The bog issue and why it was important in the byelection

Modern machinery has allowed even smaller bogs to be cut on a scale unimaginable a generation ago

Clara Bog County Offaly.   Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Clara Bog County Offaly. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Thirty years or more ago, if you drove north from Athlone, or anywhere in Roscommon or in northeast Galway, you did not have to go too far before coming across a bog. As children we travelled out from Galway city every summer to foot turf on a plot my father had bought on Monivea bog.

We weren’t alone. There are few families in that part of the world which don’t have some connection with a nearby bog. You can see it when you travel there, the stacks of turf piled on the gable end of houses.

There is the John Hinde image of bogs being cut with a sleán and carried out in creels slung across the backs of donkeys. But modern machinery has allowed even smaller bogs to be cut on a scale unimaginable a generation ago. And commercial cutting has had an undeniable impact on the future sustainability of those bogs.

The political pressure point arrived courtesy of a EU habitats directive that is over 20 years old. Ireland has a particular responsibility for protecting raised bog habitat, as most of the surviving raised bogs in Europe are in this country.

A total of 139 raised bogs have been designated for protection under the directive. Since 2011, this Government has been moving to ensure it is no longer in breach of it. That has meant restrictions, with those with turbary rights being offered compensation and alternative rights on other bogs.

But the solutions have been complex and, in some cases, deeply unsatisfactory to those who had cut turf on those bogs.

It has led to a grass-roots opposition movement and stands-off with the Garda, a number of prosecutions and an ongoing impasse between the cutters and the authorities.

At least some of Fitzmaurice’s support in the byelection would have come because of his association with the turf cutters and his opposition to the ban on cutting on bogs.