An act designed to facilitate roads and real estate

 

The National Monuments Act, 2004, has been billed as the "final solution" to the impasse at Carrickmines Castle, which lies directly in the path of the M50 toll road in south Dublin. Demolition of approximately half the site began yesterday, writes Vincent Salafia

In fact, the Act is about much more than Carrickmines, as it enables other tolled motorways and commercial real estate developments to proceed without fear of legal challenges on heritage grounds.

Sites currently under threat include the Tara complex, Ireland's premier monument, and the incredible Viking site in Woodstown. On one road alone, the N9-N10 (Kilcullen-Waterford toll road), 14 lesser-known national monuments have been identified and will soon be simply a matter of record.

Many accurate comparisons have been made between the campaign to save Wood Quay in the 1970s and the current fight to save Carrickmines Castle. The tactics of Carrickminders, combining direct action and legal action, are almost identical. Both battles hinged on High Court injunctions, granted under the National Monuments Act.

While the campaigns are similar, Carrickmines Castle lies on the front lines of a war of massive proportions, as it is only one of hundreds of national monuments scheduled for demolition, or already demolished, under the current multi-billion euro road-building programme, and property development frenzy.

A decade ago, the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994, was universally applauded. This amendment was meant to assure citizens that Wood Quay would never happen again. As with each preceding amendment to the Act, it strengthened protections, in accordance with our increased understanding of the "historical, architectural, traditional, artistic and archaeological importance" of our national assets.

The 2004 amendment butchers all preceding ones, removing procedural and substantive safeguards and rendering the Act toothless. It gives the Minister for Heritage unlimited discretion, reduces the number of parties involved in deciding the fate of a national monument, and removes the requirement that the Minister's order to demolish a national monument be placed before the Oireachtas for 21 sitting days. These amendments eviscerate the core democratic checks and balances put in place by the 1994 Act.

The Minister can now consider almost unlimited factors, "to the extent that they appear to the Minister to be relevant in exercising discretion in any particular case", in arriving at his decision to "demolish or remove wholly or in part or to disfigure, deface, alter, or in any manner injure or interfere with" a national monument.

For instance, "any matter of policy of the Government, of the Minister or of any other Minister of the Government" overrides any national monument. What is more, the Minister can justify his action with "any social or economic benefit that would accrue to the State or region or immediate area in which the national monument is situated as the result of the carrying out of the road development".

It appears that the National Roads Authority (NRA), now €10 billion over budget on its projected overall costs under the National Development Plan, had a major role in drafting this latest amendment.

The proposed M3 tolled motorway through the Hill of Tara complex ups the stakes to unimaginable proportions. Before the proposal the Government spent upwards of €10 million on the Discovery Programme, investigating the nature and extent of this spectacular landscape. We now know that the complex began with a single structure, Duma na nGiall, in 3000 BC. Successive generations added to it, in such a way as to enhance the former and integrate the new: to create a complex, whose whole is far greater than the sum of the individual parts.

This new draconian legislation, which will facilitate the Tara toll road, will soon be put to the test in the High Court, as paperwork is being prepared to seek interlocutory injunctions against the M50 and the proposed M3. The constitutionality of the Act itself will be directly contested. Litigation, it would seem, is the only truly democratic mechanism left open to an Irish citizen, since attempts at negotiation have failed.

Much of the funding for these road projects has been provided by the EU. But as of December 2003, Ireland is no longer eligible to apply for many new grants. So the Government has turned to toll companies and public private partnership investment schemes instead. Private partners include the controversial Halliburton/Kellog, Brown, and Root. Land is being compulsorily purchased from private citizens by local authorities and turned over to private multinational companies, which will reap huge profits from generations to come.

The National Monuments Act, 2004, is not designed to preserve monuments, but to facilitate road building and real estate development in an unsustainable manner.

It is unconstitutional, unethical and un-Irish.

This crisis has more in common with present-day China than 1970s Dublin. Fifty years ago, China had 300 walled cities. Now only four remain. Of China's 2,000 historic cities, only about 20 have been well-preserved. An urban planner there recently remarked: "The speed of the urbanisation took everyone by surprise. We managed to save a few but the destruction was so fast."

Vincent Salafia is a lawyer, co-founder of Carrickminders and PRO of Save Tara Skryne Valley Group