N E W S New Monuments and Archaeological Heritage Bill The Republic of Ireland has, in the form of the National Monuments Acts 1930–2014, some of the strongest legislation in the world regarding the protection of archaeological heritage. The legislation is not perfect, however, and a consolidated bill has been in preparation for several years to address its weaknesses. The new legislation has been slow to emerge—a function of the complex nature of ‘heritage’ as a concept and a reluctance on the part of successive governments to tackle the issue—but this is about to change.
The Monuments and Archaeological Heritage Bill will repeal the National Monuments Acts and related legislation and replace them with a more useful legislative structure. The objective is to have an up-todate, efficient and effective legislative code contained between the covers of a single act. This will address gaps and weaknesses, including some identified in the courts. According to a source in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the drafting of the bill is nearly complete and it is hoped to be in a position over the next few months to seek government approval to publish it.
In terms of monument protection, the key change will be the creation of a single Register of Monuments to replace the nonstatutory Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) and the statutory Record of Monuments and Places (RMP). There are two levels of protection proposed, Special and General, which will hopefully dispel the confusion surrounding the designation of a ‘National Monument’ as opposed to an archaeological monument listed on the RMP. In addition, automatic protection will now be afforded to newly discovered monuments. As regards underwater heritage, the existing automatic protection of all wrecks over 100 years old will be maintained and the underwater heritage order (UHO) system will be integrated into the new Register of Monuments.
and the statutory authorities. Measures to allow ratification of key international conventions in heritage protection—which surprisingly has not been addressed in the past—will also be introduced.
Possibly the most pressing issue in terms of monument protection is the continuing campaign being waged by metal-detectorists to legitimise their hobby, with a perceived ambiguity in the existing legislation often being cited as a justification for the illegal excavation of archaeological artefacts. It is expected that the new legislation will remove this uncertainty, although it is considered unlikely that metal-detectors will face an outright ban, as is the case in Malta. In terms of another ambiguity, that of archaeological monuments which post-date a perceived cutoff point of AD 1700, it is to be hoped that lessons will be learned from Northern Ireland and the UK, where post-medieval heritage extending right up to more recent ‘defence heritage’ is afforded statutory protection. According to a spokesperson from the Irish Post-Medieval Archaeology Group (IPMAG), who have been campaigning on this issue for several years, the drafting of the new legislation is a perfect opportunity to tighten up a situation in which some county RMPs protect post-1700 sites and others do not. Industrial heritage is another related issue: most sites are not protected under the existing National Monuments Acts and are only protected under the Planning and Development Act if they are entered on the Record of Protected Structures (RMP). Indeed, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the new legislation will be how both registers will be accommodated within the same act. Another issue that is expected to be addressed is the situation regarding the protection of wetland archaeology, where there is a marked reluctance on the part of the State to interfere with the operations of Bord na Móna and the private operators who continue to exploit the peat resources in the midlands with little regard to their rich archaeological heritage.
Notwithstanding the recent advertisement of three positions in the National Monuments Service, there is a further issue regarding the funding of the State archaeological service and its ability to enforce the existing legislation, in terms of both monument protection and excavation licensing. While this is obviously a separate issue, the procedures regarding enforcement will be of some interest.
When the proposed legislation is published it will be analysed in Archaeology Ireland, and it is assumed that interested parties, such as IPMAG and the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (IAI), will be afforded the opportunity to make observations.
In terms of excavation licensing, a revised system will be put in place which is expected to copper-fasten the changes introduced in 2018. This will be of particular interest to excavating archaeologists, who often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to negotiating between clients
Archaeology Ireland Winter 2019