No turfcutting appeal this year

Turf cutters on protected bogs are being asked not to work their plots for 2012 following a meeting between Government Ministers and the European Commission.

Turf cutters on protected bogs are being asked not to work their plots for 2012 following a meeting between Government Ministers and the European Commission.

After discussions in Brussels last week, the Government now has the support of the EC in drawing up a national plan to resolve turf cutting issues on protected Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) raised bogs, but in the meantime, no plots are to be worked on SAC bogs, which include Coolrain and Knockacollier bogs near Portlaoise.

Instead turf cutters will have to choose from either an annual delivery of 15 tonnes of free turf, or a payment of €1,500 yearly. So far about 1,500 people have applied for compensation, and extra staff have been laid on to speed up payments, and find individual solutions.

Last Tuesday, April 3 in Brussels, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaelteacht Jimmy Deenihan together asked all interest groups to join with them and the Peatlands Council in drawing up the national plan, starting with the most difficult bogs.

“The plan will allow solutions for turf-cutters within each of the 53 raised bog sites to be explored in detail. Where alternative solutions can be shown not to exist, the process may allow for consideration of eventually allowing limited turf cutting within a small number of the 53 raised bog SACs in Ireland,” they said.

“In order for the plan to be a success, and to ensure that we have the space to concentrate on those bogs where finding alternative solutions to continued cutting is particularly difficult, we would urge all those with an interest in the plan’s success to ensure that cutting does not take place this year. We appreciate that this is difficult for those for whom turf cutting is part of their tradition and heritage.”

“Nonetheless, thanks to the work of Conor Skehan and the Peatlands Council, Bord na Mona, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, the IFA and others, and to the efforts of Mr Justice Quirke, who presided over the recent Peatlands Forum, we have a route map to bring us forward. “We appreciate that people must see progress on the plan and the Peatlands Council has been asked to begin work immediately. This will include setting up an implementation group representative of all interests, including turf cutters.”

Brian Stanley TD, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on Environment, Community and Local Government, said the announcement is “backtracking.”

“The statement would indicate that the government are backtracking on the motion. The government had agreed on a basis for moving forward and, since then, turf cutters have kept their word and refrained from turf cutting on the disputed bogs. But disappointingly Ministers Hogan and Deenihan have yet to engage meaningfully with the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association. This statement is vague and convoluted. The Dáil motion and the TCCA response were both solution based, comprehensive and workable. It was based on co-location and compensatory habitats which would actually offer more bogs for conservation.”