Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd | Conversation with Rodney Moffett, Amey Plc & A reply to Declan Hurl’s 'Apologia Pro Excavatio Sua'

On June 25 2015 Mark H. Durkan, Minister at the Department of the Environment, published Prof Gabriel Cooney’s Review of the context of the excavation of a crannog in Drumclay townland Co. Fermanagh on the route of the Cherrymount Link Road. On July 17 I published my considered analysis of the report on this blog: Mud, lies and hazard tape: Reviewing The Report on the Drumclay Crannog. Rather than let the matter lie there, I assembled a series of questions, comments, and requests for further information and reply for some of the principal organisations involved in the Drumclay Crannog Fiasco. These included the Ministers at the Department of the Environment and Department for Regional Development and Mel Ewell, Chief Executive Officer of Amey. Amey were, of course, the engineering firm in overall control of the road scheme and employers of Declan Hurl, the director of the Phase 1 excavation. At the time of writing, the DoE have not produced anything resembling a useful response to the questions sent to them. The DRD have offered to meet with me to discuss the questions put to them, but have so far failed to organise a meeting. Amey, on the other hand, were very keen and I received the following response on July 22 from Imelda Riley (Customer Service Manager | CEO Complaints Office):

I have now liaised with our team in Northern Ireland with regards to the issues you have raised. Due to the fact that we have a strong presence in Northern Ireland, the team are very much aware of the project and indeed the contents of Professor Cooney’s report.

While, in our view, the team did everything in their power to liaise and comply with the relevant bodies, the team does accept there are lessons to be learned and will continue to engage proactively with the Department and the wider as and when required.

I appreciate that you have raised a number of specific points therefore to avoid email correspondence, of which may appear to be impersonal and clinical, I am pleased to advise that our local team would like to meet with you to discuss the issues, you have raised, in full.

I hope you find this acceptable and would ask you to contact Rodney Moffett at our office in Rushmere House, Belfast, to agree a mutually convenient time and venue.

The TL;DR version is: We’re not to blame for any of this, but we’d like to meet with you to convince you in person.

After that there was a bit of toing and froing to agree a place and a time to meet – I didn’t feel like going full Daniel 6, so they agreed to send their representative to my house. The next issue was of what we’d talk about. My feeling was that I’d sent them a list of questions that I’d like to see answered. Thus, to my mind, these should form the basis of our discussion. They had other ideas. Rodney Moffett, in an email on July 24, suggested that “it may be more appropriate for us to meet for an open discussion in the first instance, this discussion may then help formulate an agenda for a secondary meeting if required”. I smelled a rat here – two days previously the message was that they wanted to “discuss the issues, you have raised, in full” now I’m being told that they’re more interested in an amorphous “open discussion” with the possibility of a further meeting if necessary. My reply (on the same day) was simple and direct:

I would … be uncomfortable meeting without an agreed agenda and I see no need for an unstructured open discussion as a preliminary exercise. I attach an agenda based on my initial questions. Either you are comfortable with speaking to these points, or you are not.

… turns out there were comfortable after all and there was no more talk of general conversations and supplementary meetings. The agenda, based on the original set of questions, was accepted, along with the requirement that the meeting be recorded. So that’s how Rodney Moffett, the Associate Director of Amey NI, accompanied by his Personal Assistant, arrived at my house on the morning of July 31 2015.

My original intention was to ask my questions, receive Rodney Moffett’s answers, write up the transcript and use that as the basis of this or any subsequent posts. I had taken a deliberate decision to not provide aggressive rebuttal or confrontation to any of Rodney Moffett’s replies as I felt that my position was already perfectly clear and, beyond stating general levels of agreement or disagreement, it would add little to the encounter to turn it into a rerun of Jeremy Paxman vs. Michael Howard. Instead, I wanted to take sufficient time to contemplate any of his replies and provide thoughtful, considered argument as part of a post such as this. That brings us to the recording itself. By mutual agreement, I have omitted a number of personal names of given individuals, confidential material not currently in the public domain, and comments and discussions not directly germane to the discussion. Where the wording has been changed from the original meeting, it has been done in the interests of clarity, readability, and to enhance the general sense of the discussion. My process here will be to extract the questions, Rodney Moffett’s answers, and to provide response and context where necessary. I have attempted to preserve some of the feeling of a spoken conversation, leaving in occasional miss-started sentences, and incomplete ones where we interrupted and cut each other off. For anyone wishing to read the full transcript, shorn of any further comment and question, you may inspect it at your leisure: here.

Declan Hurl on site at Drumclay (via The Impartial Reporter)
That would appear simple enough, if it had not been for the somewhat complicating factor of Declan Hurl sending an open letter to Prof Gabriel Cooney (and cc’ing co-authors Nick Brannon and Sarah Witchell, along with DoE Minister Mark H. Durkan) for publication in Archaeology Ireland magazine. Hurl’s Apologia Pro Excavatio Sua covers much of the same ground as the Rodney Moffett conversation. I had thought about attempting to deal with them separately, but they are so closely related that it seemed best to take them together. With regard to Hurl’s Apologia, I should clearly state that I have not spoken to Prof Cooney, or either of his co-authors, about this letter or their feelings regarding it. Personally, I hope that Cooney’s initial response was to have it printed on nice soft paper and then use it to liberally dab away the tears of mirth and laughter before getting on with something that actually deserved his attention. It shouldn’t need saying, but I’m going to do it anyway: Cooney and his co-authors are not helpless damsels in high towers – they do not require me to ride to their aid. However, as the Apologia is an open letter on a topic I feel strongly about, I believe that I am well within my rights to provide analysis and rebuttal. The other thing I should say is that following the publication of the Apologia, I was approached by a member of the Phase 1 excavation crew who offered me their responses to a number of Hurl’s assertions. Where I have quoted from the notes they provided, they are referred to as TLA (Three Letter Acronym) to preserve their anonymity. To investigate whether or not TLA’s rebuttals were fair and accurate, I approached another member of the Phase 1 excavation crew for their response to the Apologia, but (crucially) did not share TLA’s comments with them. This second person (hereafter TLB) provided a remarkably coherent and consistent picture that matched TLA’s in almost every detail.

… now read on …

The Interview & The Apologia
It all seemed to go so well at the beginning – everything was civilised, friendly … even cordial. Then I attempted to ask the first question on the agreed agenda. However, Rodney Moffett obviously had other things on his mind and a message that he dearly wanted to get across: Cooney got it wrong because he didn’t engage with Amey and this has led to inaccuracies in the final report.

Rodney Moffett (RM) “First of all, in relation to Prof Cooney’s report, I am disappointed that he decided not to engage with ourselves, and as such some of the information he has in his report is factually incorrect. That is a disappointment and it is something we have raised with the Department. Prof Cooney was given a task to do and I imagine that in that task he was set out some boundaries which may or may not have been to engage with ourselves. I think that was wrong and I am disappointed that that happened.”

“Prof Cooney misses the fact that RPS liaised with the NIEA between 2006-2008, which is unfortunate and disappointing. Prior to that, Scott Wilson (who were another consultant who are now Aecom) liaised with NIEA, as I understand, looking at the line originally.”

Robert M Chapple (RMC) “So you strongly believe that Prof Cooney is wrong in this?”

(RM) “He is wrong. It’s not that I believe. He is factually wrong. Now, does that change the overall system? That’s debatable. But, as a fact, there was liaising that took place between RPS, on our behalf and the Department’s behalf, and NIEA in 2006 and subsequently in early 2008, and those communications have been missed, for whatever reason, by Prof Cooney.”

(RMC) “He states very clearly where he got his information from – what was given him by DRD and from NIEA. If they didn’t …”

(RM) “They never asked us. They obviously didn’t have a record themselves. I can’t comment on the state of their files, but I have our records … I have RPS’s email out and I have NIEA’s response back.”

(RM) “Again, it is unfortunate, for whatever reason, that the decision was taken not to engage, because we could have provided more information that may have been useful. Essentially, before we ever get to the Environmental Statement there were two public information events where the proposed road alignments were highlighted, suggestions on how to proceed were identified, and comments were received from members of the public and Statuary Consultees. The Environmental Statement was then produced and published, and again was subject to Public scrutiny, and there were no objections received.”

Even right at the end of the interview, he returns to this point that Prof Cooney didn’t engage with Amey in the production of this report:

(RM) “I was disappointed at some of the things that are simply wrong and factually incorrect because the information wasn’t there, and that’s a frustration.”

Rodney Moffett (via New Civil Engineer)
From what I can ascertain, the terms of reference of the review were set to only include information from the two main government sources: NIEA and the DRD. My own perspective is that this decision was flawed and that key information was missed because of this. As I have said before, there are a number of points where I feel that the exclusion of the narrative concerning the activities of the Cherrymount Crannog Crisis advocacy group has led to a deeply skewed take on how the situation was finally resolved. Coming at it from Amey’s perspective, I see that it must be frustrating that certain matters appear to be incorrectly described in the report, when a request for additional information could have provided the answers. But, as noted above, even Rodney Moffett admits that many of these are relatively minor considerations that do not impact on the overall situation (“Now, does that change the overall system? That’s debatable.”). True, it would be nice to have a clearer understanding of the correspondence between Amey and NIEA as far back as it really went, but does any of this diminish the reality of the fact that by July 2012 the crannog at Drumclay was being poorly excavated by Declan Hurl and without any competent oversight from NIEA? Not in the least! If anything, evidence of a longer period of consultation between NIEA, DRD, and Amey on the existence of and means of successfully resolving the archaeology is even more shameful.

One way or another, Rodney Moffett wanted and needed to get that point across, and I realised that there was no way of redirecting him until he was satisfied that he’d got it out there. It was only when he’d covered the topic to his satisfaction that we could move on to the first topic on the agenda:

How do you feel that the actions of Declan Hurl reflect on your company and how they may reflect on Amey’s corporate values?

During the previous segment he stated that:

(RM) “I’ll be honest in that in terms of Declan, he’s a very passionate individual who has a style that some people might call it ‘belligerent’, if that’s a word I can use. As an archaeologist, he has worked with us for a number of years now, but essentially I have always found him to be professional in his conduct, he’s passionate about doing a good and proper job.”

In coming to the question proper, he had this to say:

(RM) “I can understand that, at times Declan comes across as quite authoritarian. FarrimondMcManus, after the events were raised [i.e. post July 17 2012], expressed frustrations and concerns at the approach taken. I asked why this was not raised before, but it was raised afterwards.”

(RM) “Was Declan authoritarian in his approach? Yes, I would accept that he probably was. Was he professionally efficient in his role? I’m not in a position to say, but when I asked people whose opinion I respect, I was concerned that their initial answer wasn’t a complete yes. These people did not challenge his professional ability per se, but they did, and it’s easy in hindsight, but they did express concerns that the approach being adopted was, in their view, slightly old-fashioned and not in line with modern techniques.”

(RMC) “This is a view that has been expressed on a number of occasions. I suppose, we all get old and our techniques get old with us … that’s why we need new archaeologists, new engineers …”

(RM) “I suppose then, in terms of how does it reflect on our company values … obviously … Amey as a company are 21,000 employees across the UK. The company is focused on providing a service to our clients and our underlying ethos is all about progression, collaboration, and working with people. The authoritarian style doesn’t sit well with that, and I accept that there are issues there. I suppose, in hindsight, from my view point to be perfectly honest, in terms of us deciding that a member of our team could lead the archaeological excavation was, in hindsight, probably a decision that it would have been better to separate that completely from the company, because there would have been more, in my view, robust checks and balances in terms of sharing that across the board. And that’s a lesson that we’ve learned …”

(RMC) “If I may say, I think that’s a very important lesson …”

(RM) “Oh it is – I have no issue with that at all … But, equally, as an individual, Declan came to us – in fairness – quite a degree of experience. And his CV, his past experience, I would say extremely good in the field of archaeology in Ireland. I don’t know enough about it, but looking at it on paper, it looked good to me! I can’t comment much more than to say that I’ve spoken to others that have worked in archaeology, who I know through personal connections, and just asked the question and most people have heard of Declan in some shape or form. Most people are aware that he has good experience. He obviously held quite senior post in Environment & Heritage at the time, before he decided to come out into the private sector. So, from a decision point – hindsight’s 20:20 – but from a decision point at the time, we appointed him because he was capable of doing the job. He was, in our view, strong enough to manage the conflict between programme and archaeological needs.”

That’s a pretty strong statement from Rodney Moffett! My first reaction was that I want to work for Amey … when you’ve screwed up so hard that there’s a government investigation into your actions (among other things) it would be easy for a company to quietly suggest that you seek employment elsewhere … anywhere … Now! … But, instead you’ve got a manager who’s willing to travel across town to personally defend you, rather than throwing you under the bus … that’s a great company to work for. Even still, Rodney Moffett’s statements are instructive. He agrees that Declan Hurl’s management approach was ‘belligerent’ and ‘authoritarian’ and notes that, even if only informed after the event, his approach was outdated and antiquated. While being a robust defence of his employee, Rodney Moffett’s words are obviously nuanced and controlled, holding back from a fully-fledged endorsement. In terms of ‘lessons learned’ it is gratifying to see that one change that Amey have implemented is the division of roles between their company archaeologist and the providers of archaeological advice and expertise.

My next questions asked for comment around the issue of the trenching work that was judged by Prof Cooney to have been in breach of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. In his report Cooney had stated:

“[T]he trenches dug with a machine had not been excavated archaeologically, that Declan Hurl did not direct the work (as licensed), nor was he even present. The work carried out was unauthorised and in contravention of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995. [¶] At a site meeting on the 29 February Amey agreed that the trenches had been dug without archaeological supervision. The Amey archaeologist had pointed out the illegality of the action but had not said this in the report which he had written for Amey to submit to NIEA”

When questioned on this point Rodney Moffett said:

(RM) “The trenching work that Prof Cooney’s referring to is obviously the second set of trenching – there was the first set of trenching that was done pre-contract. There was a second exercise of trenching that was done under the instruction of the NIEA, where the NIEA asked us to excavate to establish the extent of the crannog, and our site team have recorded that. In fairness to the NIEA individual, they – perhaps rightly or wrongly – assumed that would be done archaeologically. And, in fairness to the site supervision team, they didn’t hear those words. So they just said ‘OK, let’s find the extents of the crannog’. So there was …”

(RMC) “So, you reckon this comes down to a communication issue?”

(RM) “All I can take is the records of the site meeting where, again, if Prof Cooney had asked he’d have seen, where the instruction was given – and it’s clear – there was an instruction given … and, in fairness to Declan … again the slant that Prof Cooney puts on it, I think, is incorrect. Once it was discovered that a mistake had been made and, in fairness to Declan, he highlighted it with the NIEA senior officer … the NIEA senior officer, as I understand it, changed then completely – there was one person on it and then the second person came in. The second person raised it in discussion with Declan. Declan highlighted that in his view it was illegal, and between them there was an agreement made that, essentially, a trenching report would be completed to salvage the exercise. I have challenged our guys because, obviously, an illegal act is quite a serious matter, and I’m disappointed that Prof Cooney has sought to use that language. As I say, at the time NIEA were aware – they didn’t seek to prosecute or anything else. Essentially, it was them that instructed that we do it. Equally, our site supervision team – who are engineering based – probably took the words too literally. And, we’ve said that to them: ‘this was an archaeological [site] why did you do it?’ and it was ‘that’s what we were told to do!’ … and that’s what the records have shown me …”

Declan Hurl devotes a portion of the Apologia to this topic, explaining that he was working in England at the time of the unlicensed trenching and that he wasn’t responsible for these actions and is in no way to blame. Taken together, the statements from Declan Hurl and Rodney Moffett are perfectly understandable: the NIEA operative did not make the situation clear to the engineering personnel on the site that the work should be carried out under the direction of an archaeologist. Declan Hurl only heard about it later. As this piece of legislation only applies to archaeologists, there was no fault on the behalf of either Declan Hurl or the Amey engineers, and we’re all just naughty, naughty children for suggesting otherwise …

… absolutely …

                … you got me there, guys! …

                                … oh … wait a minute … the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 doesn’t just apply to archaeologists present at the time! The evidence presented here may – in part – exonerate Declan Hurl from direct complicity in the illegal trenching activities, but it still raises new and troubling questions about how the archaeological site works were being handled by Amey. How come the licenced archaeologist was deployed on other works to England when it appears that the crannog was a ‘live’ site requiring archaeological oversight? How come NIEA and Amey engineers were discussing how to resolve the archaeology in the absence of the licenced archaeologist? If this version of events is shown to be correct, Declan Hurl may not be directly to blame for this illegal activity. However, there still remains the issue that, as the licenced archaeologist, he must retain some degree of responsibility for the works carried out on the site. While Rodney Moffett would spin this as a communications error – NIEA staff didn’t make it clear to Amey engineers (in the absence of the site archaeologist) that works impacting the archaeology must be overseen by an archaeologist – I really can’t find fault with the NIEA here. What other expectation could there possibly be? It’s an archaeological site and the company has an archaeologist on staff – why could you possibly think that this is not an archaeological issue? It’s not like Amey have never dealt with archaeological sites before. As Rodney Moffett says later on in the interview: “this is not the first site that archaeology has been on … we’ve done several …” … well, if that is the case, why wasn’t there even a basic understanding that these works should be archaeologically monitored? While this portion of the Apologia may be described as an attempt at deflection and self-preservation, it would seek to bypass the issue of, if not Declan Hurl, then who is to blame for the unlicensed trenching of the crannog? Rodney Moffett says it quite clearly: ‘our site supervision team’. Given the current evidence, I would suggest that they had every reason to understand that works on and around an archaeological site would require the presence of an archaeologist. If Amey are unable to employ engineers with this much rudimentary sense, I fear that this will do much more damage to the company’s professional reputation than anything wreaked by one ‘belligerent’ and ‘authoritarian’ archaeologist. Reading between the lines of these two statements it appears to show a company ill-placed and ill-prepared to deal effectively with archaeological undertakings. Their engineers appear to have no understanding of, or respect for, the work done by their company archaeologist and a management layer that is content to redeploy the archaeologist to England during crucial periods. It’s not a picture that fills me with confidence in their abilities. If NIEA were not at fault for ineffective communication of their requests, they are certainly at fault for not pursuing a prosecution once they realised that a potential breach of the Order had occurred. Not only did they not seek to prosecute the offence, they didn’t so much as administer a slap on the wrist for it, eventually renewing the license without any further conditions, warnings, reprimands, notes … nothing! This in itself should give the reader pause for thought at the degree of capability and leadership shown by NIEA personnel.

Regarding Declan Hurl’s interrogation of the crew and the summary dismissal of one ‘whistle blower’, I asked:

(RMC) “Ok … moving on to point four [of the agenda] … my understanding of the events was that … 17th of July my blog post is published to, I would say from my perspective much more response than I had ever anticipated … Declan rounds everybody up, brings them into the site hut and – I’ve been told by a number of people – basically proceeded to shout at them. And, when one person – and I will say this to you … I was spoken to by a number of people on that site – but one person decided that they were going to, essentially, take one for the team, claimed that he was the sole ‘whistle blower’ and was immediately fired by Declan. That is my understanding of it. How do you feel about it? Is that a correct assessment? …”

(RM) “I’ve asked if that happened. It’s not Declan’s view on what happened, although he does acknowledge that he held a meeting with all the people and they were all in the room and there were words exchanged. In terms of hiring and firing, the excavators didn’t work for Declan, so he wasn’t in apposition to either hire or fire. Once the blog occurred there was contact made with FarrimondMacManus who were the employers and, ultimately, it was their decision as to who remained on site or who went off. That said, Robert, and I fully acknowledge that there obviously was a quite serious breakdown in communications at that stage between Declan as the lead archaeologist and those who were there, essentially, as a team and I can’t comment on the decision taken by FarrimondMacManus but I believe it was more focused around maintaining a team rather than apportioning blame, and that’s my understanding from speaking to them afterwards about it.”

(RMC) “So you would see it that this wasn’t Declan’s doing because he didn’t actually …”

(RM) “No I can’t …”

(RMC) “I’ll be honest with you – that is not the story that I have heard from people that were in the room”

(RM) “… now, I can’t – hand on heart – say that Declan didn’t turn around and say ‘you’re out’ … I can’t say that, but I can say that he didn’t have the authority to say that and it wasn’t his job to say that. And, ultimately, the final solution came from FarrimondMacManus. So, what happened on that day – I’ve asked Declan and he’s written me quite a bit of notes on it, actually. But, where he talks about his interpretation … [quotes from notes] “interrogation of the team involved my speaking to them en masse and asking who had been supplying photographs and comment deriding our clients against protocols about which they were informed in their induction.” He says he remained civil and controlled throughout … again, I can only take his word for it … I wasn’t …”

(RMC) “I think that’s a position that would be challenged by those I’ve spoken to …”

(RM) “I didn’t have any other employees in that room at that time, as I understand. I’ve asked my site team, and nobody else claimed witness to it, so I can only comment on what I’m being told. But, ultimately, the hiring and firing – who worked and who didn’t – was a decision for FarrimondMacManus.”

(RMC) [Agenda item 5] “So, I would take it that you don’t believe that either Declan or, Amey as his employer, owes anybody an apology?”

(RM) “No … listen … this job did not go well, and I fully acknowledge that! Ultimately, there is a crannog – fair enough, that’s been excavated in Enniskillen that could still be there – ultimately, there are lessons to be learned. In terms of owing any individual an apology, I don’t think that I’m in a position where I can apologise on an individual basis. But, as a company, I am sorry that a lot of these issues were not addressed before they ever happened. You know, hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and I am frustrated that some of the information that we received was not clear to allow us to make more appropriate decisions, particularly in the design and assessment stage, to be honest. And that’s where my bigger frustration is, I have to say, particularly in … it’s easy to pick on NIEA, but had there been a stronger line taken at that stage, basically ‘there’s a risk there’s archaeology here – don’t even go near it!’ … that sorts it out.”

(RM) Ultimately … from my perspective, personally, we had a team on site that effectively – for whatever reason – there were people on that team who weren’t happy and that’s an issue … if you want to say an apology, I am disappointed that unhappiness wasn’t addressed when it first arose, if it arose ... as I say, the first we were made aware of it was when the blog occurred. Now, that was a disappointment to me and that was an issue for me. As I say, I spoke to FarrimondMacManus who were the supply chain and the people that I knew who were supplying the staff and, in fairness to them, as I understand it, they weren’t fully aware of the extent of the problems. Because I think they would have acted, similar to myself, in that they would have done something to address it, and that’s a concern … so, if there is an apology to be made, Robert, I have no issue with apologising for that reason, because people shouldn’t be treated like that. Whether their cause is right or wrong is irrelevant …

In discussing when and how he came to find out about Declan Hurl’s activities and the situation on the excavation site, Rodney Moffett had this to say:

(RM) “I spoke to FarrimondMacManus about the others on site, because I wanted to get a balance. There’s two sides to every story. When the blog first came out, we understood and we found out that there were pressures on site. The question to Declan was what, essentially, is going on? And the answers were that there were some in the excavation team who either were unhappy about being there or were destructive to the works in some shape or form. I challenged that and, on a balanced view, I think there were faults on both sides. I accept that Declan was authoritarian in his style and adopted slightly older methods. I think the method that that was challenged, if it had gone through FarrimondMacManus it probably could have been resolved on site. I think it is disappointing that, for whatever reason, the individuals … I don’t understand why … I understand they, perhaps, raised it with Declan, but didn’t raise it with their own management team – for whatever reason – and I can’t answer why that happened.”

(RMC) “My understanding is that they attempted to raise it directly with Declan as the site director and, my understanding is that, although I haven’t spoken to the particular person, that discussions or feelers were sent out to NIEA to raise concerns. I can’t speak as to whether FarrimondMacManus were contacted or spoken to in any way …”

(RM) “As I said, I spoke to FarrimondMacManus after it first came out and it was accepted that there was a balance. Whilst I’m not in any shape or form pretending that Declan was blameless, I think there was fault on both sides in some shape or form.”

(RMC) “… so, it basically comes down to ‘it’s not as bad as it was painted, but yes there were faults both in terms of Declan’s management style and his approach to excavating the crannog …”

(RM) “As I understand, and, again, I’m not an expert on archaeology in any shape or form, so I can’t comment, but I’ve taken feelers on the approach taken and I’m led to believe that the approach was, if I can say ‘old fashioned’. It may not necessarily have been professionally flawed, because I don’t know that, but certainly the consideration was that it was old fashioned in the manner.”

There is much to be unpacked and mulled over here, but the most salient points are that Declan Hurl has a profoundly different narrative of the events surrounding this altercation from the rest of the excavation crew I’ve spoken to. Further, in the absence of a corroborating witness, even Rodney Moffett is unenthusiastic about fully endorsing Declan Hurl's version of events. In the context of the Apologia, Rodney Moffett's phrase ‘there were people on that team who weren’t happy’ takes on special significance. Declan Hurl states:

“I need to go on record now to state my contention that the bulk of the responsibility for this situation lies with certain core members of the team, whose disruptive conduct I had to bring to the attention of their employers as early as the second week of the project. Whatever issues they had with being assigned to this project under my direction, they clearly bridled at the imposition and from the very start did not pass up any opportunity to argue, object to and criticise my position in front of the whole team.”

In the first instance, this is pretty much contradictory to Rodney Moffett’s claim that FarrimondMacManus “weren’t fully aware of the extent of the problems.” Beyond that, Declan Hurl’s contention is that there were troublemakers who really didn’t want to be on the site and so decided to be maliciously obstructive. This is totally and wholly believable because in 2012 there were just so very many jobs for field archaeologists to choose from … people were just crying out for archaeologists and if you didn’t like the job you were on, you could just cause trouble because the next one was just around the corner. In fact, the situation was quite tedious – you could hardly get any digging done for being in such demand and don’t even get me started on the constant adulation!

Sorry! ...

... My mistake! ...

That’s part of a post for an alternative universe version of this blog … the one where I’m an archaeo-rockstar and go everywhere on my unicorn that constantly vomits rainbows!

No … 2012 … in this reality at least … was a rubbish time for archaeologists … in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, jobs were few and far between and those that were available were incredibly coveted. This is a period where something in the region of 60-80% of the profession left to find alternative employment because the prospects were so poor. I may be vastly wrong, but a narrative that relies on disgruntled archaeologists causing mischief for no reason must be deeply suspect. The information I received back in 2012 was that there was resistance to Declan Hurl’s running of the site, not due to any personal dislike of him as an individual, but because of his inability to conduct the excavation in an efficient, professional manner and in accordance with anything resembling modern methods and strategies. On this point, the notes I have received from TLA say that:

“[T]he team were struggling on a daily basis to introduce some kind of professionalism, science and systematic methodology in the face of a stone wall of ignorance, denial and disregard for archaeology in the form of Amey and Declan Hurl”.

TLB says that:

“[a vastly experienced archaeologist] did delight in pointing out his [Declan Hurl’s] multiple incompetencies at every opportunity (certainly not the best form), but [that person] was almost always correct in [their] assessment in my opinion.”

In replying to Prof Cooney’s statement that ‘It cannot be a surprise that there were communication problems between the site director and staff’, Declan Hurl responds that: “the implication once again being that I was the main cause of the strained relations between myself and certain—by no means all—members of the excavation team”. TLB provides a broader picture when they say:

“Yes, DH [Declan Hurl] was certainly the principal antagonist, and actually yes, the entire crew were unimpressed with his direction. The fact that some members of the crew were outspoken while others were not speaks on the job insecurity felt by most sub-contracting archaeologists than any sense of admiration for DH.”

My assessment of the available evidence is that Declan Hurl is correct in saying that he had a number of vocal and vociferous detractors on site, but is deeply disingenuous in his reporting of their motivations. These were not individuals doing this for the fun of being annoying, nor were they bored at having to dig a wetland site with great structural and artefactual preservation. These were, as I have long stated, highly skilled, experienced, and committed archaeologists who were outraged at the treatment of the site by Declan Hurl. All the narratives about this site at this time are in agreement on this point. The fact that he has attempted to sell this alternate version of events to both his employer and the archaeological profession at large is nothing short of shameful.

From there we move to Agenda item 6 – a request for comment on Declan Hurl’s post July 30 2012 history on the site and his employment generally. As this question potentially touched on several items of Hurl’s personal employment record, I was keen to tread gently, but still wished for an answer. Here in particular, there are points that have been redacted at the request of Rodney Moffett.

(RMC) “… So what happened with Declan after the 30th of July 2012? Up to that point he had been the sole director, he then became co-director, and by the time the license was renewed in January he was no longer on the site – the license was renewed solely to Dr Bermingham.”

(RM) “Declan remains an employee of Amey. He remains working in the field of archaeology. Since that time he has supervised some excavations, although the number of excavations he has supervised has been minimal, both because of recession (obviously) and extent of work – none of those excavations have been in Northern Ireland as such. [Redacted content]”

(RMC) “So, I take it that he didn’t receive any disciplinary action? Or retraining … mentoring?”

(RM) “He didn’t receive any disciplinary action [Redacted content]”

(RMC) “I would take it that the final part of my question … you would very much take the position that, in light of Prof Cooney’s report, he shouldn’t face censure now?”

(RM) “Ah … I would take that position, yeah. Again, in terms of lessons learned, I would also take the position that we would not, as a company, be undertaking any archaeological excavations or major works in Northern Ireland. Simply, we’re not going to put him into that position again. Now, that’s not an acceptance that Declan necessarily did anything wrong, but it’s an acceptance that there is a benefit from having those roles separate.”

It is clear from the forgoing that the official line from Amey is that Declan Hurl did nothing wrong, he has not faced any censure, nor should he, nor will he. Unsurprisingly, this is a position heavily promoted by Declan Hurl himself – it was not his fault and the whole issue can be blamed on disruptive elements … aggravated archaeologists … several seditious scribes from Caesarea ... Samson the Sadducee Strangler ... whatever self-serving fantasy you like. Declan Hurl’s real achievement here though is to get his boss to go out and bat for him. In the face of all this evidence it’s actually quite impressive. Perhaps even more impressive is Rodney Moffett’s attempt to spin the ‘lesson learned’ of separating Amey from the archaeological advice they receive. He is keen to promulgate the notion that this is something that they’ve decided and in no way is it to be taken as an indication that Declan Hurl was wrong in any way. Obviously, it’s purely related to the kindness and compassion of Amey that they don’t want to ‘put him into that position again’ … of course it is ... and Dr. Theodore Woodward would undoubtedly agree ...

I had next wanted to move on and request comment on Prof Cooney’s statement that “It does not appear that RS/Amey and from late 2011 MHPT JV had a coherent or consistent strategy to mitigate the impact of the road on the crannog”. However, in his urge to provide a lengthy opening statement, this topic was somewhat covered, and I felt that there was little need to get him to reiterate the lot again.

(RM) “So, long story short … the crannog was identified and whilst the location wasn’t finalised in terms of the extents. Because the ground conditions were so bad we couldn’t manually get in to excavate the extents, and it wasn’t possible to get machinery in at that stage. Again, Prof Cooney, for whatever reason, I don’t think has touched on this. There was a trenching exercise done … early 2011 … January/February time … which was supervised under license by Declan and some members of staff from FarrimondMcManus.”

(RM) “Basically, they got down to about a meter’s depth and then the crannog was waterlogged …”

(RMC) “Yeah … 60cm was the figure given …” [see here]

(RM) “But that obviously informed Declan’s thinking in terms of what he found at that stage. Declan came back, reported what he found, produced a report that was submitted to NIEA. At that stage the mitigation of preserve in situ was considered and it was basically down to, from an engineering perspective, ‘how do we do this?’ … Pressures of timescale, pressures of getting the job out, it was decided in partnership with the Department [DRD] that a ‘design and build’ solution would be sought, so the contract went out with a contractor-design element. Within that contractor-design element the preserve in situ approach was clearly documented. So I do fundamentally disagree with Prof Cooney’s statement that there wasn’t a clear mitigation strategy – there was. The tenders came back and a consortium of McLaughlin and Harvey-P.T. McWilliams J.V. [MHPT JV] were ultimately appointed. Their proposed design solution in that area was to strengthen the ground through soil mixing and a piling solution with a span across the crannog. Again, and I don’t have the exact dates, but I know that our geotechnical team engaged directly with the NIEA on that solution – both prior to the tender going out and subsequent to the tender coming back, in terms of ‘is this acceptable?’. Now there was differing discussions and differing views on it, and in fairness to NIEA I don’t want to pick on individuals, but different individuals had different answers. There was an acceptance from one [on one] occasion for a pile or a couple of piles to be driven through the crannog. There was a rejection on another occasion of the same solution.”

This one is hard to adjudicate on – based on Rodney Moffett’s responses, he is adamant that there was long-term interaction with NIEA and a well-defined (if evolving) plan in place to resolve the archaeology associated with the crannog. It may be that there exists a larger body of communications that were not preserved by NIEA and not made available to Prof Cooney that show these longer chains of communication. If such evidence does exist and was made available, it may allow for a more nuanced picture of the dealings between Amey and the various government departments, especially NIEA. It may even remove the totality of that charge, but it would seem unlikely to lessen Cooney’s criticism of Amey and MHPT JV for lacking a “coherent or consistent strategy to mitigate the impact of the road on the crannog”. I think that there is much more to be said on this point, but in the absence of the production and evaluation of evidence beyond the remit of the original investigation no clarity can emerge from it. Nonetheless, Rodney Moffett’s comment at the end of the above piece is interesting in that it expresses a degree of frustration with the inconsistent advice coming from the two Senior Inspectors at NIEA who dealt with the case. I put it to him that this lack of a synoptic view from NIEA was identified by Prof Cooney as, if not a key failing, then as a contributing difficulty to the Drumclay fiasco:

(RM) “True, but I suppose I feel for NIEA, I have to say, because I feel that they have been vilified quite a bit – rightly or wrongly – I don’t know enough about it, but I know the individuals involved were keen to do the right thing. So, I know that their approach was right … their answers may have been wrong, and it was frustrating for us at times, but I know they engaged proactively and they were focused …”

Coming to the issue of how the whole Drumclay fiasco reflects on  Amey’s perceived ability to manage the resolution of significant heritage assets Rodney Moffett had this to say:

(RM) “[It reflects on Amey] Extremely badly! As a company, we employ 300-350 people in Northern Ireland, overall. From a design perspective, I’ve 100 people sitting in Belfast …”

(RM) “Essentially, Northern Ireland’s a small place … any negative comment puts those jobs at risk. That’s a big issue for me – that’s a major issue for me! I’m not in any way seeking to belittle what happened on this job, or this crannog, because these are major issues that do need to be properly understood, and I accept that. But, equally, I think there’s a difference between lessons and guilt, and what frustrates me is that reading some of the comments, there’s a presumption of guilt, rather than a desire to understand and that’s one of the reasons that – probably my biggest issue – with the way this subsequent work has been undertaken … I think it’s been more of apportioning blame as opposed to ‘how do we make this better?’”

(RMC) “I’ll say that a lot of the comments in Prof Cooney’s report maybe do take a slightly ‘blame’ side. However, his core recommendations, they are very much forward-looking and, from my perspective, I do think it’s important that blame both at a corporate and an individual level is apportioned. Not, necessarily, to drum people out of jobs … I don’t want that if that’s not appropriate. But for people to say ‘I did this … this was my responsibility … I wasn’t up to the task … I didn’t do it’ … at all levels … everybody involved in this needs to take away ‘lessons learned’.”

(RM) “… but if you can understand from my perspective … I talked to you of 300 people … I’ve got one archaeologist … I’ve got one archaeologist … we’ve done numerous projects that have had archaeological involvement ... all of them have gone relatively well ... bar one! The one that has gone wrong has gone really wrong, but the frustration from my perspective is that I know that all are putting their full effort in … and it’s easy for me to turn around and say ‘listen, we relied on what the NIEA said to us!’ … and to a degree we did, but that’s simplifying the situation too much. There’s a level of interpretation that we all have to continuously bear in mind and learn lessons from, and we have done that …”

I suppose that the first thing to take note of here is that there does appear to be a genuine interest on the part of Amey in learning from this situation and ensuring that it is never repeated. Perhaps I’m being over sensitive when I feel that his point that “any negative comment puts those jobs at risk” attempts to shift the blame for a deterioration in Amey’s image from their own actions to vocal commentators such as myself. I would make the point that any damage to Amey’s public image would stem wholly and solely from their own actions and mismanagement of this site and Declan Hurl as Site Director, rather than the reporting of the situation. It is equivalent to attempting to blame Woodward and Bernstein for committing the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. While both Rodney Moffett and I would be keen to analyse the situation to understand the lessons that need to be learned so that this never happens again, I do believe that responsibility should be identified at the level of both institute/company and individual. Without this degree of resolution of culpability being identified, how can individuals ever be retrained, mentored, tutored, re-educated to improve their performance? By the same token, the identification of individual-level responsibility would potentially indicate that some personnel be pensioned off to ‘spend more time with their families’ or simply told to find alternative employment. Without this level of investigation and correction I firmly believe that another iteration of the Drumclay fiasco is inevitable.

My final question to Rodney Moffett was one that I had not included in the original blog post, but had begun to think was quite salient: which company/body is named on the contract as being responsible for organising and funding the post-excavation phase?

(RM) “… nobody is named on the contract …”

(RMC) “… excuse me while I swear internally for a moment …”

(RM) “No, sorry, when I say that, essentially, as I understand … I’m not party to this … so I can’t be crystal on this … in terms of the Cherrymount job as such, the post-excavation works is an issue between the two Departments … so in terms of contractual … there’s been no contract between the Department and ourselves or the Department and [MHPT JV] to …”

(RMC) “Right … the one thing I want a very clear answer, if you can give it, please, is – you’re saying that Amey is not standing in the way of any post-excavation activities?”

(RM) “No!”

(RMC) “Nothing is going to come through you?”

(RM) “No!”

(RMC) “You’re not going to be in a position to channel funds?”

(RM) “Not at all …”

(RMC) “Rubberstamp anything?”

(RM) “No.”

(RMC) “Thank you! That is a very important question!”

Despite my initial reaction, I think there’s some good news here. Amey are in no position to influence the process of post-excavation analysis and publication. No monies are going through them and they’re in no position to delay the process. However, the more worrying issue is that, based on Rodney Moffett’s understanding of the situation, there was no formal agreement in place before the commencement of the excavation to ensure that the post-excavation phase would be properly resourced and funded. It can only be regarded as extremely worrying that the ultimate fate of the site archive and its publication appears to reside in a grey area to be debated over by two government departments. Beyond the watchfulness that now needs to be placed on NIEA, DRD and any engineering companies undertaking large-scale infrastructural works, this question of how the excavated materials are stored, conserved, curated, and published are of the highest importance. For now, all we can do is watch and wait.

That’s pretty much where the interview with Rodney Moffett ended. However, there are still a number of points of rebuttal that Declan Hurl raises in the Apologia that should also be addressed here. In my interview with Rodney Moffett I stated that:

(RMC) “I would say that Prof Cooney gets it absolutely right when he says that ‘The excavation director maintained the view that the occupation level was shallow, focused on the Late Medieval period in date and that construction levels were being exposed.’ And in the report he says ‘This view is not supported either by the archaeological literature on the nature and dating of crannogs, nor by the geotechnical drawings of the crannog ... which were submitted as part of the discussion over a mitigation strategy.’ So, from a lot of different perspectives he should have known better and you can’t explain that away by being ‘a bit out of touch’ …”

I also expressed the personal opinion that I felt Declan Hurl may have been overly influenced by the results of a programme of dating Fermanagh crannogs carried out while he was employed by the NIEA. The programme centred on the radiocarbon dating of surface timbers from a selection of crannogs and largely returned late dates. I had heard the opinion emanating from NIEA personnel in the past that the Fermanagh crannogs were late in the sequence and I felt that it may have had a bearing on his thinking. His reasoning may still have been wrong, but at least there would be context for it. However, in the Apologia Declan Hurl claims that Prof Cooney’s assessment is false. In essence, he appears to argue that his conclusion that the crannog was shallow and dated to the Late Medieval period was based on the fact that the portion dug during the exploratory excavations was shallow and … you guessed it … dated to the Late Medieval period. He goes on to state that:

“I had referenced the archaeological literature (principally Fredengren and O’Sullivan) in that report and was well aware of the current interpretations and evidence on the chronology of such sites; I was not, however, about to ignore all of the evidence recovered from the investigation—that would have been very unprofessional.”

The ‘Fredengren’ referred to is Christina Fredengren, author of numerous pieces on Irish crannogs, including Crannogs: a Study of People's Interaction With Lakes, With Particular Reference to Lough Gara In the North-West of Ireland. ‘O’Sullivan’ obviously refers to Prof Aidan O’Sullivan of UCD. His PhD thesis was on The Social and Ideological Role of Crannogs in Early Medieval Ireland and has written extensively on all aspects of crannogs and Early Medieval settlement and economy, including a beginners introduction to the subject: Crannogs: Lake-dwellings of early Ireland. So, Declan Hurl's defence hangs on the idea that although he had access to, and claimed familiarity with, the works of the major thought leaders in the field, he ignored them and all their publications and all of their combined expertise because the preliminary investigation – that stopped at a mere 0.60m – indicated a late date.

I’ll be honest and say that Declan Hurl’s rebuttal here did give me pause. What sort of depths and thicknesses should we be expecting from these sites? Was there no reason to expect that the Drumclay site should or could have been so deep? Had Declan Hurl been judged too harshly by Prof Cooney, by myself, and a host of other commentators? Were we all wrong? There’s a long list of things I am not, and somewhere on there is the term ‘Wetland Archaeology Expert’, so I decided to ask one for their professional opinion. Even after a brief series of exchanges with this individual (hereafter TLC), it was clear to me that several of the most significant Irish crannog type sites have considerable depth. For example, Ballinderry I in County Westmenth was approximately 5m in depth, while Lagore in County Meath was found to be around 3m in thickness. Even the partially waterlogged Early Medieval site at Deerpark Farms, County Antrim (a site that Declan Hurl actually worked on), was the same general thickness of several meters. The only sensible conclusion is that, had he been in any way familiar with the published evidence, Declan Hurl would have known that crannogs (and Early Medieval sites generally) could be of several metres in thickness. That he did not embrace this as even a vague possibility indicates a catastrophic failure of professionalism.

A few lines later in the Apologia he states that:

“I was reporting my conclusion from the evidence recovered, i.e. that the depth of the accessible occupation phase, as opposed to construction material, appeared to be shallow.” [emphasis mine]

It appears that Declan Hurl’s conceptualisation of the Drumclay crannog was one of a thick ‘Construction Layer’ overlain by a shallow ‘Occupation Layer’. Not only is this view not supported by the available literature, it was proven not to be the case on excavation of the Drumclay crannog. That excavation happened in 2012 and the Apologia wasn’t published until 2015, but it is clear that he is still clinging to this flawed understanding of the site and attempting to use it as a justification for his approach. Not only that, but even a basic understanding of the available literature (especially that by such luminaries as Fredengren and O’Sullivan) makes it clear that crannogs frequently contain multiple phases of activity, and were inhabited over a protracted timescale that may range from the Bronze Age to the Late Medieval period. Further, the exceptional thicknesses of several of the key excavated sites mentioned above were built up of successive layers of occupation, each forming the construction material for the succeeding occupation phase.

In reply to Prof Cooney’s statement that Declan Hurl “assumed that there was limited, very shallow Late Medieval occupation of the crannog and that the site was constructed in this period” TLA clearly asserts:

“That statement is true. Hurl told the supervisors that it dated to something like 1450AD and that’s how old it was. He got that date from a sample he took from his 50cm [60cm] test trenches. It never occurred to him (or he didn’t want to admit) that it might be older and that it might be several meters deep. Any first year archaeology student knows that crannogs can date back to [the] fifth or sixth century and that they can be very, very deep. He says he was relying on “all the evidence recovered from the investigation” but that was just one sample which was pretty much taken from the top soil! The fact that he thought it could be excavated in a mere four weeks proves that either he knows nothing about crannogs or he was willing to destroy it for his paymasters.”

This sentiment is clearly echoed by TLB:

“This dichotomy between ‘occupation’ and ‘construction’, of course, is the very crux of what what went wrong. Why he believed, on coming down onto the uppermost occupation layer that it was the only occupation layer, without any wish to investigate further leads one to suspect that he was either utterly incompetent, or utterly unprofessional in his willingness to sacrifice potential archaeology for Amey.”

Regarding his management of the day-to-day running of the Phase 1 excavation, Declan Hurl argues that:

“In Section 6 you [Prof Cooney] stated that I was the only one who could assign context numbers. I can only query the source of this remark; … I assigned blocks of context numbers to each area, and those were assigned individually and as required by the relevant supervisors.”

This is directly contradicted by my correspondent TLA who says:

“[H]e [Declan Hurl] told the supervisors that he was the only one who could allocate context numbers. That quickly became an issue because immediately there were many, many contexts to be labelled and it held up progress considerably. It also made the excavation very inefficient because he was rarely on site.”

Referring to Declan Hurl’s Apologia in Archaeology Ireland TLB says:

“This statement is incorrect as it stands. If pushed, I would call it an outright lie. Under DH’s directorship, only he could give out context numbers. When the supervisors met, during one of his long absences from site, and agreed to take blocks of numbers by quadrant, (perhaps towards the end of the second week on site?), Declan’s initial reaction on finding out was to be furious at them. I believe by the final week he did start to hand out small blocks of numbers.”

With reference to the presence of a camera on site, Prof Cooney noted that there was only one camera on site and that no photographic register had been instituted. Declan Hurl agrees with this assessment, adding that ‘For a site of this size, one camera was all that was required’. He also notes that this was his personal camera and photographic title board and that both were “on site throughout the working day for use by the crew, even when I was not on site myself.” I’ll say that I’ve a bit of sympathy for Declan Hurl here – I’ve run sites where I’ve been forced to make my own camera available as the site camera. I clearly remember one occasion where I was directing two excavations in two different counties and, having to divide my time between the two, could only make the camera available for limited times at each. The difference between my experience and Declan Hurl’s is that I’m not attempting to pass the experience off as an appropriate and professional response to the needs of either excavation. At that time I was in the employ of a less than proficient consultancy that could not organise the purchase of, or apparently afford, an appropriate camera. On the other hand, Declan Hurl worked for Amey Plc, a company described by Rodney Moffett as “focused on providing a service to our clients and our underlying ethos is all about progression, collaboration, and working with people.” This is also a company that, in 2012 alone, had over £5.1M in the bank and a net worth of in excess of £37M – I think they can afford a couple of cameras!

Commenting on this point TLA says:

“[T]he only camera on site was his personal camera which is unprofessional and very inefficient because he was rarely on site and would take the camera with him. … There was so much to photograph that it severely held up progress when the camera was not on site. It is also essential to have a photograph register for obvious reasons!! The supervisors made the register.”

TLB confirms this assessment:

“He would leave site for hours at a time and take the camera with him. This happened often.”

I do take exception at the way Declan Hurl appears to pass over the fact that for a complex excavation that lasted for over a month he did not see the need to produce a photographic register. Anyone with even the most basic experience of working on or directing an archaeological excavation will know that a comprehensive, detailed photographic register is not a ‘would be nice to have’ item, it is a basic requirement. The fact that he does not appear to view it in these terms speaks to a profound lack of professionalism on his behalf. I would suggest that anyone looking for the source of the disenchantment of a remarkably capable and experienced excavation crew, not be taken in by talk of ‘agitators’, but look instead at the multiple and significant failings of the Site Director.

In his rebuttal to Prof Cooney’s belief that he did not have an effective environmental strategy, and that what existed was improvised by the Site Supervisors, Declan Hurl states:

“The policy on site was clear: two-litre samples, or as near as practicable, were collected from all organic strata and fills; all wooden features were to be sampled at their ends to identify species and tool marks, and to provide material for radiocarbon testing; all other suitable strata and fills were also to be sampled as appropriate for analysis and testing; unless they were being worked on or recorded, wooden elements on site were covered by plastic sheeting. All samples were appropriately labelled and bagged/wrapped; all wooden elements were individually identified, numbered and depicted on site drawings. A register of the material from the collapsed north section was created, though I admit that an overall site register was not kept. … Are you seriously contending that this took place without my direction, input, knowledge or approval?”

To TLB’s mind, this description bears no resemblance to reality as it was experienced on site. TLB says:

“No. There was no clear direction from DH regarding sampling – at least to the main crew. It did feel very much that the supervisors were improvising a strategy as they went along and this is reflected in the differing approaches – minimal to start, and obsessively sampling as the project continued.”

TLA expands on this, acknowledging that there was a rudimentary sampling strategy communicated to the Site Supervisors, but that it was ill thought out and inefficient, and it was certainly poorly communicated:

“[T]he supervisors were told that they were to take just three samples; one from the top, one from the middle and one from the bottom [of the crannog as a whole]. This was breathtakingly insufficient, unprofessional and unscientific. There was no instructions about what type of samples were required and for what type of analysis, for example, wood for c14 dating, tree ring dating, lipid analysis, moss, seeds, nuts etc. etc. Nothing of that nature was discussed with the supervisors.”

Specifically referring to Declan Hurl’s claim that wooden elements were adequately recorded, TLA says:

“He had no strategy regarding wood. The supervisors knew that they had to sample wood and improvised a strategy. They placed the wood in Tesco freezer bags and cling film bought with their own money. There was nowhere to store the wood so it was placed in the tool shed. There were no wood working sheets provided (on a crannog excavation!).”

Addressing Declan Hurl’s final point: “Are you seriously contending that this took place without my direction, input, knowledge or approval?” my contacts are unanimous in their denunciation. TLB says:

“That is certainly my impression having spent six weeks on the site”

TLA conveys the same message, if in more forceful terms:

“[Y]es! It did! Myself and [a vastly experienced archaeologist] had both directed sites previously ... Declan gave us hardly any direction at all. We improvised the entire sampling strategy, storage and excavation strategy. Hurl wouldn’t provide us with a level even though we begged for days. The site eventually got one because Amey was informed that it was holding the dig up and so they gave the site a spare one.”

Declan Hurl argues that:

“You [Prof Cooney] reached the conclusion that ‘the central issue was the non-professional standard of the conduct of the excavation under the site director’, i.e. myself. As I have addressed the issues outlined in the review prior to this judgement, I can only assume that other, more damning evidence was collected but not specified in the document, and I am therefore unable to respond.”

While I cannot speak to whether or not Prof Cooney had additional information that he did not include in his report, I can present the consistent testimony of two individuals who were present on site during the Phase 1 excavation. Their statements not only directly contradict the narrative put forward by Declan Hurl, but comprehensively support the assertions made by Prof Cooney. While Declan Hurl may wish to portray his Apologia as a definitive statement of rebuttal that settles all accusations in his favour, it is no such thing. In the light of the comments made by both TLA and TLB, there is no need for ‘other, more damning evidence’ – the conclusions drawn by Prof Cooney can be seen to be well reasoned, balanced, and founded in reality. Let me say this again – loud and clear – so there’s no mistake about it: ‘the central issue was the non-professional standard of the conduct of the excavation under the site director.’ Prof Cooney says it, TLA says it, TLB says it, everyone I’ve spoken to that worked on that site says it, the only person who thinks differently is Declan Hurl!

In a later section of the Apologia he goes on the attack, refuting Prof Cooney’s statement that ‘NIEA and RS/Amey and Dr Bermingham worked well together through regular progress meetings and managed Phase 2 of the excavation very successfully’. Declan Hurl states:

“This is quite at odds with the reports from the time and with various of the submissions to the subcommittee, which record frequent frustration and exasperation”

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that this allegation has been made publicly, though I had been previously aware of it. I don’t presume to know all the details of such frustrations and exasperations, but I would put one further detail in the public record that may add some illumination and context to this remark. As is well known, during the Phase 1 excavations I was approached by a number of people on the site. What I have not previously made public is that I also received a number of contacts during the Phase 2 excavation (directed by Dr Bermingham). There was, however, a distinct difference between these two sets of ‘troublemakers’. The ones making contact during Declan Hurl’s tenure had, as we know, serious concerns at the lack of professionalism and restrictive timescales on the Drumclay excavation. Those seeking to be ‘whistle blowers’ during the Phase 2 excavations were subtly different – their issues centred on the imposed end date to the excavation, to ensure that the road was in place for the June 2013 G8 summit. No one I spoke to during this point had any negative comment about the direction provided by Dr Bermingham or her site supervisors. Perhaps there is more to this that I am unfamiliar with, but I feel that it is important to place this potential piece of context in the public domain.

Next, Declan Hurl attempts to contrast his experience at Drumclay with an account of his time on the A75 Dunragit Bypass in Scotland. He correctly describes the archaeology uncovered as “very significant” and goes on to label the workforce he was supplied with as “completely professional, diligent and amiable” … obviously quite different to how he remembers the Northern Ireland crew! I think it’s important that we unpack and dissect some of this. The Transport Scotland website uses the headline “'Stunning' Ancient Archaeological Finds on A75 Bypass” and the main text describes the discoveries in the most glowing of terms:

“Finds from across the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, include a rare and complete 130-piece jet bead necklace dating to around 2000 BC - the first of its kind ever discovered in south west Scotland, early Neolithic flint tools including a flint arrowhead, and over 13,500 Mesolithic flints.”

“Other fascinating finds include an Iron Age Village, a Romano-British brooch, a Bronze Age cemetery complex, cremation urns and pottery sherds.”

There can be no argument that these discoveries are anything other than significant. Dunragit is significant, Drumclay is significant … they’re equal! … they’re the same! … right? Well … no … actually. Significance does not always correlate with complexity. From what I can see from the pieces I can find on the internet, the sites investigated as part of the Dunragit scheme were all of the ‘regular’ dryland archaeology types – cuts into subsoil and a variety of fills. There’s no indication that any of this was of the same level of complexity as the Drumclay site where waterlogged conditions preserved vast quantities of environmental evidence and artefacts that simply would not have survived on a dryland site. I’m in no way attempting to denigrate the work of the archaeologists on the Dunragit project, merely pointing out that the levels of preservation and complexity involved are not the same. The next issue is to consider how exactly was Declan Hurl involved in this work? There are numerous pieces on the internet covering the discoveries in one way or another. These include the Transport Scotland website mentioned previously, along with pieces in the online versions of The Scotsman, Herald Scotland, Heritage Daily, Smart Highways, the New Historian website, and a piece in the IFA’s Scottish Group Newsletter. In none of these is Declan Hurl mentioned in any way. He is neither the author of any of the pieces, nor is he directly quoted in any of the reporting. I note this, not to mock him, but to suggest that there would appear to be a distinct difference in his roles between these two projects. By way of contrast, I would point to an early piece on Drumclay by the BBC (Nit combs are 'nothing new') where Declan Hurl is photographed and prominently quoted. I would suggest that the contrast that is being presented is not one of like for like. Overall, we may reasonably conclude that the Dunragit project related to a different type of archaeological remains that did not require as developed a methodological approach as Drumclay, and the Declan Hurl appears to have been in a different role, possibly one that gave him less direct contact with the excavation crews, and certainly one where he had less contact with those reporting on the findings. I think that Declan Hurl’s sleight of hand in attempting this ‘compare and contrast’ is a distinctly suspect move, intended to obfuscate rather than illuminate.

I would simply state that it is my opinion that Declan Hurl’s response to Prof Cooney about who directed the ‘real’ rescue excavation are not only deeply disingenuous and distasteful, but fundamentally misses the point. The Drumclay crannog required an excavation of the breadth, quality, and scale that it finally received under the direction of Dr Bermingham, not the ill-resourced, poorly thought out, and unprofessional omnishambles it clearly was under Hurl’s direction. I think it is instructive to contrast Prof Cooney’s description of the Phase 2 excavation (“It is a landmark excavation and has provided a wealth of data which will transform our understanding of early medieval Ireland”) with Declan Hurl’s description of the crannog as:

“a disintegrating mound in the midst of a construction site with serious time pressures.”

… and …

“a potentially crumbling mound in the middle of a drained and cracking bog surrounded by construction plant”

Not only do these statements reveal the very little regard that he had (and would appear to still maintain) for the site, but it bears restating that the situation was partially caused by him, Amey, his employers, and McLaughlin and Harvey-P.T. McWilliams J.V., the subcontractors, along with a catastrophic failure of leadership and oversight by NIEA. If the site was ‘potentially crumbling’ and ‘disintegrating’, was it not because of the trenching and dewatering of the bog land carried out by Amey and MHPT JV? Were the ‘serious time pressures’ not a direct result of Declan Hurl’s insufficient grasp of the quantity, quality, and physical depth of the surviving archaeology and his inability to devise an appropriate timescale and effectively communicate it to his engineering colleagues in Amey? Declan Hurl presents these facts as though they are somehow external to himself and his direction of the excavation, when he was a key contributing factor to the entire Drumclay fiasco.

A running theme through much of these narratives is the professionalism, or otherwise, exhibited by Declan Hurl in his management of the Phase 1 excavation. It is clear from his own account that Declan Hurl regards himself as suitably professional and intellectually equipped to do the job. This is a view not shared by those who were there at that time, nor is it one that Prof Cooney's report supports. Even Rodney Moffett attempts to play this down, claiming that his subordinate may have been somewhat 'old fashioned' in his approach to archaeological excavation. To get a more balanced view, I thought to turn to a neutral source on what a modern archaeological excavation of a complex Early Medieval site should look like. The authors of Early Medieval Ireland AD 400-1100: The evidence from archaeological excavations argue that:

From the mid-1990s the recording of archaeological excavations now involved the use of single context recording, registers of plans, photography and samples, the use of context sheets ... In other words, in contrast to the reliance on the site director's notebook of previous generations, the practice of archaeological research came to involve recording massive amounts of data of many different types. (O'Sullivan et al. 2013, 33)

As we have seen, crucial elements of the modern archaeological excavation were missing from the Phase 1 excavation, including registers of photography and samples, along with basic items of equipment, such as a Dumpy level. I am of the opinion that when Prof Cooney makes reference to Declan Hurl's use of a site note book, it should not be seen solely in the context of the argument around whether or not it's an item of personal property, but as an emblem of how archaeology was conducted at the middle and end of the last century. While there is no issue with the use of additional methods of recording, it remains an anachronism and a symbol of how out of date his methods were. Taken in conjunction with his apparent lack of understanding of site morphology of key excavations published in 1936 (Ballinderry I), 1942 (Ballinderry II), and 1950 (Lagore), the true breadth of Declan Hurl's 'old fashioned' approach begins to take shape. When one contrasts this with the description given by O'Sullivan et al. (2013, 33) of the younger generation of Irish archaeologists (many of whom were on the Phase 1 excavation), who learned their craft during the days of the 'Celtic Tiger', the image is even more stark: 

These were people who arguably developed significantly better excavation skills than had ever been used before in Irish archaeology. One need only point to the recognition by these archaeologists ... that many early medieval settlements with multiple enclosures were actually the outcome of multiple phases of activity, to be subtly distinguished from each other. These were also excavations supported by a full range of scientific, environmental and absolute dating techniques.

It is truly difficult to continue this analysis without feeling that I'm being overly harsh in my criticism of Declan Hurl's abilities, but I believe that they are just and they are fair. Despite his protestations, Declan Hurl's skills as an archaeologist were clearly out of date by at least two decades, if not significantly more. Let me say it again: This is not the "slightly old-fashioned and not in line with modern techniques" that Rodney Moffett may have been led to believe. To put this in context for Rodney Moffett, Mel Ewell, or anyone else reading this from Amey: how would you feel about having an engineer on site whose skillset remained unchanged from the mid-1990s and also appeared ignorant of significant developments during the previous half century? Why don't y'all send me a postcard about how good that job would go for you?

Finally, I want to turn to Declan Hurl’s closing remarks, where he says that as the document has been presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly and made public that an apology is no longer sufficient. He will now “consider how best to further pursue the matter.” The obvious implication is that he is contemplating taking legal action to remedy the “slight it [the report] has inflicted both on my professional abilities and on my personal integrity.” My first reaction to this is to say: please do! It would be to the benefit of everyone involved to put all the facts before a judge and have the matter adjudicated on once and for all. I say ‘to the benefit of everyone involved’, but I have no reasonable expectation that Declan Hurl could possibly come off well in such a situation where facts are under consideration and not the egregious spin that he attempts to place on them. My second reaction to this statement was ‘what the devil were you thinking making this threat?’ Either one is going to do it or one is not – why go to the trouble of penning the Apologia only to end it with ‘a retraction is not good enough, but I’ll have to think about what I do next’? Is there any conceivable way in which this threat can be regarded as ‘thought through’? – it has all the depth of a juvenile revenge fantasy cooked up in the shower: ‘I know what I’ll do! I’ll threaten to sue them! That makes grownups scared! It’ll be brilliant! I’ll have my day in court and then they’ll see!’  I don’t mean to be overly harsh, but if anything speaks to the lack of professionalism exhibited by Declan Hurl, nothing is quite as eloquent as this closing statement.

I’ve got to thank Rodney Moffett for agreeing to schlep across town to come talk to me directly. He really wanted to engage and put the Amey point of view across and, potentially, remove some of the tarnish caused by the Drumclay fiasco. He had several valid points to make and brought additional context and explanation around certain events. Although he attempted to mount a robust defence of Declan Hurl as an Amey employee, his words were nuanced and attempted to bring balance to the situation. His admission that there were failings in Declan Hurl’s management of the Phase 1 excavation contrasts markedly with Hurl’s own account, where he attempts to paint himself as a consummate professional and the wronged party in this series of unfortunate events. For all of Rodney Moffett’s attempts at explanation and reconciliation, it is clear that he has unwisely based much of his own narrative on Declan Hurl’s flawed and self-serving account. I fear that, laudable defence of a company employee aside, Rodney Moffett has somewhat impinged on his own reputation and reliability by attempting to pass off such misrepresentations as fact. In his position as Associate Director of Amey NI, I would imagine that his abilities to sift through various sources of data to quickly reach their essential points is paramount. His apparent failure to see through fabrications created by his employee – fabrications that can be easily and comprehensively shown to be (at best) disingenuous – are unlikely to endear him to his superiors.

Declan Hurl begins his Apologia by stating that it was his fervent expectation that Prof Cooney’s report would be “objective, comprehensive and penetrating.” Despite devoting significant energies to creating an open letter that amounts to an excursion into the Land of Smoke & Mirrors (which is considerably nicer than saying that it deliberately obfuscates, misdirects, and attempts to promulgate outright falsehoods), it is clear that Cooney’s assessment is just that: objective, comprehensive and penetrating. True, it could have been clearer on some points and a wider remit may have produced a report with significantly different nuances in certain places. For example, it might have been clearer that Declan Hurl was not wholly personally responsible for the unlicensed trenching on the site that was an alleged breach of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Nonetheless, it is clear that there was potentially illegal activity that was not investigated by the NIEA or passed to their legal team to pursue a prosecution. Such a wider remit may also have demonstrated a much longer relationship and series of contacts between NIEA and various other key stakeholders. As for the remainder of the charges brought by Prof Cooney, it is clear from the testimony of TLA and TLB that these are accurate, fair, and appropriate. Declan Hurl attempts to recast Prof Cooney’s report as a “misrepresentative, selective and partisan document”, when it couldn’t be further from the case. If one had to pick between Cooney’s report and Hurl’s Apologia, it is clearly the latter that deserves this accolade. Despite all the points raised and the rebuttals that Declan Hurl has attempted to bring to his defence, it is clear that (with the possible exception of the issue of the illegal trenching) Prof Cooney’s assessment of the man and his methods is correct. Declan Hurl’s attempts to ignore some evidence, selectively use certain facts, and concoct elements of pure fantasy can only be regarded as desperate actions. Topping it all off with a childish threat to take everyone to court only adds a sense of sadness at the desperation he has reached. To be sure, Declan Hurl is not alone in his culpability of what went wrong at Drumclay. Prof Cooney’s report includes ample evidence of strategic failures by numerous individuals within NIEA, DRD, Amey, and McLaughlin and Harvey-P.T. McWilliams J.V. The difference is that, while there has been some resistance, those I have spoken to or have made public statements on the matter are keen to identify where the issues were and how they can learn from these. Only Declan Hurl has taken the radical step of attempting to rewrite facts and spin events to make himself look like the injured party, and suggesting that he’ll sue anyone who disagrees with him. For this reason, I can only see his Apologia as a contender for the title of Longest Suicide Note in Irish Archaeology. Whatever chances he may have had in rebuilding his career and reputation are, to my mind, effectively dashed in the revisionist maelstrom he has attempted to conjure up about himself.

I’ve said before that it is not for me to decide what happens to any individual in this case. Rodney Moffett has made it perfectly clear in his statements that Declan Hurl has not, nor will he, receive any form of official reprimand or chastisement. However, in the light of the recurring reimaginings, reinterpretations, and statements that are inconsistent with reality that are presented in the Apologia, it must surely be time to review this position. Any individual who can so determinedly misrepresent events and facts in the cause of self-preservation can only be a liability to any company that employs them and anyone that defends them. As I have stated before, the review of archaeological licencing currently underway at the NIEA, must give serious consideration to whether Declan Hurl can be regarded as a sufficiently fit and competent person to be allowed any future role on any archaeological excavation in Northern Ireland. In the light of the nature of the Apologia this can only be of even greater importance. By the same token, I feel that it is incumbent on the various professional bodies, such as the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland, to urgently reassess the actions of key players in the Drumclay fiasco to determine whether or not they should be stripped of their membership.

What is obvious is that, despite the publication of Prof Cooney’s report, there is still some way to go to obtain consensus around the nature of the events that led to the Drumclay fiasco and who bears responsibility for them. While Rodney Moffett is keen to defend his employee and the company they both work for, he is at least realistic in accepting that there were gross failures in the process that need to be addressed. I am of the opinion that his acceptance of Declan Hurl’s version of events, apparently at face value, does him no favours and shows poor judgment. However, I believe that there is a genuine willingness on his part to ensure that lessons are learned and that Amey is never again associated with the form of omnishambles that developed at Drumclay. Declan Hurl, on the other hand, appears to be of the opinion that he is the victim of events and the target of a conspiracy determined to twist every fact and action against him. This is simply not the case, and his Apologia is a partisan, biased, misleading, mendacious, fallacious, and disingenuous document that will surely haunt him for the remainder of his involvement in archaeology.

The first part of the title of this post is from Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’. The full lyric reads:
Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed

… but, of course, you knew that

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