Saturday 10 December 2016

FG caves in to rural lobby as it doubles deal for turf cutters

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Published 21/02/2012 | 05:00

FINE Gael is set to cave in to yet another rural lobby group, with a substantially increased compensation package for turf cutters, the Irish Independent has learned.

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After slashing the €50 septic tank registration charge to just €5, at a loss of €20m, the Government is suddenly about to double the compensation for turf cutters this year.

The controversial compensation package is being offered to owners of bogland in special environmental conservation areas to get them to stop cutting turf.

This year alone, the enhanced compensation will cost the taxpayer another €2.5m -- the cost of keeping the Vatican Embassy open for the next three years.

The latest in a series of U-turns will also prompt protesters against a variety of other Budget announcements, such as the €100 household charge, to intensify their campaigns.

While cuts to schools and hospitals still remain untouched, Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan will bring proposals to Cabinet today to enhance the turf cutters' payments.

Mr Deenihan has been struggling with opposition from the turf cutters to the enforcement of the EU regulations.

The minister will this morning propose to Cabinet colleagues:

- An increase in the annual payment from €1,000 to €1,500 for a maximum of 15 years.

- A €500 once-off incentive payment for signing up to the scheme.

- The quantity of turf to be delivered to be increased to 15 tonnes.

The increase will mean turf cutters getting €2,000 straight off this year for signing up, rather than the previous offer of €1,000.

Increase

And from next year onwards they will get €500 more than was on the table before.

The additional €2.5m cost will be found in Mr Deenihan's own budget in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht this year and he will have to find more funds next year.

The restrictions on turf cutting on 31 raised bog Special Areas of Conservation were announced in May 2010 and confirmed by the Government last April.

It is trying to get turf cutters to accept the compensation package or else move to another piece of bog to cut there.

But the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association has been fighting against the minister and has now forced an increased compensation package.

The U-turn is the latest case of a Fine Gael minister caving in to a rural lobby group.

Following heavy resistance in rural areas and lobbying of Fine Gael TDs, Environment Minister Phil Hogan announced a fortnight ago that the charge for registering a septic tank would be reduced from €50 to €5 for an initial period.

The climbdown will mean a loss of €20m in revenue to the Government.

The Government is still holding firm on its decision to close the Vatican Embassy, which it argues is being done on economic grounds.

The saving of €800,000 a year is only a third of what will be allocated in extra compensation for turf cutters.

Mr Deenihan has circulated a memo to Cabinet on the subject and it is on the agenda for today's weekly meeting.

However, a decision may not be taken today on the matter as it may be kicked on for another week.

Irish Independent

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