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Irish M-way in Euro court fight

Archaeological find not included in original environmental statement

Ireland's proposed M3 motorway was referred to the European Court of Justice last week after the European Commission accused the Irish Government of failing to asses its impact on an archeologically significant site.

The controversial 60km stretch of motorway winds its way among some of the most historically significant sites in Ireland, including the bronze age site Lismullin Henge, located near the Hill of Tara – Ireland's Stonehenge.

The Lismullin Henge was discovered in February by archaeologists surveying the M3's proposed route and was classified as a national monument in May.

It was therefore unaccounted for in the official 2003 environmental impact assessment of the scheme.

The Irish Government's failure to carry out a separate environmental impact assessment on Lismullin Henge was referred to the ECJ and while this is not expected to halt construction, it may force Ireland to change the law.

Ireland could also be fined if found to be in breach of the European Union (EU) Environmental Impact Assessment directive. It claims that the scheme's 2003 environmental impact assessment is sufficient because it included a provision to excavate and record historically significant discoveries.

However, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "I am disappointed that Ireland has not accepted the Commission view that improvements are needed in its legislation on impact assessments in order to better safeguard and give the public more say in decisions affecting its rich archaeological heritage, and to better guarantee that industrial projects will be comprehensively assessed."

In addition to the European Court of Justice action, protesters are seeking remedies in the domestic courts. Campaign group Tarawatch will be lodging aninterlocutory injunction in the Irish High Court with a view to putting a stay on all works until the matter has been resolved in the European Court.

In a final warning sent to Ireland in June, the Commission criticised the decision to bulldoze the Lismullin monument.

The Government has argued that the motorway is a vital piece of national infrastructure and choosing an alternative route for the M3 would cause delays and cost up to £139M extra.

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