The M3 motorway project has been dogged by controversy since 2003, when it was announced that the motorway would pass through the Skryne Valley, just two miles away from the Hill of Tara.
The Hill of Tara in County Meath is one of Ireland's most legendary sites and one of Europe’s greatest archaeological treasures. The site was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland from early Celtic times until the 12th century. As the island’s ancient political capital, the area still contains a number of monuments such as Iron Age ring-forts and Neolithic tombs dating back to around 5,000 years ago.
Tara has been traditionally regarded in Ireland as the nation’s spiritual centre. This was the place where 4,000 United Irishmen chose to fight against the British army during the 1798 Rebellion, and where Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell gathered over half a million people in 1843 in a peaceful demonstration for the repeal of the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland.
Today, the Tara-Skryne Valley has one of Ireland’s most congested roads --the N3-- with up to 22,000 vehicles per day and an accident rate which is 50 percent higher than the national average.
In 2003 it was decided to replace the N3 road with a four-lane motorway --the M3-- in order to ease traffic congestion between Navan and Dublin city, but the planned motorway sparked controversy after more than 350 academics opposed the project saying it would irreparably damage the area's heritage.
Opponents claim the M3 motorway will have a high visual and noise impact on the Tara-Skryne valley, but Ireland’s National Roads Authority claims the chosen M3 route is the one that will cause the least amount of damage among 10 different alternative routes.
Local residents in the valley welcome the development, which would cut dramatically their two-hour journey to Dublin through the narrow N3 road and would attract new businesses and bring jobs.
Initially approved in 2003 the M3 motorway was due to completion in 2006 but legal challenges, protests, and new archaeological findings have delayed the works. At present, the motorway is scheduled to open near the end of 2010.
Anti-road protesters and environmental activists have been congregating at the M3 construction site since works began in the Tara-Skryne Valley in 2007.
On July 18th 2007 seven protesters were arrested by Gardaí, the Irish Police, after they tried to halt the works by blocking construction traffic.
On September 23th 2007 over 1,500 people gathered on Tara Hill to take part in a human sculpture representing a harp and spelling out the words "Save Tara Valley".
Protests stepped up last March 2008 as anti-road activists entered the construction site at Rath Lugh and chained themselves to rigid objects around the area, refusing to move. One of the demonstrators chained herself into a tunnel close to the works during three days.
Arrests were made as the activists clashed with Gardaí when workers tried to resume construction.
In response to last March's protests, Ireland's National Roads Authority said that further delays in the project would cost lives in road crashes, as well as costing the taxpayer €330,000 per week.
In the meanwhile, the Green Party was accused of doing a U-turn in its attitude to the M3 motorway.
The Green Party, Irish Labour and Sinn Féin had opposed the route of the motorway during the 2007 election campaign.
In the last 2007 General Election, voters in the Tara-Skryne Valley voted massively for the political parties supporting the M3 plans (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Progressive Democrats).
After the General Election the Greens joined a coalition government with Fianna Fáil and Green Party leader John Gormley became the new Minister for the Environment.
As the M3 works moved ahead, Minister for the Environment John Gormley said that the Hill of Tara could become a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite the planned motorway running alongside it.
Do you want to know more about the M3 and Tara?
» ww.m3motorway.ie , the official M3 website provides information on the progress of the motorway construction.
» www.tarawatch.org , activists’ campaign to save the Hill of Tara archaeological complex from the M3 motorway construction.