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Minister Deenihan Publishes Guidelines on Use of Metal Detectors

Date Released: 31 July 2013

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan, TD, today (31 July 2013) published new guidelines for the public on the use of metal detection devices in Ireland - Advice Note on Metal Detection NMI NMS.

The Minister said that the guidelines were being issued “in response to growing numbers of reports being received by my Department and the National Museum of Ireland - borne out by evidence on the ground - of increasing levels of unauthorised and illegal use of metal detectors, often on important archaeological sites”. While the legal position in relation to metal detectors is clearly set out in legislation, the Minister said there was a need for comprehensive guidance that would be “clear and understandable to the public”.  

The Minister said that there was also evidence from internet sites and elsewhere of “illegal treasure-hunting and export and sale of unlawfully retrieved archaeological objects”. The intention of the guidelines, the Minister said, was “to clear up any confusion that may be leading to unintentional breaches of the law, to provide individuals and groups with an unambiguous statement of the statutory provisions surrounding metal detecting and archaeological finds and to spell out the consequences of contravening the law”. The guidelines will also alert the public of the potential damage that can be caused to archaeological heritage by random unauthorised metal detecting.

The Minister said that the guidelines drew on the experience of his Department’s National Monuments Service and the National Museum of Ireland and “represent the considered advice and knowledge of both organisations”.   He said that archaeologists licensed by his Department to use detection devices in specific cases were highly trained professionals who are closely regulated by the licencing regime and by public policy and codes of practice.  “It would be seriously at odds with these standards if untrained - albeit well intentioned - amateurs, using a highly effective technology but a defective and highly damaging methodology, were free to act without restriction”. 

The guidelines are being posted on the websites of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the National Museum of Ireland and will also be distributed as soon as possible in leaflet form to public offices where members of the public are likely to seek advice about metal detecting.

The Minister said that he hoped the publication of the guidelines would bring about a greater understanding of the potential damage that can result from what many would regard as “a harmless hobby” and why there is a need for strong and effective statutory controls. “Archaeological objects must be excavated in a structured scientific manner, with careful recording of their association with other objects, structures, features and soil layers.  Failure to expertly record the context from which an object has been removed results in an irreplaceable loss of knowledge of the past”, the Minister said. He added that “random searches with metal detectors cannot determine whether a find is of archaeological importance or if it is a recent discard. The result in either case is that the soil is greatly disturbed and any non-metallic evidence and objects are likely to be destroyed”.

Advice Note on Metal Detection NMI NMS