Minister for the Environment John Gormley is to review how the State protects its national heritage and landscape following the controversy over the planned construction of the M3 motorway over historic sites near the Hill of Tara.
Mr Gormley said today that Tara and "similar controversies" of recent years raised the "valid question" as to whether the current measures we have to protect our archaeological and natural landscape are adequate. However, he again insisted he had no power to review the decision of his predecessor Dick Roche on the route of the motorway.
"I recognise fully that we live in a dynamic and changing landscape and housing, commercial and infrastructure development is an important part of that dynamic. Yet we have a rich and amazing natural and archaeological heritage which we are duty-bound to protect," the Minister said.
"I agree with bodies such as the Heritage Council who have said that we do need enhanced measures. Therefore in the coming weeks I will begin a consultative process in order to bring forward a new National Landscape Strategy."
Publishing documents relating to the recent discovery of a national monument at Lismullen, about five miles south of Navan on the planned route of the M3, Mr Gormley again insisted he has no power to review the decision of his predecessor Dick Roche in relation to the routing of the road near the Hill of Tara.
Mr Gormley said that in releasing the documents he was keeping the promise he had made on his appointment as Minister to make the information available.
The Minister said he considered it to be in the public interest that the relevant papers be made publicly available "so that people can get a better understanding" of the decision made before he took office.
"I intend to be fully open and transparent on this and other issues," Mr Gormley said in a statement.
He said he had received "unequivocal" advice from the Attorney General that, without a change in material circumstances relating to the newly discovered monument, it "is not open to him to review, or amend, the directions given by his predecessor in this case".
The Minister said the protection of the national heritage was "a priority" for him. "I will not hesitate to exercise my statutory powers to issue directions appropriate to the particular circumstances should any new site of national importance emerge."
The Campaign to Save Tara welcomed the publication of the file on Lismullen, but criticised the Minister for failing to release all materials relating to all the sites which have been uncovered so far. "[This] is baffling and requires explanation," the group said in a statement.
The statement said the documents released today prove that even though the National Museum recommended the designation of other sites as national monuments, they were destroyed.
"The documents make clear that Baronstown, the site destroyed under cover of darkness during the early hours of Tuesday morning, was considered a National Monument by Pat Wallace, the Director of the National Museum."
It said the non-designation of other sites such as Dowdstown and Collierstown as national monuments was based "not on sound archaeological judgment, but on political expediency and the desire not to interfere with powerful local and national vested interests".
Campaigner Vincent Salafia of TaraWatch, who has taken an unsuccessful legal challenge to the proposed motorway, said the new information reveals the failure of both ministers Roche and Gormley to act on the advice of the National Museum.
"The release of the media file was delayed by one week, without explanation. It contains clear evidence that Baronstown should have been declared a national monument," he said.
"Minister Gormley refused to place temporary preservation orders on the sites in the Tara/Skryne Valley, after we specifically asked him to do so. He could have saved Baronstown, because it was not covered by the previous Minister's directions covering Lismullen," Mr Salafia said.
Mr Salafia called on Mr Gormley to place a temporary preservation order on all remaining sites, stop the works at Tara immediately and extend the remit of the committee set up to examine the Lismullen national monument to all the remaining sites.