HERITAGE Minister Jimmy Deenihan is today expected to announce a lifting of the turf-cutting ban for up to 2,500 turf-cutters.
The move comes after continued dialogue with the European Union about the proposed ban which has been a source of conflict and controversy for over two decades. It also led to the threat of heavy ongoing fines of up to €25,000 per day from Brussels for non-compliance with EU rules.
The change will apply to many of the country's 75 raised bogs in areas designated as 'Natural Heritage Areas' and scattered across the midland and western counties.
Under the ban details, which were announced in 2010, up to 3,000 turf-cutters were to be prevented from cutting in these areas but now the ban is expected to apply to just 500 or so of these.
A turf-cutting ban on 53 bogs in 'Special Conservation Areas' will remain in place. A compensation scheme has been put in place for these cases and officials say €7m has already been paid out with around 2,800 compensation applications received to date.
Mr Deenihan will face criticism from conservationists and may not satisfy militants opposing turf-cutting bans. But he and government colleagues will hope that the move will calm public disquiet in rural areas ahead of local and European Parliament elections in May.
Officials last night said the change is the product of a review of the issue promised by the new government in 2011. They say the easing of the ban was possible after the re-designation of other bogs which were not used for turf cutting.
Harvesting was banned two years ago in bogs formally designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive.
But some turf-cutters continued to reject the Government's offers of compensation and insist on exercising their age-old right to harvest the peat.
The protests have resulted in stand-offs with gardai as turf-cutters have defied the ban.