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Local fears about fresh World Heritage status bid for Clonmacnois

Story by Deirdre Verney

Wednesday, 25th April, 2012 4:10pm

The Chairperson of Clonmacnois Action Group John Dolan has voiced fears that the department will proceed with the same controversial proposals to gain World Heritage status for the monastic site which were unacceptable to local residents last time round.

It comes after Minister Jimmy Deenihan revealed last week that a tentative list of new World Heritage sites had been drawn up by an expert Government advisory group, including the early medieval monastic complexes of Clonmacnois, Durrow, Kells, Inis Cealtra and Monasterboice to be progressed as part of a group.

It is widely seen as the beginning of a fresh bid for the coveted World Heritage site status for Clonmacnois, just a few miles from Athlone. The Monastic city of Clonmacnois and its Cultural Landscape is also included in the tentative list in its own right.

The Government may, in future, submit sites from the tentative list to UNESCO, which confers world heritage site status to successful applicants should they meet the criteria.

Announcing the list details last Wednesday, Minister Deenihan stressed that direct involvement by local communities is critical if new candidate sites are to meet UNESCO's exacting standards for World Heritage status.

Speaking to the Westmeath Independent this week, Chairperson of Clonmacnois Action Group John Dolan said he is disappointed by the fact the tentative list contains the Clonmacnois site and its cultural landscape, exactly the same title which was completely rejected by local people last time.

"I'm glad they are going ahead with public consultation and the Minister accepts if they don't want the proposals they shouldn't happen. However, it looks likes they have come back with exactly the same proposal that was already rejected. Clonmacnois and the Cultural Landscape, the previous title of the application was a major stumbling block locally."

He explained the inclusion of landscape in the application prompts fears that it will take in a wide area like the 20,000 acres of a buffer zone earmarked in the previous plan, something that he complained would be a complete non-runner locally.

Residents were up in arms back in 2010 about the implications to farming practices, planning, burial grounds and the general progression of the area due to the size of the plan area and the restrictions that would place on them.

Mr Dolan said numerous proposals have been put to the department in the past including covering just the curtilage of the site in the World Heritage bid, with the proviso that burial rights and an extension of the graveyard for local people would be protected, along with planning and rights to work the land.

However, he said none of these plans came to anything and recent calls for a meeting with the Minister have proved fruitless so far.

"I hope the public consultation will take on board the fears of community and act in accordance with their wishes. I don't see how an actual landscape would have got smaller. If that is the case locals won't buy into it.

"Our major problem with any plan would be if it takes in a wide area," he commented, adding people in Clonmacnois were not anti-World Heritage status but they did want to be able to live, work and bury their loved ones in the area in the future.

A World Heritage Site is a property inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its outstanding universal value. A site will only receive World Heritage status if it meets one or more of ten criteria, six cultural and four natural, has authenticity and is effectively protected and managed through legal measures and a management plan.

In a statement to the Westmeath Independent this week, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht explained that there is considerable work and time involved in the preparation of nomination documentation and a management plan for a property, including a public consultation process.

"This stage of the process together with the public consultation will take at least two years," the Department said.