independent

Friday 22 August 2014

Moanveanlagh turf-cutters defy EU ban at bog protest

Dnal Nolan

Published 28/08/2013 | 05:36

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Little Aoibheann O'Leary from Bunagarha, Listowel, waves a tricolour as local musicians and protestors gather around a banner proclaiming ‘Save rural Ireland, No to EU Dictatorship’ at a rally on Moanveanlagh bog near Listowel on Sunday.

TURFCUTTERS openly challenged an EU ban on cutting peat at a protected north Kerry bog during a support rally held on Sunday to highlight their opposition to a law that, they claim, disregards their rights and traditions.

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TURFCUTTERS openly challenged an EU ban on cutting peat at a protected north Kerry bog during a support rally held on Sunday to highlight their opposition to a law that, they claim, disregards their rights and traditions.

A number of protestors openly defied the ban on cutting on Moanveanlagh Bog, using sleáns to cut turf by hand. Minister for the Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, who was responsible for imposing the turf-cutting ban, said he believed the cutting at the weekend was a 'symbolic' act and it was a matter for gardaí to pursue prosecutions if they felt it was appropriate to do so.

Gardaí are not taking the matter further, however, and say the event 'passed off without incident'. A senior source told The Kerryman that gardaí who monitored the event were chiefly concerned with the use of cutting machinery and with keeping the peace on the day in the event of heated scenes.

The rally passed off peacefully as over 150 people took to Moanveanlagh in a significant display of support for the local people who insist their right to cut turf should supersede European environmental directives protecting flora and fauna.

Two local turfcutters are currently before the courts arising from the use of machinery in cutting turf during last year's season. John O'Connor (50) and Christopher McCarthy (26), both from Kilbaha, Moyvane, are to appear at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court in October; charged with using a machine to extract turf from the protected Moanveanlagh bog.

Turfcutting was banned on Moanveanlagh when the bog was given Special Area of Conservation (SAC) status early last year. Up to 40 local families have refused to accept compensation and continue to fight for what they say is their right to uphold an age-old family tradition.

"Our impact on the bog has been minimal over the centuries," Turfcutters' and Contractors' Association (TCCA) spokesperson Mike Looney told The Kerryman. "This is not about money for us and this is not just another group of farmers looking for compensation. For starters only a handful of us are farming and we are in no way interested in monetary compensation or alternative sites," Mr Looney said.

Twenty seven people with turbary rights to the bog have accepted compensation under State schemes. However, up to 40 other local families continue to hold out in a bid to source their own winter fuel the traditional way.

Mr Looney said Minister Deenihan was solely responsible for the current controversy. "He signed a statutory instrument in October 2011 which meant that turfcutters and contractors were criminalised," he said.

Minister Deenihan insists he had no choice but to sign the 'statutory instrument' which included a provision to protect SAC sites from machine damage in a bid to protect the Irish State from swingeing EU fines of some €25,000 a day.

The Minister this week called for the co-operation of local turfcutters with a new report being drawn up on behalf of the Department of Heritage. Consultants are to visit the area, as part of a national report, to see if there is a case to be made for limited cutting on Moanveanlagh.

"They will provide the scientific advice for us to go back to the EU Commission with a revised plan for the SACs," Minister Deenihan explained. "I want to stress that this matter is far from closed and that I've been trying my best to resolve this issue. For that we need the full co-operation of all turfcutters," he said.

Kerryman

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