Archaeologists warn of damage from 'draconian cuts'

 

THE INSTITUTE of Archaeologists of Ireland has called on Minister for the Environment John Gormley to reverse “draconian cuts” in spending on the heritage sector.

In a statement yesterday to coincide with the winter solstice at Newgrange, the institute said the unprecedented cuts made in the Budget would have “an immediate and long-lasting impact” on communities around the State.

It would also mean that archaeologists and other heritage professionals “will endure a bleak 2011”. Even before the cuts were made, the institute estimated that the number of archaeologists drawing a living wage had fallen from 1,750 to about 350.

While overall capital spending in the Budget had been cut by 28 per cent, institute chairwoman Finola O’Carroll said the Heritage Council’s capital allocation had been cut by 66 per cent, its current spending cut by 47 per cent and the built heritage heading by 83 per cent.

“That’s the budget to look after historic properties, fund Instar [the Irish National Strategic Archaeological Research programme], fund the Royal Irish Academy excavation grants, publications, grants to local authorities for historic buildings etc”, she told The Irish Times.

“This is completely disproportionate and obviously reflects a political choice, at a time when tourism, particularly cultural tourism, is touted as the great white hope,” she said. “If any other sector had its research and development cut to this extent there would be war.”

Ms O’Carroll added: “On the day when our ancestors marked the ending of one year and looked forward with hope to the beginning of a new year, our profession, which has haemorrhaged jobs during the recession, faces into a new year losing more of our best and brightest young archaeologists.”

In its statement, the institute said the cuts would “curtail the conservation of national monuments in State ownership, restrict the funding of research excavations through the Royal Irish Academy and reduce interpretation for tourists at national monuments sites”.

The cuts would also “imperil two flagship archaeological projects – the Discovery Programme and Instar”, both of which had “contributed enormously to understanding our heritage and bringing that information to the people of Ireland and further afield”.

Noting that Instar had been hailed as “a spectacular success and a model for other countries to follow”, the institute said it was “deeply concerned” that the continued existence of both projects and some 40 jobs were in doubt as a result of the Budget cuts.

The Heritage Council also funds many community-based projects, which can enhance the pride of local communities in their heritage and help to ensure its preservation for future generations.

The ability of the Heritage Council to support local communities was also “severely constrained” as a result of the cuts, the institute said – it cited a study showing that the council’s €16,000 funding of a project in Youghal, Co Cork, had generated €480,000 for the local economy.

“The Government has identified tourism, particularly cultural tourism, as a key element in the recently published National Recovery Plan, and is supporting this initiative with a 19 per cent increase in funding for tourism product development through the Department of Tourism,” the Institute of Archaeologists added.

“It is illogical that funding leading to the creation of knowledge and awareness of our cultural heritage and the conservation and presentation of heritage sites around the country is being cut. This is akin to spending money on a new car but finding that you can’t afford to pay for the petrol.”