Madam, - The National Roads Authority and Meath County Council fully acknowledge the cultural and archaeological importance of the Hill of Tara.However, there appears to be a general misapprehension about the scale of the impact of the M3 motorway scheme on archaeology and the number of archaeological sites affected by it. The letter in your edition of February 23rd refers to "the hundreds of other monuments in this archaeological complex" that will, supposedly, be destroyed by the proposed road.
For the record, two recorded sites (i.e. listed on the Record of Monuments and Places) are affected along the entire 60 kilometres of the route. Geophysical survey has found three further sites that the road will directly affect and field-walking surveys identified 15 other possible archaeological sites in the line of the route. All of these are a considerable distance from Tara.
Meath County Council and the National Roads Authority are very aware of the potential for new archaeological sites to be uncovered in the development of any road scheme, and this is particularly so in a county as historically and archaeologically rich as Meath.
For this reason it is proposed to comprehensively test the whole of the remainder of the route so that any archaeological site, whether currently known or newly discovered, that cannot be preserved in situ, will be fully excavated prior to construction of the road, ensuring their preservation by record in accordance with stated Government policy.
The report of the An Bord Pleanála inspector appointed to inquire into the scheme concluded that he was satisfied the proposed route would not have a significant impact on the archaeological landscape associated with the Hill of Tara nor on the archaeological landscape associated with the Hill of Skreen. This conclusion is testament to the comprehensive planning and route selection process engaged in by Meath County Council and the NRA, which involved extensive consultation with members of the public and interest groups well beyond that required by statute.
That process culminated in the publication of an Environmental Impact Statement (which considered all environmental impacts, including archaeology) and the holding of an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála lasting for 28 days - one of the longest in the history of the State.
While many people did participate in the oral hearing, the vast majority of the signatories to last Monday's letter did not. Nor did they seek to bring judicial review proceedings against the decision of the board, as provided for under the planning Acts.
Despite this, the letter asks for viable options to be placed before the Irish nation openly and democratically. This has already been done. Its call for "simply moving the M3" would, in effect, undermine the extensive efforts that went into the route selection process leading to the current route being chosen. The suggested widening of the existing road would also require major development, but closer to the Hill of Tara than the current proposal, with arguably greater archaeological impact.
There are other significant effects associated with this option: are we being asked to demolish homes and businesses along the existing N3?
Road planning is a difficult and complex process which tries to balance a wide range of often competing factors. Through comprehensive planning, consultation and consideration of environmental issues, Meath County Council and the National Roads Authority are seeking to deliver a vital piece of the modern national road infrastructure that the great majority of the people of Ireland demand, while also ensuring that the Hill of Tara can still "constitute the heart and soul of Ireland". - Yours, etc.,
Assistant Regulatory Manager,
National Roads Authority,