The fight to protect the tara landscape from the destruction caused by the Double Tolled M3 Motorway took a surprising turn earlier this month. Some 14 protesters, some of whom had been subject to strict bail conditions for the last two years, had cases against them dismissed at Trim District Court. This was a matter of major public concern but it passed silently and without any interest from the mainstream media.
The defendants were J.P. Fay, Robert Doherty, Hugh Mac Loughlin, Heather Buchannan, Kieran O'Carroll, Carmel Diviney, Anthony Hannigan, Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, Kitty Kavanagh, Neil Morgan, Rik Weilich, Daniel Maloney and Daniel Moore.
Most of the cases arose from incidents on 18th. July at Soldier's Hill, Co. Meath. Those arrested on the day claimed to have "lawful excuse" in preventing the works. Judge John Coughlan when dismissing charges asked the arresting Gardaí if they had asked the protesters if they believed they had lawful excuse to be in the vicinity.
The Gardaí admitted that they had failed to do so. The protesters maintained that the works had been declared illegal by the European Parliament because of Ireland`s failure to comply with EU directives on Environmental Impact Assessments. The failure of the Irish Govt. to comply could cost the taxpayer an estimated €50 million.
A letter from the Commission to Kathy Sinnott MEP at the time stated: "However, in a quite separate case, the European Court of Justice has recognised that decisions to approve projects may unfold in more than one stage and that it may be inappropriate to limit the possibility of EIA to an early stage as new circumstances and new factors may arise at the time of a second-stage decision". Kathy Sinnott visited the site on the day of the arrests at the request of the protesters. She had called for a moratorium on the project until the legal issues were resolved.
Earlier this year a Judicial Review Case was taken to the High Court by Michael Finucane Solicitors and, in a significant victory, details of a security Garda procedure, called Operation Bedrock, was finally disclosed. This was accompanied by a lot of video footage of the protesters on 18th. July taken by the construction company.
Both Gardaí and a senior member of Siac/ Ferrovial proved to be less than reliable witnesses in Court and after what is described as "startling video evidence" was shown, cases against two of the protesters were withdrawn by the State.
One of the arresting officers claimed to know nothing of Operation Bedrock and a number of details were revealed in court: the protesters were not to be arrested unless they became extremely violent, the protesters were to be negotiated from the sites. This constitutes yet another scandal in the M3 saga.
In June 2008 a leading Archaeologist who was involved in surveying the M3 for the National Roads Authority claimed that her findings were altered before being presented to Ministers in order to support the Motorway. Miss Ronayne, who was an excavation director for ACS on the project in Co. Meath, claims she was told to "change interpretations" so as to "lessen the potential of numbers of sites". However, these claims were hotly contested by the NRA. In all, approximately 40 sites were destroyed in the Gabhra Valley alone to make way for the controversial motorway.
The campaigners say that they are determined to carry on. They said: "the government has been presented with alternatives that they continue to ignore. One such alternative is the Meath Master Plan the brainchild of Brian Guckian and Tadhg Crowley. This delivers a programme of sustainable transport solutions while preserving the valuable heritage and tourism of the tara landscape".
Dr. Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, the first person arrested at Soldier's Hill (the site of the huge Blundelstown interchange) said: "We are all greatly relieved to have these cases dismissed but the 22-months delay was a disgrace. The battle for tara symbolises the age of Celtic Tiger Ireland and the battle between making money and priceless heritage".
Kathy Sinnott, MEP, said: "I welcome the dismissal of the case against those who tried valiantly to defend our heritage. The destruction that has occurred in tara is a national and international scandal. The EU case against the Irish government that includes Lismullin will eventually be heard, I am sure our government will be found guilty. However the persistent delay of the EU in hearing this case is also a scandal because despite the outcome it is now too late to save Lismullin".