Meath motorway officially opens

 

The new M3, the biggest and most controversial road project in the history of the State, was opened this morning.

Protesters were kept well back from the ribbon-cutting ceremony which was carried out on a stretch of the motorway between Navan and the Athboy interchange.

The tolled motorway will bypass Dunshaughlin, Kells and Navan, which have been three of the worst bottlenecks in Ireland for decades.

Along with 60km of motorway, there will be 35km of side roads, 15km of link roads and a four kilometre N52 bypass of Kells.

Security was tight for the opening and it was by invitation-only. Protesters were allowed no further than the Athboy interchange which is about two kilometres from where the opening took place.

The guests included representatives from the Spanish-based company Ferrovial who were one of the companies involved in the construction.

There were also Garda checkpoints at the entrance to the opening ceremony, and a Garda helicopter monitored the movement of protesters from above.

The M3 which will connect Clonee to near the Cavan-Meath border has been dogged by controversy since it was first proposed in 1997.

Campaigners fought a long and ultimately fruitless battle to stop a section of the motorway being built near the Hill of Tara, but the Government argued that the new motorway was actually further away from the hill than the existing N3.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said it was a historic day for a county steeped in history. The Meath TD  said the people of Dunshauglin, Navan and Kells will now get their town back and his only regret was that the motorway had not been built sooner.

The chairman of Meath County Council, Cllr William Carey, said he understood that some people were upset that important archaeological remains were disturbed, but he was convinced that the least intrusive route was taken.

Irish writer Colm Tóibín said the desecration of the landscape around Tara was shameful, short-sighted and beyond belief. “In a time when Ireland needs places which have a sacred aura and a special beauty more than ever, it is sad to see those who have misruled our country ganging up on our heritage,” he said.

Vincent Salafia, of TaraWatch, said activists have been completely vindicated in their campaign against the route of this road. “The majority of Irish people, including most of our leading artists, as well as the EU and the major international archaeological bodies, have condemned it.The same reckless disregard for ethics, rights and regulation that brought down the economy, was employed to bulldoze this road through," he said.

The motorway opened to traffic at 4pm today. There are tolls at Dunshaughlin and Clonee and one at Grange between Navan and Kells. The cost will be 1.30 for each toll.