Clonmacnois Action Group is seeking a meeting with Minister Jimmy Deenihan as soon as possible amid fears that the department is pushing ahead with another bid to gain the controversial World Heritage status for the historic site without consulting locals.
The concerns emerged on foot of a recent letter from the Kerry-based Minister to local TD Nicky Fadden after she made representations on the group's behalf. In it, he confirmed that his department is currently "reviewing the strategy for advancing nominations to the World Heritage List from the new tentative list".
The monastic site of Clonmacnois and its cultural landscape, which attracted over 134,000 visitors to the area last year, was included in Ireland's new tentative list for potential nominees to the World Heritage Centre in August 2010.
Following meetings between officials from the department and the OPW, the letter goes on to say that the department is undertaking a feasibility study in relation to one property on the tentative list, which is unnamed, and "consideration is now being given to the order of progressing nominations from the tentative list and the process for progressing such nominations".
"The problem we have is that they are still proceeding even though we got previous assurances from the then Taoiseach that they would not do so without public consultation," said John Dolan, Chairperson of the Clonmacnois Action Group this week.
Mr Dolan said it appeared as if the department was pushing ahead to progress the bid, having learned nothing from the debacle back in 2009 and 2010, where the process erupted in a hail of controversy. Local opposition erupted over the size of the buffer zone restricting planning, possible effects on farming practices, the extension to the current burial ground, and the Christian character of Clonmacnoise.
"That's not really on in our book. We'd like to see us being consulted as promised. It's not good enough," he complained, saying if they want to do anything they need to talk to locals first, as they were assured in writing would happen by former Taoiseach Brian Cowen back in October 2009.
He reiterated that the group is not anti-progress in Clonmacnoise but it must not happen at the expense of the wider locality. "The issue is the way it is progressed. The last report would have had a detrimental effect on the area," Mr Dolan warned, adding having spoken to people in Newgrange he says no planning was allowed in the area after their designation, something locals have grave fears could happen in Clonmacnois to people who want to live in the locality.
"We reiterated in the letter back to the Minister that we are completely against the bid in its current format," said Mr Dolan, a former county councillor for Fine Gael. "This is not going away, but then, neither are we."
Seeking a meeting with Minister Deenihan, the letter from the group also stated that their main concern relates "to our understanding that pursuit of World Heritage status for Clonmacnois by the department had been terminated pursuant to our previous correspondence and objections on behalf of the local community."
The group's letter concluded: " In particular, it would appear from your letter that your department is continuing to work on the application and that you intend to make an announcement concerning it without consulting the local community of whom we are the recognised representative body".
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