean that disturbance levels are low, which is of benefit to the breeding birds.
Property acquisition by my Department is the exception rather than the norm. The countryside is populated with a rich range of almost 150,000 archaeological monuments. The Department, working with OPW, is only in a position to acquire, maintain, conserve and present to the public a limited number of properties and monuments. Acquisitions are, therefore, only contemplated where there is a clear, tangible and substantial benefit to the overall quality and management of the State’s heritage portfolio.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In this case, the national monument and other recorded monuments are already well protected. Even if the entire property were in public ownership, public access would continue to be hazardous and unsuitable for large-scale visitor exploration, which of itself also provides a significant safeguard for the bird population. Additionally, value for money principles must be carefully considered where any acquisition is proposed. Neither would it be appropriate or prudent for me to compromise any possible acquisition proposals by publicly disclosing interest or otherwise in any property.