- Aug 19, 2003
Irish Times - Chief archaeologist only has basic degree
Frank McDonald, Environmental Editor, 5th December 2005
Brian Duffy, chief archaeologist of the Department of the Environment, was
appointed to his post even though he has only a general BA degree in archaeology
and no track record of archaeological excavations or publications, The Irish
Times has established.
Mr Duffy got the job in July 2003, ahead of candidates with superior
qualifications and professional experience - notably Dr Ann Lynch, who holds a
PhD in archaeology and has led excavations at sensitive sites such as
Poulnabrone in Co Clare and Tintern Abbey, Co Wexford.
The job specification for chief archaeologist requires, among other things, a
person with "strong leadership qualities, management skills and sound judgment"
who would motivate and manage a staff of 40 and provide "expert professional
advice on archaeology as required".
Competition for the post was confined to senior archaeologists in the
department's heritage section. None of the three eligible applicants was
interviewed; they were merely invited to submit a form describing their work,
previous experience and other relevant information.
These written applications were reviewed by Mary Moylan, assistant secretary at
the department's planning division, and Michael Canny, assistant secretary,
corporate services. Eight days later, they recommended that Mr Duffy should be
appointed by Martin Cullen.
Prof John Waddell, head of the department of archaeology at NUI Galway, from
where Mr Duffy graduated in 1971, said his appointment caused surprise because
people were aware of his lack of qualifications and experience of excavation work.
"He has no post-graduate qualifications and, to the best of my knowledge, he has
never written anything or published anything on mainstream archaeology, in
contrast to most of his colleagues in the department, some of whom have PhDs and
many of whom have master's degrees.
"He has never directed an archaeological excavation and has no experience in
that area whatsoever, though he might have participated in one as a student 30
years ago. He also got his BA long before landscape archaeology became an
important area of research."
Prof Waddell said Mr Duffy's "incomprehensible lack of knowledge of what
constitutes an archaeological landscape" was evident in the advice he gave
Minister for the Environment Dick Roche on the plan to route the M3 motorway
through the Tara-Skryne valley in Co Meath. "In failing to address the question
that the Tara landscape constitutes an archaeological area . . . the chief
archaeologist, the department and the Minister failed in their duty of care in
respect of the country's heritage," he said in an affidavit for the High Court
case on the M3.
Mr Duffy's qualifications were also called into question during a recent Circuit
Court case in which his predecessor, David Sweetman, successfully sued
Associated Newspapers, publishers of Ireland on Sunday, for libel over an
article on the Carrickmines case.
When his counsel, Garrett Cooney SC, noted that Mr Duffy was involved in
Carrickmines and commented that he was "a well-known and well-qualified
archaeologist", Mr Sweetman said: "Well, actually, Brian Duffy isn't well-known
and, in my opinion, not well-qualified."
In the Tara case, Mr Duffy expressed the view that the M3 motorway "will be a
monument of major significance in the future". And in dealing with the Woodstown
Viking site in Waterford, he argued that it could be "preserved in situ" by
rolling the N25 Waterford bypass over it.
But Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum, insisted that the site was
of such importance that it would have to be excavated. Without naming Mr Duffy,
he challenged the view of those "who for some inexplicable reason seem to think
it would be better covered over".
Two months after becoming chief archaeologist, Mr Duffy dismissed the view that
Woodstown was a Viking longphort - which is what it turned out to be - as a
"speculative notion of the site's nature, with absolutely no archaeological
evidence to support it".
In response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the department
refused to release any details of Mr Duffy's academic qualifications, his
professional career, what archaeological excavations he has carried out and what
publications he has to his credit, if any.
The department cited section 28 of the Freedom of Information Act, which covers
the disclosure of personal information, saying it considered "on balance [ that]
the public interest in protecting the privacy of the individual in this case
outweighs the public interest in releasing the information".
Personnel officer Dave Fadden recently informed the Institute of Archaeologists
of Ireland that the process used to appoint Mr Duffy was "in line with the
department's policy on filling internal positions at this level" and that the
"most suitable candidate" had been selected.
In a statement, the department said Mr Duffy was a qualified archaeologist who
has served in the National Monuments Service since 1976 "dealing with a wide
range of archaeological issues including the Archaeological Survey of Ireland,
conservation programmes at national monuments and all aspects of
Though the statement confirmed that the three candidates for the post had been
"rated" based on written submissions, it said an arrangement has now been
introduced that senior professional posts in the department "are filled on the
basis of competitive interview".