A COOLRAIN woman is attempting to reverse a decision made by the government and the EU to immediately halt turf cutting on protected Irish bogs.
Pat Cooper has written a passionate open letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny pleading for her family and others to be allowed continue to cut turf on the small Laois bog, while a national plan is being formulated.
A joint statement by Ministers Jimmy Deenihan and Phil Hogan earlier this month urging that no cutting was to take place this year “almost brought me to tears” Ms Cooper says.
“The amount of turf that would be cut during the two years of the negotiations would be miniscule in terms of the whole, and there is no doubt that the turf cutters were prepared to re-locate on most of the bogs.
“Here in south Laois, they are trying to take both of our bogs Coolrain and Knockacoller. There are no other bogs within 10k for us to cut turf on. We proposed a compromise in that there would be no turf cutting on Knockacoller, but we would all continue to cut on Coolrain,” says Mrs Cooper.
The two areas are among 53 raised bogs nationwide that were designated Special Areas of Conservation to preserve their unique environments. Unlike most other sites however, there is no other alternative bog near enough for the 80 plot owners to use.
Ms Cooper says they have been threatened with fines if they cut their turf this summer.
“Turf cutters are not being asked; they are being told in no uncertain terms not to cut turf and they are being threatened with fines, non-payment of the single farm payment and confiscation of equipment if they cut turf this year on their bog plots,” says Ms Cooper.
Her family have own and work their plots in Coolrain since the 1930’s. Like her father Billy before her, Pat, her ten siblings and their children have spend their summers carefully turning and heaping the turf on the plots they own in Coolrain. She hopes the tradition will be carried on for the next generation.
“We all worked on the bog. It’s a beautiful place, I always remember it being sunny, We would spend the day there, with bottles of tea wrapped in newspaper,” she recalls.
She believes that some of the affected turf cutters may defy the request to leave their plots idle.
“At this moment, we are not working on the plots. But there are contractors willing to cut on SACs, and I know people are cutting turf in the west of Ireland. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence. They say cutting on an SAC is illegal, but we showed them how Coolrain isn’t legally designated. We were meant to be given three months notice to object in 2003 but we were never informed until after it was adopted,” she says.
Her research has led her to believe there is a lot more bog left than the government are saying.
“When the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council and National Parks and Wildlife were trying to convince the Government and the EU, that if they didn’t do something soon all raised bog would be extinct in the next 5 minutes, they claimed there were only 18,000 hectares of raised bog left in Ireland.
“That is completely untrue, there is 50,000 hectares. Now, they are trying to convince us there is lots of bog and they are only taking a tiny proportion of the total. last week, on Morning Ireland Minister Deenihan said it is only 2% of raised bog that is designated. The facts are that it is 43% of raised bog that is being designated as protected bog at the moment and they are considering more,” she says.
Ms Cooper went with the Coolrain Turf Cutters to the Athlone Peatlands Forum last February where she voiced her concerns that the government trip to Brussels was a charade, and the decision to ban turf cutting had already been made.
“I challenged those present and asked whether the three day event was not just an expensive charade or a pretend conflict resolution forum where the turf cutters were allowed to vent and feel they were being listened to, but that in reality the decisions to completely ban turf cutting for 2012 had already been made and the government would go to Brussels, and come back and say they tried but failed,” she writes.
She praises the move by Bord na Móna to hand Kilinamuck bog in Abbeyleix back to the community, as it will be protected against cutting in the future, and used to promote tourism.
“It’s a great idea to do that. Coolrain Turf Cutters believe there should be protected bogs for the common good, because you can’t recreate them, We see the logic in that, but you don’t need to save every single piece of raised bog.
“If they took the ten largest bogs and say no-one can ever cut again, that’s grand. We do agree with the National Plan, but we greviously disagree that we can’t continue to cut while we negotiate it,” she said.