by Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

One of the most prominent commenters on the recent application for extension of the Drogheda Port boundary – the preliminary move necessary for development of the proposed deep-water port in the Bremore and Gormanston area – has been An Taisce and the text of its submission to the Department of Transport, in relation to this extension, is available online . The main areas of our own concern are, naturally, the prehistoric remains on the headland and at Gormanston, but there is also much detail included on the likely impact of a new port on the local environment. For the benefit of readers who may be unaware of what An Taisce is, or what it does, I will provide a brief summary over the following few paragraphs.

An Taisce

An Taisce, or the National Trust for Ireland, a voluntary non-governmental organisation, is the only independent ‘Prescribed Body’ under Irish planning legislation and must be consulted, by Local Authorities, on development proposals that might impact on its particular areas of concern. Its objective is to ensure compliance with Irish and EU environmental protection legislation and the contexts in which it will take an interest are set out in the Planning and Development Regulations 2001. These include the following, as excised from An Taisce’s website;

1. Amenity where ‘the land or structure is located in an area of Special Amenity’

2. Protected structures and architectural conservation areas and proposed protected structures or architectural conservation areas

3. Development which, ‘might detract from the appearance of a structure referred to in’ Part 2

4. Development that might affect or be unduly close to ‘a cave, site, feature or other object of archaeological, geological, scientific, ecological or historical interest.’

5. Development which ‘might affect or be unduly close to monuments or places recorded under the National Monuments Act 1994 or 1997, or are protected or are under ownership or guardianship under the National Monuments Acts 1930 – 1994.’

6. Development affecting previous categories of development in Part 5

7. Nature Conservation

It is an environmental charity, the owner and manager of heritage properties and is funded, for the most part, by its own membership subscriptions, the Department of the Environment and the EU. Although it should be noted that the bulk of this Government funding is not set aside for its activities as a ‘Prescribed Body’ on planning issues, or for property custody, but for the specific projects run by its Environmental Education Unit; such as the ‘National Spring Clean’ anti-litter campaign, or the ‘Blue Flag’ beach quality programme.

As you might imagine, however, it is for An Taisce’s role in the area of planning – and for its obstruction, or delay, of development proposals within the area of its remit – that it is best known and public judgement has frequently been made accordingly. To use the words of the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole; “…in some parts of Ireland, admitting membership of An Taisce is to invite the pariah status of a paedophile.”

In this respect, it may be instructive to look at the actual extent of the obstruction and the following figures are, again, available on the An Taisce website;

“In 2004 An Taisce was referred and reviewed approximately 12,000 applications and made approximately 4,000 submissions to local authorities. Arising from these submissions and subsequent decisions of local authorities nationally, An Taisce made appeals to the Board. In 2003, 248 appeals were taken. A similar number of appeals were taken in 2004.”

Dispensing recommendations – regarding proper legislative compliance – on one third of applications reviewed and appealing a mere 248, or 2% of the total, hardly seems excessive and one might well question the statements that some of their detractors make in this context…

From the Meath Chronicle of 24th February, for example; “Cllr Reilly said that reports about the transfer to Gormanston “have already met with the usual complaints from An Taisce”. He claimed the organisation had “cost County Meath thousands of jobs in their continuous objections to every plan for industry that is brought forward.”