Minister urged to 'get tough' over illegal turf cutting


THE IRISH Peatland Conservation Council has called on Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan to “get tough” on those responsible for illegally cutting turf on raised bogs designated for protection under the EU habitats directive.

“It is a shameful disgrace...that people still feel the need to go out and destroy the natural heritage of Ireland and to celebrate this behaviour using social media sites,” said Dr Catherine O’Connell, the council’s chief executive.

She said this was happening despite the offer of a free annual delivery of 15 tonnes of turf from other peatland areas to families who have turbary rights in one of the 53 raised bogs and the provision of financial compensation.

“There’s more to the bog than turf. Bogs provide a wide variety of services to people, including a source of water, a natural carbon storing bank, a refuge for endangered plants and animals, a method of controlling flooding and an amenity for people.”

Dr O’Connell said thousands of visitors who greatly enjoy the Bog of Allen nature centre in Lullymore, Co Kildare, would “stop coming if we do not stand up and protect our natural heritage”.

Referring the Turf Cutting and Contractors Association’s call to its members, she urged the Minister to “take further steps to control illegal turf-cutting activity on the sites that need to be conserved for future generations to enjoy”.

The turf-cutters’ association said last week the “disconnect” between Irish and EU law “places our members in the invidious position of being assert and defend their rights...allegedly transgressing foreign EU law”.

Friends of the Irish Environment, who brought illegal turf cutting in protected areas to the attention of the European Commission and the European Parliament’s petitions committee last year, said it “deeply regretted” the turf-cutters’ decision.

“Any further cutting on protected bogs will increase the likelihood of an emergency injunction against the State, which would be a huge political embarrassment ... and run the risk of lump sum and daily fines that taxpayers can ill afford.

“The European Commission will not and cannot allow Ireland to set a precedent of disregarding EU law in this way. What we have to remember is that the habitats directive was negotiated and adopted unanimously by all EU member states including Ireland.”