Belfast Telegraph

Activists attack Northern Ireland council over NIE dig at Neolithic chamber

By Brett Campbell

Activists have been left furious as diggers continue working near a 6,000-year-old Neolithic site in Co Down despite legal instruction to halt a wind turbine project being issued to the local council.

Ashleigh Coleman (33), from Friends of Knock Iveagh Action Group, said residents were horrified at the commencement of work by NIE at the top of the historical cairn near Rathfriland which started on Thursday and continued yesterday.

The campaigner has accused Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council of "standing by and ignoring" their obligations.

"This place has been respectfully cared for over thousands of years and the council need to be more responsible," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

The large stone mound, once used as a burial chamber, is considered an area of national importance in understanding the Neolithic period in Ireland and is protected by legislation.

Legal instruction, issued by Madden & Finucane Solicitors on Monday, informed the council it is "required to provide an immediate unequivocal undertaking that it will take all necessary steps to ensure that no further construction work or operations shall be undertaken at the site" until the council meet to consider revoking the planning permission.

Ms Coleman only discovered permission for a wind turbine project had been granted after looking into the installation of a 15ft telecommunications tower last month.

The Department for Communities' Historic Environment Division advised the local authority last week that a retrospective planning application for the rural broadband mast should be rejected as it would have "an adverse impact upon the integrity of the monument's setting".

"If the department and the council believe their own words, which is articulated in strong and unequivocal language, then they should also revoke planning permission for the wind turbine - how can they hold two completely contradictory opinions at the same time?" Coleman said.

"They have not been very forthcoming and any councillors we have spoken to have indicated their intention to oppose the permission being revoked due to the cost."

The Department for Infrastructure said the department has been liaising with the council in relation to a number of planning matters near Knock Iveagh cairn and referred to the recommendation made by the Historic Environment Division.

Commenting previously on the issue, the council said the authority was "acutely aware of the concerns raised" and insisted it was being given "full and proper consideration as part of the due process" surrounding separate planning matters.

"The council is due to complete its detailed examinations, and will confirm its decision regarding both structures imminently," it added.

Solicitor Fearghal Shiels confirmed a copy of the legal instruction was received at the home of the landowner but that the "onus is on the council".

He has written to the council again asking it to explain why instructions to halt work have been ignored.

NIE confirmed its staff carried out work but cannot provide information without its customer's consent.

"The job is in line with our statutory duty to provide connection to our electricity network. We are not in receipt of any legal instructions against us," it said.

The council did not respond when approached by this newspaper.

Its planning committee is due to meet next week.

Belfast Telegraph

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