Letter to the editor Irish Times June 1st 2005
ROCHE DECISION ON M3 AND TARA
Madam, - In a recent broadside against members of the academic community, and your Environment correspondent Frank McDonald, the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, TD, accuses his critics of "disinformation" and "distortion" (Opinion, May 21st). Serious charges - if they stand up to scrutiny.
What irks the Minister most, it seems, is that many academics (especially
those in medieval history, archaeology and Old Irish language and
literature) continue to oppose the planned M3 despite his protests that the
planning process was served. That and Mr McDonald's description (The Irish Times, May 12th) of the Minister's position on the matter as "disingenuous".
It is the case, however, that in the earlier stages of this controversy,
information-dissemination (in which the principal agent was Meath County
Council) and much of the planning process took place at local level. There
was inadequate national political debate and insufficient consultation with
relevant academic bodies. To blame academics is an easy option: a great
many academics know as much about planning processes as the Government appears to know about early Irish history and archaeology. All the more reason for greater consultation.
The Minister is defending a planning process (and a decision made thereby in August 2003) which seems appropriate to local circumstances and to monuments of local importance, but for sites of international significance, such as Tara, is woefully inadequate. At stake here is no less than the permanent blighting of a ritual landscape extending from Tara to Skryne, which early medieval scholarship - not just modern academics - viewed as a unit. This was the resort of (among others) British and Belgic tribes which settled in its hinterland in the later Iron Age.
Stressing the international significance of the Tara-Skryne Valley is not
distortion; nor is pointing out that excavation of archaeological sites on
the route does not compensate for sacrificing the integrity of this unique
landscape. The Minister's defence - that earlier development including the
present N3 had its impact - is disingenuous to say the least. Nothing on
the scale of the proposed four-lane motorway and Philpotstown interchange has been built in the area before.
What is required is an amendment to the route; most of us accept the need for a motorway. My academic colleagues and I are not asking Mr Roche to "abuse" his powers, but to "use" them. The Minister and his cabinet colleagues were elected as legislators; have they the courage to legislate - or do they propose, like a certain political figure of old, to wash their hands and proclaim: "Quod scripsi scripsi"? - Yours, etc,
Dr A.S. MacSHAMHR?IN,
Department of Old and Middle Irish,
National University of Ireland,