We have an extraordinary archaeological resource in Ireland dating from around 7-8,000BC at least. For various historical reasons, certain kinds of archaeological sites and monuments survived here when their equivalents were destroyed in other parts of Western Europe because of industrialisation etc. We know a great deal about such sites but continuous research is revealing new 'wonders' all the time and opening up new areas of knowledge which have the capability of telling us so much about the European, as well as the Irish, past.
Archaeological research has been carried on in Ireland for several hundred years. Government involvement and funding for such work really began with the amazingly innovative Ordnance Survey of Ireland which began in the 1820s. With the establishment of the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland in the 1920s, state-funded involvement in archaeological work began to increase north and south through the activities of government departments, museums, universities and learned bodies.
The Discovery Programme was established as a non-statutory, purely research body in May 1991 on the personal initiative of the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Charles J. Haughey. In 1993 responsibility for the organisation was transferred to the newly established Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. In 1996, under the then Minister, Michael D. Higgins, the Discovery Programme became an independent body and an autonomous Company - the Discovery Programme Ltd – to be funded through the Heritage Council. We now operate completely under the aegis of, and with funding by, the Heritage Council, as was confirmed to Dáil Éireann (the lower house of Irish parliament) in a statement by Minister Síle de Valera on 21 February 2001.
The organisation is now constituted as a company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital. In addition to our main grant from the Heritage Council, small sums are generated by the sale of our research publications, by additional grants from various interested parties and from making available our surplus technical capacities (mainly specialist survey and IT resources) to other individuals or bodies involved in archaeological research.
We are audited by the government auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General and, in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding of 1998, a small number of administrative matters still require the approval of the government department concerned with heritage affairs, now the Department of the Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht. Otherwise we are a fully independent body, most notably in relation to our research agenda.