Fresh threat of EU fines as activists urge protection of bogs

 

THE EUROPEAN Commission has renewed its threat to impose substantial fines on Ireland if turf-cutting takes place on protected bogs next year.

EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik told MEPs yesterday he may seek a legal injunction if it was found that EU environment law was being openly flouted though a failure to protect bogs. He was speaking as Irish environmentalists argued at the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament that the EU’s habitats directive had been consistently and illegally flouted.

The delegation from the Friends of the Irish Environment said many protected bogs were being “devastated” by continued mechanised cutting of peat. It urged MEPs to do all in their power to address the issue and to visit the affected sites.

Independent MEP Marian Harkin called for “co-operation, not confrontation” on the issue, arguing that people who had cut turf for generations were being forced to give up their rights.

“While we need to ensure that large-scale cutting is properly regulated, we also need to ensure we find reasonable and equitable solutions for those people for whom turf-cutting is banned on their bogs.” Some of the options available include cutting on another bog where cutting is permitted or compensation either in the form of money or of fuel provision.

The Ireland North West MEP said the compensation available to landowners – up to €1,000 a year for 15 years – was inadequate.

However, Danish MEP Margrete Auken described the cutting of protected bogs as one of the worst cases of environmental damage ever to come before the Petitions Committee.

Turf-cutting was banned on 32 active raised bogs last year, and is due to end on a further 24 raised bogs by the end of this year. The commission has threatened to impose massive fines on Ireland over its inaction on the issue but has held off in the hope that the new Government will take action.

Earlier this year, Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan introduced laws allowing for search warrants to be issued by district courts where breaches on peat extraction are suspected.

The commission is concerned that firm action against the Government could backfire in the face of a determined campaign led by Independent TD Luke “Ming” Flanagan, who has vowed to go to jail in defence of his right to cut turf on a bog in Co Roscommon.