‘It’s a misconception’ that licences are always needed to operate metal detectors on farmland

Last Friday, December 27, AgriLand published an article entitled ‘Tullydonnell hoard farmers commended by National Museum‘, in which an official from the National Museum of Ireland was quoted as saying the following:

“Farmers frequently get requests from members of the public with metal detectors for permission to search on their land. Searching for archaeological objects with a detection device without a licence is illegal under the National Monuments Acts 1930-2014 and we would advise them not to allow this kind of activity on their land and to report to Gardaí where necessary.

“If farmers are unsure whether such a person has a licence, the National Monuments Service or National Museum of Ireland would welcome a call to clarify,” the official added.

Also Read: Tullydonnell hoard farmers commended by National Museum

An avid metal detecting hobbyist – Dermot O’Brien – has since contacted AgriLand looking to clarify the remarks by the museum’s official.

“The law currently says that it is illegal to search for artefacts or any objects that may be classed as heritage, as set out by the National Museums Act 1987 for the provision of heritage, and it is right to do so. Heritage is for all; not for some treasure-seeking bandits,” O’Brien said.

Also Read: National Monuments Service seeks to clarify metal detecting laws

“Genuine [metal detecting] hobbyists have accepted that there are those who will break the laws and, therefore, the Irish Metal Detecting Society was formed to try and self-regulate the hobby. Newcomers to the hobby could be informed of the current laws and best practice guidelines. An etiquette was introduced.

“There should be recognition for those who genuinely will go about the hobby legally and are willing to carry an identification card, which could be presented to any landowner or Garda if required.

The National Museum of Ireland has classified items – and set time periods as to when objects fall into these categories – that classes them as ‘heritage’.

“It has also, on its website, a map which details and outlines national monuments or heritage sites, and it is ‘illegal to search within these areas with a metal detector’. This is common knowledge to a genuine hobbyist and well respected,” O’Brien argued.

He continued: “As stated by the Minister [for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan] public lands generally are not a problem, and private lands are a matter for the landowner/manager to discuss with anyone looking to enter the lands.

“In other words, the hobby of metal detecting is perfectly legal. There is even a provision made by the NMI [National Museum of Ireland] for ‘the handing in of finds’ which gives a window of 96 hours, should a person inadvertently unearth an artefact of significance.

There is a misconception that a licence is required to operate a metal detector in Ireland, but it’s simply not true. A licence is required – and must have been previously applied for and granted by the minister – to be in the vicinity of – or enter – a heritage site. The boundaries are clear and well avoided by a genuine hobbyist.

“There are laws and there are severe penalties for those who operate outside the law, and rightly so,” O’Brien noted.

He added that it was a “matter of trust” between a landowner and metal detector user.

“As a general rule of practice, most hobbyists will speak with the landowner on a regular basis regarding the items being found, and a great number of personal items have been returned in this way.

“The hobby is no different than others, like football… You don’t need a licence to kick a ball around a field, or to make sand castles on the beach with a bucket and spade.

“The point is, were I a landowner and I was asked by someone for permission to walk around some fields, I could be okay with that. Whereas If I saw some random person out digging holes all over the place I would certainly be ringing the Gardaí,” O’Brien concluded.

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