National Monuments Bill in final draft stage


A NEW National Monuments Bill that will introduce a single licensing regime for all archaeological activities is in the final stages of being drafted.

Heads of the Bill, which Minister for the Environment John Gormley has described as the most comprehensive piece of legislation in this area for 80 years, were approved by the Government last month.

The Minister said that he was anxious to see the Bill introduced in the Oireachtas as soon as possible. He had been criticised by Fine Gael’s heritage spokesman, James Bannon, for the long delay in producing the legislation.

Running to 400 pages, the new Bill would replace existing legislation dating back to the first National Monuments Act in 1930. It includes a 2004 Act which made it easier to override archaeology in the interest of development.

Key objectives of the new legislation are to maintain a balance between development needs and archaeological protection and to support Government policies aimed at ensuring cost-effective implementation of infrastructure programmes.

“Protecting and promoting an appreciation and awareness of Ireland’s unique built heritage while also facilitating continued economic and social development are central tenets of the Bill,” Mr Gormley said. His responsibilities include archaeological protection.

The 2007 Fianna Fáil-Green Party programme for Government pledged to update the law on national monuments and this was reiterated last October. “I am pleased that the detailed shaping of this major new piece of legislation has now begun in earnest,” the Minister added.

The new Bill, when enacted, is intended to “eliminate anomalies and inconsistencies in this code that have arisen over the years and will provide a more effective . . . regulatory regime for the recording and protection of monuments”. It would provide a new code to replace the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2004, including a single register of monuments to replace existing statutory and non-statutory records. All monuments will have either “special” protection or “general” protection.

There would also be a statutory mechanism for the reporting of finds of all new discoveries of monuments, including wrecks at sea, and for prescribing certain classes of archaeological monument to be subject to general protection, following discovery.

The Bill would introduce a “single consistent system” for regulating archaeological works in relation to all types of development, both in the public and private sectors. At present, different regimes apply to approved public and private sector projects.

There would also be a more efficient licensing system for excavations, effectively providing for a single licence for archaeological works relating to a particular project, rather than a multiplicity of licences and consents which can be required at present.

Instead of varying usage of the terms “licence” and “consent” under existing legislation, the Bill will use the term “licence” consistently throughout. A method statement would be required covering all activities proposed be carried out on an archaeological site.