McEntee's fears over heritage dead zones
Newgrange - the jewel in the crown of Ireland's ancient past and a UNESCO World Heritage site - is in danger of becoming a dead zone, with the people who grew up around it being forced out of the area, according to local TD Helen McEntee.
She says a heavy-handed approach by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht means even the most basic planning application will fail, that communities can't build even modest community and sports facilities - and yet the stunning Newgrange complex of passage tombs has not provided a decent dividend in terms of economic benefit for the area.
"In Meath, we are proud of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara," said McEntee. "We are proud our county is the heritage capital of this part of Europe. It's part of our identity. But the price we have to pay as a community for our heritage status is too high. Somewhere along the way the idea of balancing the daily needs of the area and the significance of monuments such as Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth seems to have been lost.
"Locals are stopped setting up home in the areas they grew up in, which means these areas can't regenerate. The last thing we need is to create dead zones in our countryside."
McEntee added that community groups couldn't get planning for basic facilities. The local GAA club in Slane wants to build new dressing rooms but is embroiled in a costly planning process, while another club, St Mary's Donore, also underwent a costly exercise to get the green light for a development.
According to the Boyne Valley Consultative Committee, set up to represent people and businesses in the area, the area around the tombs has been assigned two different designations which act almost as exclusion zones. The first, known as the core zone, comprises 780 hectares; the second, the buffer zone, is a further 2,500 hectares.
"It has got to the stage where pride is giving way to anger and local people are asking the question: 'Is Newgrange's UNESCO world heritage status really worth all the hassle?'" added McEntee.
"All people are looking for is a fair hearing so that the community can co-exist in the present with these monuments of the past. Any area that is fortunate enough to have a world heritage site on its doorstep - and remember there are only two on the island of Ireland - should be able to enjoy that and also prosper from it."
She said the area should be thriving given the number of visitors each year, and able to support small, indigenous and tourism-based businesses, but that this has not happened.
PwC produced data in 2007 which showed that World Heritage status had a 0-3pc impact on visitation to designated World Heritage sites in the UK. "Tourism is supposed to be an economic driver. A UNESCO designation is useful for promotion, but for 3pc extra visitors is all the difficulties we're having worthwhile?" McEntee asked.
The Fine Gael TD and residents recently met a senior department official, and McEntee said she was hopeful there would be a change in approach to the problem.