Deenihan caught in middle of turf war over new EU directive
JIMMY Deenihan is between a bog and a hard place.
The fallout from a ban on turf cutting has landed on the Arts and Heritage Minister's doorstep.
Turf cutters have been staging a picket outside his Listowel constituency office in Kerry for several weekends now.
Mr Deenihan has even offered his own bog for free to any turf cutter who has lost their right to cut turf on Moanveanlagh bog, one of 53 raised bogs that was designated under the EU Habitats Directive.
Not only is Moanveanlagh bog in the heart of his north Kerry constituency, but some of his cousins are also affected by the ban. Michael O'Sullivan is among the protesters. He has been cutting turf for more than 70 years, like his father before him and generations of his family.
This weekend he was outside the constituency office.
Mr O'Sullivan (84) vows he'll keep up his protest until March 7, traditionally around the start of the cutting season, and when the EU ban on turf cutting comes into effect at 53 raised bogs around the country. Mr O'Sullivan cuts turf on Moanveanlagh, about three miles outside Listowel.
He says he has no interest in accepting the compensation offer of €1,000 a year for 15 years that's currently on the table from the Government. And he doesn't want to cut turf on an alternative bog that will be provided to him.
"It's shameless taking it off us," says Mr O'Sullivan. "All I've ever done is cut turf and draw turf."
Under the European Habitats Directive, turf cutting is to stop on certain bogs listed as special areas of conservation.
The 53 raised bogs were designated in 1999 and now Ireland faces huge fines of up to €26,000 per day, or more if imposed retrospectively, if cutting continues beyond next month.
Michael Looney, from nearby Skehnerin, is the spokesman for the Kerry branch of the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association.
"Mr Deenihan signed a statutory instrument that gave extra powers to the National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers that they could confiscate turf-cutting equipment and now all he can offer is compensation which we're not interested in," Mr Looney said.
The turf cutters claim the same directive was interpreted differently in the North, where turf cutting for domestic use is allowed.
Farmer Denis Scannell, whose family have been cutting turf on Moanveanlagh bog for 200 years, said he had no interest in cutting on a bog that was nine miles away.
In January 2011, formal notice was issued to the last Government that the EU Commission would take Ireland to court if cutting continued on the designated raised bogs.
"What I'm trying to do is get them a legal way of cutting turf or else proper compensation," Mr Deenihan said.