Galway turf-cutter protest ends

 

A resolution has been agreed in the 24 hour standoff between turf-cutters, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Garda at a south Galway bog.

Under the agreement brokered between two local councillors, two turf-cutters’ representatives and senior gardaí at Clonmoylan bog, near Woodford, machinery which had been seized yesterday is being returned to the owner, Michael Darcy.

Clonmoylan is one of 53 raised bogs which have been designated for protection under the EU Habitats Directive.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan has warned that Ireland is at risk of fines of up to €25,000 a day if turf-cutting continued on the protected bogs.

The dispute arose yesterday when hauliers contracted by the NPWS attempted to remove equipment from Clonmoylan. The hauliers were surrounded by other turf-cutters, with one haulier refusing to proceed when he saw the level of protest involved.

The protestors stayed out all night in torrential rain, observed by up to 60 gardaí. Shortly after 3.30am, a track machine caught fire. Its owner, Mr Darcy, collapsed and was taken to hospital where he was kept under observation.

Under the deal brokered by Fine Gael councillor Jimmy McClearn, Sinn Féin councillor Dermot Connolly, and turf-cutter representatives Dermot Moran and Francis Donohue, it was agreed that a confiscated hopper would be returned to Mr Darcy.

It was also agreed that a Garda investigation would take place into the cause of a fire which destroyed Mr Darcy’s tracking machine in the early hours of this morning, Cllr McClearn said.

Cllr McClearn said that while the cause of the blaze was not known, the tracker machine had been in the possession of the NPWS at the time, and attempts had been made to “hotwire” it.

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

Up to 50 gardaí were present, but Cllr McClearn said he “could not comprehend” why armed gardaí were also deployed.

A Garda spokesman said the Regional Support Unit, which was present, was not armed.

“These are decent people who have never been in trouble with anyone, and this level of response from the State was outrageous,” he said. “Thankfully, in fairness to the gardaí and Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan, commonsense prevailed."

Speaking in Dublin today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the law was very clear on the issue. “This country signed up for preservation of quite a number of bogs over a decade ago and nothing was done about it. The country is quite likely to be fined €25,000 a day if we don’t adhere to this.

“The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht put in place a series of opportunities here, both for compensation, for reallocation of bogs and indeed for free turf. This is a multi-million euro package.

“I recognise the sensitivity of this but there’s been a decade of doing nothing about it,” he said. “So the law of the land will be observed, will be adhered to.”

Mr Deenihan had earlier appealed to protestors to stand down their action, while his Cabinet colleague Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said that the rule of law would be applied.

Green Party energy spokesman Ossian Smyth said that 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 Mona to dig up the rest of our bogs and burn them to generate electricity".

"There are far cleaner and cheaper means of generating electricity, which have the potential to create huge numbers of jobs in the midlands and west of Ireland," Mr Smyth said in a statement.

A Garda spokeswoman said there was one arrest for a breach of public order yesterday but that the person was later released.

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