“Cultural Vandalism akin to Ripping a Knife through a Rembrandt”?: A Critical Assessment of the Protections afforded to Irish Cultural Rights under Ireland’s Developing Heritage Laws

Dr. Thomas L. Muinzer

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In March 2012 Tralee Circuit Criminal Court, Ireland, indicated that it was seeking to benchmark an appropriate level of cultural heritage protection by fining a private citizen substantially for intentionally destroying a protected national monument. Against this backdrop, this article critically evaluates the contemporary evolution of Irish cultural heritage protections, focusing most particularly on two major case studies, the nationally high-profile motorway controversies that arose at Tara and Carrickmines. The analysis demonstrates that, while heritage legislation was strengthened in Ireland in the wake of a controversial development project at Wood Quay, Dublin, these protections have since been rolled back significantly. Pertinent aspects of Ireland’s legal position in the E.U. and the impact on Northern Ireland of damage to Irish heritage are also considered. In addition to exposing a gradual weakening of Ireland’s national heritage legislation, the findings throw into relief a disparity between the robust protective benchmark that has been crystallised with regard to a private citizen in 2012, and the ways in which public actors have utilised their space under national heritage law in a manner resulting in the irreparable destruction of precious elements of major national heritage landscapes.

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