Bog issue will arise again, says councillor


A FORMER Fine Gael mayor has called on Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan to return to the European Commission and seek more time to implement the national peatlands protection plan.

Cllr Jimmy McClearn, who was Galway county mayor last year, said that otherwise Mr Deenihan was only “postponing a problem which would arise again”.

Mr McClearn was one of a group which negotiated an end to the 18-hour stand-off between turf-cutters, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and gardaí at a south Galway bog.

At least 200 people were involved in the overnight protest at Clonmoylan Bog near Woodford in southeast Galway, during torrential rain. The protest arose when machinery was seized by the NPWS on Wednesday.

Clonmoylan is one of 53 raised bogs that have been designated for protection under the EU habitats directive.

Under the agreement brokered by Mr McClearn, Sinn Féin councillor Dermot Connolly, and turf-cutter representatives Dermot Moran and Francis Donohue, a seized hopper machine was removed from the bog by turf-cutters. It was then taken to an agreed location for technical examination before being returned to the owner, Michael Darcy.

Gardaí are conducting two investigations – one into the alleged illegal cutting of turf at Clonmoylan and a second into alleged criminal damage to a track machine which went on fire in the early hours of the morning.

Its owner, Mr Darcy, collapsed in distress and was taken to hospital where he was kept under observation.

Mr McClearn said that the track machine was in the possession of the NPWS at the time of the fire. Attempts had been made to “hot wire” it to remove it as the NPWS officials had no key, he said.

“There was no way that any of the protesters would have been near the equipment at the time,” Mr McClearn said.

However, gardaí said there was “no evidence of hot wiring” in its preliminary examination, and a key was available.

At one point, up to 250 people had gathered in support of the turf-cutters, with buses and cars also arriving yesterday morning from many western counties and from Kerry and Tipperary.

Mr Deenihan had earlier appealed for an end to the demonstration and warned that Ireland was at risk of fines of up to €25,000 a day if turf-cutting continued on the protected bogs.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking at a Bord Bia event in Dublin, said that “this country signed up for preservation of quite a number of bogs over a decade ago and nothing was done about it”.

Mr Deenihan had provided for compensation, for reallocation of bogs and for free turf, as part of a multimillion euro package, Mr Kenny said.

“In that sense the law of the land will be observed and it’s important that people would respect that,” he said.

Mr McClearn said that there were no relocation options for Clonmoylan and those with turbary rights in three bogs in that area were not interested in compensation.

He said he “could not comprehend” why armed gardaí were also deployed to the protest, describing the State response as “outrageous”.

However, a Garda spokesman said last night that the Garda regional support unit deployed was not armed.

Green Party energy spokesman Ossian Smyth said the Government must “stick to the task in protecting the remaining raised bogs that are now subject of dispute”, but must also “go further and end the lunacy of subsidising Bord na Móna to dig up the rest of our bogs and burn them to generate electricity”.