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Haughey urged to 'fast-track' Wood Quay excavation


Wood Quay after construction started on the controversial civic offices in Dublin

Wood Quay after construction started on the controversial civic offices in Dublin

Wood Quay after construction started on the controversial civic offices in Dublin

Taoiseach Charles Haughey was advised to order fast-tracked excavations of Viking Dublin at Wood Quay to resolve the long-running dispute over its redevelopment.

A Government briefing memo urged archaeological digs be speeded up and spread across the entire site as a means of selling the project to opponents, including former president Mary Robinson.

Senior officials in Dublin Corporation, which was said to be devilled by paranoia over the work, did not "buy" the idea, the papers revealed.

An unnamed official was asked by Mr Haughey to detail the state of play at Wood Quay and in May 1980 came up with a plan to open excavations on areas for which development plans had not been drawn up.

The adviser wrote: "While, admittedly, there would be an element of diversionary tactic in this ploy, there would also be a genuine development of the excavation of Viking Dublin and one could expect that the rewards in terms of artefacts would be as great."

The adviser joked about how the initiative would be received by one of the leading campaigners against the Wood Quay redevelopment, Irish cleric, historian and activist Fr Francis Xaviar Martin.

He said: "One might even find St Olaf's Church which (opponent) Fr Martin had wrongly claimed was lower down the hill!

"There would be positive benefits accruing to both (Dublin) Corporation and the Government if they were seen to be joining in such an 'offensive' rather than waiting to take a defensive attitude to agitation.

"I believe that serious and responsible people at national and international level could be convinced by the fact that we were embarking on such a staged excavation of a rich and extensive area."

The adviser claimed the initiative could be "sold" to opponents of the development.

But the papers from the Department of the Taoiseach revealed not even the assistant city manager Sean Haughey was willing to "buy" the idea.

The adviser also believed the Corporation had become paranoid with archaeologists involved in the work.

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The papers said there was a feeling that those working on the dig were trying to put the development on the long finger.

"They believe that the requests for extension of the time limit are really a device to ensure that Block A (redevelopment section) will not be built on that site and that the excavation will not only be completed but that the structures uncovered will be preserved in situ in some way," the memo stated.

"They are also disenchanted by the fact that a majority of their present City Council is against them on this issue and would, if they had their way, abandon Wood Quay and bow completely to the Friends of Medieval Dublin."

The Corporation chiefs also felt the director of the National Museum was not speaking out enough on their behalf.

The adviser warned a Government statement in March 1980 giving a timeframe for excavations to be completed that year was unsound.

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