Dear sir - The discovery of a rare Neolithic ringfort has caused delays to the A26 Ballee Road East to M2 Ballymena bypass dualling scheme in Northern Ireland. The discovery illustrates the dangers ahead for the 'preferred route' of the proposed N2 Slane bypass, which passes through the archaeologically dense landscape, 500m from the Bru na Boinne Unesco World Heritage Site.
The ring fort was unearthed is one of just four ever found in Ireland. The enclosure was between 40m and 45m in diameter, with two entrances. Inside were a series of structures, including rectangular and circular shapes with pits and hearths. The site was not detected in the pre-construction Environmental Impact Assessment, and discovery has caused months of delay and added significant cost to the project.
If a site such as this is discovered in the vicinity of Bru na Boinne, it will be considered a national monument, which will open up the planning process to legal attacks both domestically, and from the European Commission. This would lead to long delays and additional costs, and could even result in a re-routing of the bypass. Such a discovery at Slane is highly likely, due to the proximity to Bru na Boinne, and the extremely high number of 44 sites already discovered along the short corridor of the 3.5km bypass.
The discovery is very similar to the national monument found at Lismullin during construction of the M3, which led to the current legal action being taken against Ireland by the European Commission, in the European Court of Justice.
The recent publication of the 'Infrastructure for an Island Population of Eight Million' report by Engineers Ireland, calls for the widening of the M1 to four lanes. The report, commissioned by Intertrade Ireland, a body established under the Belfast Agreement, deals with the implications of what has been predicted for Ireland over the coming two decades. This clearly indicates that we are dealing with a situation where the M2 will
eventually run north-south.
The N2 Slane bypass is proposed to be built as a dual carriageway, to motorway standard, 500m from Bru na Boinne and will be widened to motorway in the future. The M1,which passes along the eastern border of Bru na Boinne will also be widened. The N51, which already passes through Bru na Boinne, will also be widened to dual carriageway or motorway, boxing the World Heritage Site between three major roads and a river. That is simply no way to treat the only Unesco site on the mainland of the Republic.
A Unesco/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring Mission to Bru an Boinne in 2004 was surprised to find the M1 motorway, which had been built without notifying Unesco. The ensuing report stated: "There can be no doubt that the motorway has a considerable impact on the World Heritage site and even more impact on the main site of the Battle of the Boyne within the buffer zone." They noted they had received the view that due to various
developments, "the inscribed area was rapidly being devalued to the point where continued inscription should be questioned."
Planning permission for the bypass route should not be granted before the cumulative effect of past, present and future developments are considered and approved by Unesco.
In the meantime, the HGV ban and traffic-calming measures should be put in place, in the interest of public safety. It is simply not acceptable to wait until after the bypass is complete to implement these measures.
If a HGV ban and 30km speed limit can be legally enforced in Dublin, then it certainly can be in Slane.
The Capel Building,
St Mary's Abbey,