In the prior blog entry, Vincent had just described how the lure of money and employment had turned many archaeologists against heritage preservation.
Question: Can the public be educated and turned on to what the benefits of studying archaeology are?
I think the public have been turned on. There have been various surveys performed by the Heritage Council over the years starting back around 2000. Every year there was public concern for protection of heritage and protection of the environment. It wasn’t that the public didn’t care so much. It was more that the authorities didn’t care so much because they were so hell bent on perpetuating this model of modernism, economic development, and real estate. They saw that as their meal ticket. It wasn’t the public that was the problem. It was the government. One can say the people were electing the government, but they were electing them for different reasons than cultural heritage. Ultimately, the public bought into the economic thing as well.
Now that we are in the post crisis mode here, there is a realization by both the government and the public that we should be taking better care of our tourist attractions. Again there is this idea we could get some money out of these sites. This idea of “the Gathering” now, which was launched by the government on January 1st of this year to bring all the Irish home, if you will. There are some cynical views of this as well. An American actor came out and said this is a big joke. You are just fleecing these people. All you want is a few quid out of them after ignoring them for years. Thousands of Irish people died on the streets in London and nothing was done. Even when Irish people did come back to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years, those people weren’t eligible for social services. They were told you are not an Irish resident, or an EU resident. They were told they were not eligible to student grants or unemployment. You really weren’t welcome at all. That’s all changing and the Irish authorities are anxious to get any Irish American or any Irish Australian to come back.
There is a different view over here, but I’m still a bit cynical about it. The first economic cuts (in the Great Recession) were in the area of environment and heritage. A lot of the cultural centers and historical centers have shut down.
I suppose on the bright side, not just the government sponsored destruction of heritage, the private sector was doing a lot of damage too. At least, that’s all come to a halt if you will. The impact to the atmosphere leading to climate change has been reduced. There are some positives. Unfortunately, traffic on the M3 is way, way down and we’re having to pay the investors, this Spanish company, now direct payments. Millions and millions of euros are being paid to keep the M3 going.
One of the real positive things that came out of this, even though it’s been a tough haul, has been to meet people like you and many others. I met great people along the way. I didn’t do any of this alone. It was inspiring to see the international support that we got from all around the world, in particular the US. Lots of people said this is just wrong. So many people were willing to do something about it. That made it a success. Even though the M3 went ahead where it shouldn’t have, and it was heart breaking to see it go ahead, ultimately you have to say to yourself that campaigning is to make an issue out of something, to put it into the public mind, and to give the public an opportunity to express their opinions about it. Clearly, the public had been ignored up until then. We showed quite clearly that the majority of people were against the selected route. We can rest and say we did our best.