Thursday 30 March 2017

Turf deal struck to avoid fines of €26,000 per day

Eoghan MacConnell

TURF cutters have struck a deal that could prevent Ireland being hit with a backdated fine of €26,000 plus interest per day, spanning back almost two decades, for cutting turf on protected bogs.

Under the terms agreed during an emergency meeting of the Peatlands Council yesterday, turf cutters on 31 protected bogs around the country will cease cutting turf from 2pm today. Those using the bogs will be permitted to remove turf already cut this year without fear of prosecution.

Alternative turf-cutting sites and compensation will also be considered, and a strategy for the management and restoration of designated raised bogs will be put in place.

Independent TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, who is PRO with the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, said he hoped the European Commission would be "reasonable" when they received a copy of the agreement, "otherwise there (would) be a problem".

"We are basically giving ourselves a bit of breathing space to resolve this problem," he said.

Speaking prior to the emergency meeting in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, Peatlands Council chairman Conor Skehan said a failure to reach agreement would see Ireland face "fines of €26,000 per day with interest backdated to 1992, plus fines in the millions for each offence thereafter . . . It is a multi-million-euro figure."

The council was established by Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan in April. Its purpose is to consult with the IFA, Irish Rural Link, Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Irish Environment Network, Bord na Mona and the National Parks and Wildlife Service over the cessation of turf cutting in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs).

The emergency council meeting was called in order to reach agreement among turf cutters on land use in 31 raised bogs in SACs and NHAs in counties Galway, Roscommon, Westmeath, Cavan, Kildare, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Mayo, Sligo and Kerry. A further 24 bogs will be dealt with from the end of 2011.

In total, 6,500 turf cutters and an estimated 18,000 turf users will be affected by the cessation of cutting on 55 bogs.

Mr Deenihan recently signalled legal action could be taken against turf cutters if they continued to flout the law on 31 protected bogs.

"We have no choice -- we have got to resolve it," Mr Skehan remarked before the meeting. "An enormous series of substantial fines are going to be imposed on Ireland for failure to comply with the habitats directive. This has been going on since at least 1992. We have had plenty of notice of it but the clock has stopped. We have got to make sure the habitats directive is fully complied with."

Members of the council issued a statement following the lengthy meeting.

"We are fully committed to fully and finally resolving the legal and land-use issues to ensure full compliance with the objectives of the habitats directive in relation to raised bogs," the group said.

Irish Independent

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