Still crying 'Save Tara' – its not over yet!
Over the past decade, we’ve all much too slowly become aware of the considerable controversy regarding construction of the M3 Motorway along the valley between the Hill of Tara and the Hill of Skryne in County Meath. This ancient landscape is over 7000 years old and considered the cradle of Irish civilization. Yet the construction of the M3 tolled motorway has unrelentingly cut through it, with the proposed opening date set for July 2010.
For many long years the battle to save Tara has raged on as ordinary Irish people have tried in vain to defend this sacred valley.
The Celtic City of Tara was a royal astrological and ritual centre. The planned
road cuts through the centre of this city. If the road goes ahead we will loose
this world heritage site forever.
Tara is believed to be 6000 years old, and predates the pyramids.
Dr. Muireann Ní Bhrolchain, Historian, NUI, Maynooth, and founder of SaveTara.com
Tara is central to the cultural heritage of the Irish people. Many of its complex archeological monuments, numbering at least 141, known, identified sites such as Baronstown, Rath Lugh, Roestown, Lismullin and Soldier Hill, and including newly discovered underground chambers and passages possibly belonging to the Early Christian period, have been destroyed by a government entrusted with protecting them.
In a late 2007 Irish Times Poll on Tara, 82% voted YES! to the question: ‘Do you think the Hill of Tara should be added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites?’ The European Union says the decision to place the M3 freeway along this route was flawed and flouts directives designed to protect our heritage. Now it is feared that this move is a first step to opening this previously untouchable protected area to development. By contrast, governments of third world countries are going to great lengths to restore and preserve and protect their monuments.
What’s more, a shorter, cheaper and archaeologically superior route lies outside the historic valley, along the old Navan rail line to the West of the Hill of Tara, which would be a straight run, rather than the circuitous and in this case unnecessarily LONGER route around the Hill of Tara.
This area, to the west of the hill of Tara, is a much more environmentally friendly location (if such a place can be said to exist in all of Ireland) for a new roadway, and would make for a shorter commute and less traffic through an already congested convergence of roadways.
Two-thirds of the Irish public when polled supported this alternative route. The existing N3 is an average two-lane road, built within the existing contours and shape of the valley. However, the M3 is radically different.
Unlike the current and established road system the four-lane motorway and major floodlit interchange will not respect the topographical contours of the landscape but will be ramped or gouged through the valley as required to meet motorway construction standards. And, in subsequent years, industrial parks and housing estates will inevitably spring-up around the purpose built interchange.., a little over 1.5km to the north of Tara's 'Banqueting Hall'. (The Geophysical Survey of the M3 Toll-Motorway Corridor, from Journal of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society, 2005).
Tara, at present, is surrounded by green fields in the heart of rich farming land. The impact of building the M3 through Tara is truly irreparable, because settlement and industrialisation will inevitably follow, since Tara is so close to Dublin. If the National Roads Authority (NRA) has its way Tara will be a tiny hill, surrounded by spreading urbanisation. It is also important to note that the major floodlit interchange, only 1.5 km from the hill itself, would take up more than 25 acres (10 hectares) in size. We already know that a shopping mall developer purchased 200 acres on all four corners of the proposed interchange, long before the M3 go-ahead.
Suffice it to say, many laws have been broken in planning for this route, including Meath County Council planning guidelines. The National Monuments Amendment Act 2004 was passed to support the construction of PPP (Public Private Partnership) toll roads, destroying historic places of great natural beauty.
Many share the suspicion that developers are behind many inexplicable development decisions. The Irish Government's refusal to discuss the flaws in the planning process and purchase of lands by developers along the many new freeway routes crisscrossing Ireland helps fuel rumours that developer's money is behind the government's intransigence. The expectation is that developers will be ready and waiting to pounce with plans for development along the route when the current real estate boom-bust cycle runs its course. According to a 1980 Lincoln Institute of Land Policy report Land into Cities it takes 15 years between speculative purchase of land, at farm prices, and sale of land to developers at inflated prices. This time-line takes us right up to the next expected real estate boom in the mid 2020s. The Chairman of the NRA, Peter Malone is also Chairman of one of the biggest Real Estate Development company in the world:
CB Richard Ellis, Ireland.
On Feb. 1, 2010, an Irish Independent report revealed a fine example of PPP rorting:
A PRIVATE company is set to reap a massive €1.15bn windfall from the M50 West-Link toll bridges it built for just €58m, the Irish Independent has learned. National Toll Roads (NTR) almost recouped the entire construction costs in 2007 alone, when it took in €46m in tolls from motorists. And it is going to get up to €50m per year for the next decade in compensation from the State, which bought out the notorious tolled link in 2008.
The article revealed that the State did not insert a termination clause in the West-Link contract, and as a consequence was in a weak position when it wanted to buy out NTR in 2008. National Roads Authority (NRA) chief executive Fred Barry said he agreed the contract had led to a "windfall situation" for NTR, while a spokesperson for the Department of Transport said it was akin to "winning the lotto". According to the Independent report, at the time of the State’s buyout of the West Link Toll Bridge in 2008, the chairman of NTR, Tom Roche Jnr commented that the buy-out had decimated the company's Irish toll business "albeit at a good price".
The Irish Government's ongoing Tribunal of Inquiry Into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, commonly known as the Mahon Tribunal in honor of its chairman, and previously as the Flood Tribunal, which was established in 1997, continues to hear evidence that political donations have been paid, in cash and via deposits to offshore bank accounts, to several named Irish politicians, who’ve since become known as the Thieves of Tara. An excerpt from the first Flood Tribunal report, page 2, reveals how the Tribunal came to be established:
On the 3rd July 1995, a notice appeared in two Irish daily newspapers offering a £10,000 reward to persons providing information leading to the conviction of persons involved in corruption in connection with the planning process. Donnelly Neary Donnelly, Solicitors of Newry, Co. Down, placed this notice on behalf of unnamed clients. This notice was the subject of much public comment at the time of its insertion, and subsequently, both in the print media and in Dail Eireann."
The Irish government has yet to explain why they selected the Tara route when it is widely known that:
• An argument by the Project Archaeologist, based on archaeological information by Tara world expert Conor Newman that the route chosen was the least desirable and most disastrous for the Tara landscape;
• The Council decision not to supply the details or the information that was needed by objectors was wrong. The Planning Board agreed it had a ‘customer service’ problem but that was not its concern;
• The dismissal of the public consultation section because ‘it was not a legal requirement’ after it was proven that the Council's figures were rigged and the public chose a route outside the valley.
Internationally, climate change and energy commentators are calling on governments to scrap all airport and road network expansion forthwith, because there will be plenty of spare capacity when we reach Peak Oil, in the near future!
American energy economist Dr. Roger Bezdek had this to say,
I recommend that any proposed improvement or expansion projects (airports and roads) be subject to oil vulnerability analysis. How viable are these plans, not next year or the year after, or five years from now, but 10, 15, 20 years or in 30 years does it make economic sense to invest billions and billions of dollars. The point is that you have to do a vulnerability assessment as due diligence.
(More information on this is available from the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas.)
Yet, there is hope!
This may not be a Great Depression, but it is a good one! Perhaps the Irish will learn something from the hard lessons associated with the current recession, their first direct experience of Real Estate Boom Bust Cycles. A more enlightened Irish government could reclaim the land surrounding the Hill of Tara and the M3 under ‘Just Terms’. In support of this possibility, an alternative proposal to development along the route of the M3 double-tolled freeway has been put forward - the imaginative, far-seeing and visionary Meath Master Plan.
The long-term benefits of a Meath World Heritage Site should be weighed against Ireland's reputation as a Heritage tourist destination. Issues surrounding the building of the M3 double-tolled freeway through the Tara/Skryne valleys is more than about preserving Ireland's unique cultural heritage. It is also about making sound judgments on issues of sustainability for Ireland's future!
It appears that Tara has been sold to the highest bidder, a business consortium that will stand to reap a substantial profit at our inestimable loss. To add insult to injury, each time we pass through the M3's toll-plaza barriers, we will do so in the knowledge that part of our money will be used to offset the costs of this cultural desecration.The real toll will be more than monetary; it will be at the expense of our self-respect as a people and dignity as a nation.
– Joe Fenwick, Department of Archaeology,NUI, Galway
We have pledged ourselves to the dead generations who have preserved intact for us this glorious heritage that we, too, will strive to be faithful to the end, and pass on this tradition unblemished.
– Eamon de Valera, who served in public office from 1917 to 1973, holding prime ministerial and presidential offices.
Tara is surrounded by historical reminiscences which give it an importance worthy of being considered by everyone who approaches it for political purposes and an elevation in the public mind which no other part of Ireland possesses.
– Daniel O’Connell, speaking to more than a million people converged on Tara. He is remembered as the founder of a non-violent form of Irish nationalism.
Mairéid launched the Anam Cara for Tara international 'arts action' campaign in 2007, under the auspice of the GlobalArtsCollective.org