HERITAGE Minister Jimmy Deenihan is inviting new applications for up to €23,000 tax-free in compensation from people who will lose out on an easing of the turf-cutting ban.
There are now hopes that the three-decade-old row is close to being resolved, a development which would help Fine Gael and Labour local election prospects in May.
Changes announced last week mean that 500 people will not benefit from conservation plan changes which will restore turf-cutting rights to 2,500 people on so-called 'Natural Heritage Area' bogs mainly in the Midlands and Connacht from 2017 onwards.
Those who did not get turf-cutting rights under the changes can apply for the compensation scheme which has applied to other categories of turf-cutters already banned from cutting. The scheme offers a €500 'sign-up' payment and €1,500 per year for 15 years -- the payments are index-linked.
There is growing hope in the Government that an end is in sight for row over the ban -- which came in under EU rules to protect wildlife, and which date back to 1992. Over the 2013 turf season, there were 220 bog plots illegally cut out of a total of 1,400 plots in the stricter Special Areas of Conservation, representing an 85pc compliance rate.
A total of €7m in compensation has already been paid out. Those bound by the ban can, instead of compensation, opt for turf-cutting rights on another bog or a free delivery of up to 15 tonnes of turf. The changes announced last week came after consultation with the EU and involved switching the ban to bogs owned by Bord na Mona and other bogs which are not used to cut turf.