A number of national legislations cover the role of the state to protect the archaeological and architectural heritage as well as wildlife in Ireland. On the archaeological heritage side, the National Monuments Act (1930-2014) gives the government authority to protect archaeological sites and monuments that have been identified under the Archaeological Survey of Ireland. An amendment to the National Monuments Act was made in 2012 with the addition of the EU standard Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This Bill was intended to afford stronger protection for heritage.
The new Heritage Act of 2018 amended and extended the Wildlife Act (1976), the Canals Act (1986) and the Heritage Act (1995). The Heritage Council (An Chomhairle Oidhreachta) was established under the act for the purpose of “promoting interest in and knowledge, appreciation and protection of the National heritage”. The Heritage Act defines the working relationship between Government and heritage agencies such as Waterways Ireland, and the Heritage Council. Some amendments to the act in 2018 related to natural heritage and biodiversity were made despite opposition from the Green party, An Taisce, and the Wildlife Trust. The concern related to the provisions in the act for extending the legal period for uplands burning and hedgerow cutting into the August nesting season for many bird species. The Heritage Council supports and develops the heritage management system and infrastructure in Ireland. This is mainly achieved in partnership with other relevant agencies and authorities as well as local communities.
The National Cultural Institutions Act (1997) sets the framework for museums in Ireland and provided for the establishment of the National Museums Board. The National Monuments Act (1930-2014) has considerable impact on the work of the National Museum. The act asserts the State’s ownership of archaeological objects, which are found and which have no known owner. They also provide for the National Museum’s role as a regulatory body in Irish archaeology. The Heritage Fund Act (2001) gives a statutory framework for the acquisition of works towards the national collection.
Ireland’s waterways are protected by Waterways Ireland, which uniquely operates under the policy direction of the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) and the Ministers of the Sponsor Departments, and is accountable to both the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as the Houses of the Oireachtas. A recent divisive issue related to natural heritage created tensions between environmental and cultural policies. The EU habitats directive as well as Irish law from 2011 now make it illegal to cut turf — traditionally used as a domestic fuel — on 54 Irish bogs. Peat, cut and dried for fuel, it is known as turf in Ireland. The bogs have now been designated as special conservation areas as part of an EU commitment to reverse biodiversity loss by 2020. Some see turf cutting as a distinct part of Irish cultural heritage worth protecting and maintaining. However, most now understand the value of the bogs in the fight against climate change and most turf cutting has been stopped. Enforcement of the law against cutting turf has been limited allowing for gradual cultural change.