Government announces measures to defuse row over turf-cutting ban

Wed, Mar 7, 2012, 00:00

THE GOVERNMENT has doubled the compensation payable to bog-owners in the first year after they agree to stop cutting turf in environmentally sensitive areas.

The Cabinet yesterday increased the compensation on offer from €1,000 a year to €1,500, and to include a once-off payment of €500 to landowners who participate in the deal.

The concession, worth €23,000 in total to affected landowners, is the latest attempt by the Government to defuse the row over the turf-cutting ban, which is strongly opposed by many rural groups.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan yesterday published a 166-page report by High Court judge Mr Justice John Quirke, who was appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to chair a forum at which turf-cutters and environmental groups made their case earlier this month.

Speaking in the Dáil last night, Mr Deenihan said it was clear that communication between the State and affected turf-cutters has not been what it might have been over the past 20 years and trust needed to be re-established.

“I hope we are now moving to put in place the conditions for the State and turf-cutters to turn over a new page and work together to address this difficult issue.”

Turf-cutting is banned on 53 raised bogs under EU conservation regulations announced in May 2010. Under threat of financial penalties by the European Commission, the Government has told bog-owners they have to take a compensation package on offer for the next 15 years or relocate to another bog.

Mr Justice Quirke, in his report, calls on the Government to invoke social and economic factors in its response to the controversy. His report suggests the preparation of a national plan for raised bogs which could provide some flexibility for cutting and still be in compliance with EU regulations.

Speaking on a Private Members’ motion, the Minister said the bar was set very high in seeking flexibility. Any case made would have to stand up in terms of being for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, with no alternatives possible. He appealed to turf-cutters to refrain from cutting on affected bogs until the plan was drawn up.

Friends of the Irish Environment said that social and economic reasons cannot be invoked in the case of a priority habitat.

A spokesman for the European Commission, which recently met with Irish turf-cutters, said it was monitoring developments closely.

Independent TD Luke “Ming” Flanagan, a spokesman for the Turfcutters and Contractors’ Association, told the Dáil that, in the 1980s and 1990s, people living by designated bogs were excluded from decision-making, consultation and compensation and were subjected to “a State-backed campaign of intimidation”.