• Overview
  • Irregularities
  • Finances
  • Finances : A Long And Winding Road
  • 30 Million Euro Added Costs To Deal With So Many Archaeological Sites
  • The Government’s Defensive Reasoning
  • Hill Means Hill
  • One Road = Two Roads
  • Archaeology: Take Five
  • Dig It

Planning permission was given in August 2003 for the M3 motorway to be built, only 1 km from the Hill of Tara. A 25 acre (10 hectares) major floodlit interchange will be situated only 1.5 km from the site of the ancient ‘Banqueting Hall’ on the hill. Full construction is scheduled to begin towards the end of 2005. The Government give no compelling reason why the M3 has to go through Tara. All expert opinion tells them that the core of Irish heritage will be irreparably destroyed, but yet the Minister for the Environment and the National Roads Authority insist on it. No real reason given. However everything planned in relation to Tara is not the clear straight-forward highway that the Government would have us believe.
[Top of page]

There are a number of unusual aspects to choosing the Tara route for the proposed M3. The Government by law had first to commission an Environmental Impact Statement before permission would be given. After researching the route it was told by its own archaeological consultants not to touch Tara “under any circumstances.”
“As early as 2000, archaeological consultants, Margaret Gowen and Co. Ltd., advised in their report that “the monuments around Tara cannot be viewed in isolation…but must be seen in the context of an intact archaeological landscape, which should not under any circumstances be disturbed”. .. the same document warns: “No mitigation would remove the effects of this route on the Hill of Tara or on its outlying monuments. It would have severe implications from an archaeological perspective”. Curiously, these recommendations are not contained in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).” (Joseph Fenwick, Lecturer in Archaeology, National University of Ireland, Galway, in an article for the Meath Chronicle 12th June 2004) .

Another firm of consultants, Halcrow Barry, was commissioned to draw up the Route Selection Report (2000/1.)

“This report does not recommend the route ultimately chosen.. remarkably, its findings are entirely omitted from the EIS.” (From article quoted above)

The former Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) John Bruton wrote in a letter of protest to the National Roads Authority – “the EIS was deficient, ..and we believe it is in violation of the E.U. Directive on environmental impact assessments.” He adds – “Given the sensitivity of the landscape, the density of archaeological remains, the evidence of the experts on Tara’s archaeology and the fact that this route was identified from the very outset as the least desirable from an archaeological point of view in the route selection process, it is incredible that this route was put forward and approved.” [See full letter under Expert Opinion ]

[Top of page]

It is worth remembering that enormous sums of money are involved in this scheme, the official estimated cost for the M3 is 680 million Euro’s. The proposed motorway, will be financed by Irish and European Union money, but as part of a new policy (Public Private Partnership) it will also be financed by the private sector. The proposed M3 will be a tolled motorway at either end, and the private investor will collect all the toll money taken for the next thirty years. Profits are estimated to be very high. This creates the situation in relation to Tara, which rightly belongs to the citizens of Ireland as a national treasure, that it will be destroyed using mostly Irish taxpayers money, but a private company will gain the financial profit. Likewise, what EU citizens will get in return for contributing EU funding is the destruction of commonly held European Celtic heritage.
Acknowledged archaeological expert on Tara, Joe Fenwick, has this to say –

“What then is the compelling reason why the route must go through the Tara/Skryne valley? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the M3 is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), involving state funding (our taxes) and private investment (for personal profit). Irrespective of the toll-charge the real cost, in terms of cultural destruction, will be too great a price to pay. How will this embarrassing situation be perceived by the EU; the source of generous European Regional Development and Cohesion Funds over the years?” (Meath Chronicle, 12.06.2004)

[Top of page]

Finances : A Long And Winding Road
The Irish Government has selected the Texan company Halliburton as a potential partner for the M3 scheme. This company has already been given a contract by the Irish Government for another road (the N8).
“The Direct Route consortium, in which KBR [Kellog, Brown & Root] is joined by four other companies, is now on the shortlist for the M3 toll road contract… the company, which is a subsidiary of Halliburton, ..[is] formerly headed by US Vice President Dick Cheney.” (Sunday Tribune, Eoghan Rice, 8 August 2004 ) .

Halliburton will be known to many people in relation to the war in Iraq, as the “company at the centre of a criminal probe into allegations it overcharged the US Government by $65m.” (From Sunday Tribune Article quoted above) . Halliburton will also be widely known from its inclusion in Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’.

The National Roads Authority itself is also not without financial controversy. The national road-building programme is now incredibly almost 10 billion Euro’s over budget. “In the latest report from the Controller and Auditor General, a tale unfolds of breathtaking incompetence and mismanagement in …the road construction programme” (Irish Independent 30 June 2004).

[Top of page]

30 Million Euro Added Costs To Deal With So Many Archaeological Sites
It seems the NRA, 10 billion over budget, is not at all concerned with the need to save taxpayers money. Explain to any child that Tara was at the centre of Irish history for over 5000 years and they will easily guess that there will be a lot of important archaeological monuments buried all around it. A child could also reason that to employ enough archaeologists will cost lots and lots of extra money. Former Taoiseach John Bruton wrote in February 2004 –
“As a taxpayer I am very worried that we will eventually find ourselves having to pay out a very substantial sum of money because of delays associated with sites that prove to be of immense archaeological significance”. [See full letter in Expert Opinion ]

The National Roads Authority’s own figures from September 2004 prove John Bruton to be right –

“Site excavations on M3 may cost €30m. Excavation of archaeological sites on the proposed route of the M3 motorway in Co Meath will cost up to €30 million, it emerged yesterday. At a presentation to Meath County Council, the National Roads Authority (NRA) confirmed 38 separate archaeological sites had been identified in the Skryne valley area, close to the hill of Tara, after route selection had been completed.” (The Irish Times, Tim O’Brien, 05.10.04)

This is 30 million Euro that would not have to be paid out by taxpayers had the NRA chosen a route that was not one of the richest archaeological and historical sites in Europe.

Also by choosing a route through the very centre of Irish heritage, the Minister knew that there would surely be legal challenges, perhaps protracted ones, which will add significantly to costs. The first legal challenge is now pending. There is also the real prospect, if it comes to it, of people gathering in the pathway of the diggers to protect Tara. This will obviously cause unnecessary strife and negative international publicity for Ireland, but it will also cost the Irish State considerable extra money. So what then are the sound economic reasons for choosing the Tara route to build a motorway, especially when the Government’s own experts advised against it from the start? Clearly there are no advantages at all in choosing this route for the ordinary Irish and European taxpayer.

[Top of page]

The Government’s Defensive Reasoning
There are no compelling reasons why the proposed motorway has to be built through Tara. None. Other routes are available, and other options. There is a disused railway-line already in the area which could easily be reopened, giving local people easy and cheap access to Dublin. This would be the best option for the environment, by reducing car emissions. It would also not disturb the beautiful rural landscape which Meath (the county Tara is in) is famous for. This is the option favoured by local people, but the Government show no interest. For whatever reasons, they insist on a major motorway at any price.
The National Roads Authority in their public statements and press releases, engage in a vigorous defence of their plans, but still never give a positive reason why Tara has to be the chosen route. The following are the main defensive points they like to raise, all of which can be easily countered.

[Top of page]

Hill Means Hill
The actual hill would not be touched, therefore no damage would be caused to Tara.
This argument would be akin to the Egyptian Government building a four-lane motorway right against the Giza pyramid, and claiming that because no blocks are actually knocked off the pyramid, no damage is caused to it, or its cultural integrity. All expert opinion, including the Government’s own consultants, has repeatedly stated that Tara is not just the hill, but the ancient lands around it which are part of its archaeology, history, culture and beauty. They cannot be divided from each other.

“All of the sites and monuments in this area are integral to the cultural landscape of Tara and destroying them in order to replace them with a motorway is a direct attack on the integrity of this landscape and its constituent parts. In truth, the landscape of Tara ought to be declared a World Heritage Site and proudly maintained for future generations.” (The Impact of the Proposed M3 Motorway on Tara and its Cultural Landscape by archaeologist Dr. Edel Bhreathnach et al. )

[Top of page]

One Road = Two Roads
A road already exists near Tara, so building another one won’t make any difference.
The existing N3 is an average two lane road, built within the existing contours and shape of the valley. However the proposed M3 would be 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) .

Tara at present is surrounded by green fields in the heart of rich farming land. If the M3 is built through Tara, the damage will truly be irreparable, because settlement and industrialisation will inevitably follow, Tara being so close to Dublin. If the 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 be 25 acres (10 hectares) in size.

[Top of page]

Archaeology: Take Five
The NRA estimated at the launch of its proposal that only five archaeological monuments would be disturbed in the area of Tara by building the road. Not such a very big deal after all.
The number of identified sites has continued to rise dramatically. The count, according to the National Roads Authority’s own figues, as of October 2004 is 38 archaeological sites.

“At a presentation to Meath County Council, the National Roads Authority (NRA) confirmed 38 separate archaeological sites had been identified in the Skryne valley area, close to the hill of Tara, after route selection had been completed. However, [local] councillors said they might not have chosen the selected route if they had known the extent of archaeological sites that would be uncovered. The former Labour TD for Meath, Cllr Brian Fitzgerald, said the preferred route .. would be subjected to legal challenges and would inevitably be seriously delayed. Sinn Féin Cllr Joe Reilly asked why the NRA was “in conflict” about the route with some of the most eminent archaeologists in the country.” (The Irish Times, 05.10.04, Tim O’Brien)

However even with this very high number of archaeological sites, it is thought by independent experts, that given the incredibly rich history and age of Tara, that ultimately the number of significant sites found will be higher. It would truly be hard to locate an area of Ireland with greater archaeological richness and importance than the area chosen by the NRA for their road.

It is also important to note that world archaeological opinion is against the proposed motorway through Tara. Both the European Association of Archaeologists (EEA) and The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) have written letters of protest. The Archaeological Institute of America has this to say –

“One would expect the highest measure of protection for this unique site. .we are shocked that planning permission has been granted, and are particularly alarmed at the news that trial trenching is already beginning on an unusual scale, and is likely to do irreparable damage to the site. We appeal to the Irish authorities as a matter of urgency to move this section of the M3 away from the Tara/Skreen valley and to save this precious legacy from our shared past for posterity.” (Jane C. Waldbaum, President, Archaeological Institute of America, in a letter to The Irish Times, 01.04.04) . [See full text under Expert Opinion ]

[Top of page]

Dig It
Archaeologists are employed by the National Roads Authority to deal with any archaeological sites that emerge through road construction. Therefore it is good for Irish heritage that so much of the area of Tara will undergo excavation in the course of building the road.
There is quite obviously a conflict of interest when a National Roads Authority whose job it is to construct roads as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, is also responsible for archaeological excavations which will necessitate spending both extra time and money. The costs incurred through employing enough qualified archaeologists, as well as the costs of delaying construction while sites are excavated can add considerably to budget. In an area of established archaeological importance such as Tara, it is clear that very many sites of significance will be encountered. It is not fitting that an area of Tara’s importance undergoes emergency excavation by NRA archaeologists, under time pressure, while construction workers wait in the wings to dig and cement over it all.

“This area is recognised, both nationally and internationally, as a landscape of extreme importance. The NRA’s testing and proposed programme of rescue/salvage excavation is not part of an integrated research design, which should be a standard prerequisite in such culturally sensitive landscapes. The NRA is not an archaeological authority, its primary function is to build roads. Its remit, therefore is not to dictate national standards in archaeological practice but rather to follow them.” Press statement, 21.09.2004, from the three acknowledged archaeological experts on Tara, Dr. Edel Bhreatnach, Conor Newman, Joe Fenwick. See NUI Galway, Archaeology Dept. Website

[Top of page]