Turf cutters paid €1.5m in redress

 

MORE THAN 1,000 turf cutters have been paid €1.5 million in compensation to date as part of the deal to preserve 53 raised bogs in Ireland.

An EU habitats directive imposed restrictions on turf cutting because of environmental damage on the bogs, designated areas of special conservation.

But Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan earlier this year said almost one-third of those bogs had been irreparably damaged.

A small but vocal opposition group has questioned the department’s handling of the issue and a number with cutting or “turbary” rights have continued to cut turf illegally on 11 of the bogs.

Latest figures show that 1,082 payments from 2,308 applications have been made. The department estimates the applications represent a majority of cutters, but does not know the total number of turbary rights-holders on the bogs.

Those whose rights are on the affected bogs have been offered compensation of €1,500 a year for 15 years in the scheme along with a once-off sign-up bonus of €500 paid this year on completion of a legal agreement between the cutter and Minister.

The total individual compensation package is worth €23,000 tax free and index-linked over the 15 years.

The other option is relocation to another bog, if available, where they can continue to cut turf lawfully. While waiting for another location cutters can opt for financial compensation or a delivery of 15 tonnes of turf to their home.

Of the total number of applicants, 676 or 29 per cent have sought relocation to another bog. Cutters opposed to the scheme have claimed appropriate alternative bog locations have not been provided, but the department said work was ongoing to investigate and assess potential relocation sites. A group from Clara bog in Co Offaly had been relocated to a nearby bog.

The Minister said progress had been made. “The majority . . . have worked with us.”

Opponents have complained that larger stakeholders would receive only the same amount as those with smaller stakes.

In June more than 200 people were involved in an 18-hour stand-off between cutters, gardaí and the National Parks and Wildlife Service at Clonmoylan bog in south Galway.

Ireland faces fines of up to €25,000 a day for failure to implement the directive. The State had a 10-year derogation until 2009 and EU conservation regulations were announced in 2010.