COLOURFUL TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan rode into Camross Parish Hall on Tuesday night (September 6) and fired verbal shots at the Government and EU over the decision to ban turf-cutting on many bogs nationwide, including those at Coolrain and Knockacoller.
“There’s a distinct possibilty that we will have to go down the road of civic disobedience - to be ready to fight if needs be,” declared the Roscommon Leitrim TD.
Coolrain and Knockacoller, within about a mile of each other, are seemingly the only two bogs in Laois that have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation. As such, they can no longer be used for harveting turf.
Local sources say people agreed to cease saving turf in Knockacoller around five years ago on the understanding that compensation would be paid. This has not been forthcoming so far. Apparently, legal difficulties have been cited.
An estimated 65 hectares of Coolrain bog are owned privately. Coillte owns the rest. This year, 80 or more households cut turf there. For the last time, it appears since they have been ordered to stop. They will be breaking the law if they venture on to the bog for turf in 2012.
This despite the fact that, according to one Coolrain activist, “there are 100 years of turf-cutting still on the bog.”
Local publican Sean Bergain chaired the meeting in Camross Parish Hall addressed by Dep Flanagan and other members of the Turf Cutters’ and Contractors’ Association (TCCA). Many turf cutters attended.
“The purpose of the meeting is to inform people of what’s going on,” explained Dep Flanagan. “To consult with people and to find out what ye want to do. To organize and make ready for the year ahead.
“We want to create a situation whereby in Coolrain bog or any other bog, if people have to face the law or the National Park and Wildlife Service, they will be able to contact and receive enormous support from turf cutters everywhere,” he said.
But Dep Flanagan said he did not want it to come to that. He said the TCCA, following countrywide meetings, would be preparing a plan to put to the Government and EU Commission.
“If they don’t listen to our plan and it comes to next April and we have to cut turf, we will have civic disobedience or protests on any bog where people are getting hassle,” he warned.
He described the proposed level of compensation for turf-cutters on SAC-designated bogs as “not generous” - 1,000 euros per annum for a maximum of 15 years.
“We don’t need it. We don’t want it. We just want to keep cutting turf,” he said.
Deputy Flanagan urged the meeting to form a local committee, to be called the Laois Turf-cutters’ Association or the Coolrain/Knockcoller Turf-cutters’ Association. He added: “There will be no solution until there’s a total solution. We won’t be happy until you all are happy.”
Kildare Turf-cutters’ Association activist John Dore also addressed the meeting.
“We have plenty of people prepared to go to jail next year if we don’t get our way. Either we take this lying down or we stand up and be counted. Get the people of Laois behind you--get the local politicans on the job,” he said.
TCCA Chairman Michael Fitzmaurice said he’d been “sickened” at the way Knockcoller turf-cutters had been “mistreated.”
“Deals have been done and, sadly, are not being honoured...We are four or five years away from commemorating the 1916 Rising and the land we fought for is day-by-day slipping away,” he said.
He warned that he did not want people saying what they would do next spring, and “then hiding behind trees in Coolrain bog and letting down their neighbours.”