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Turbary rights can be ‘delimited for common good’ – Minister Charlie McConalogue

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The right to cut turf is under the spotlight once again. Photo: Stock image

The right to cut turf is under the spotlight once again. Photo: Stock image

The right to cut turf is under the spotlight once again. Photo: Stock image

Concern has emerged over the long-term protection of peoples’ turbary rights to continue cutting and rearing turf on their plots of bog.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said turbary rights — historically, attached to several rural dwelling houses for fuel purposes — “are not absolute in nature and may be delimited by law” in the interests of “the common good” in response to a parliamentary question from Independent TD Carol Nolan.

It comes as looming changes to the country’s solid fuel regulations regarding the sale and distribution of turf remain unresolved, with Government now unlikely to reach agreement on the matter until after the Dáil’s summer recess.

Minister McConalogue was asked by the Laois-Offaly representative if people in possession of a folio number for bog plots “will not have their turbary rights removed or infringed upon by either the State or any private company or semi-State company”.

The minister replied: “As a general principle, it is settled law that private property rights (including turbary rights) are not absolute in nature and may be delimited by law, as occasion requires, with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good.

“Accordingly, the exercise of turbary rights by persons in possession of a folio number for bog plots with associated turbary rights are subject to lawful regulation by the State, which could in some cases include a limitation or removal on the exercise of those rights.

“In the circumstances, it is not possible to give the Deputy the assurance sought on behalf of persons in possession of a folio number for bog plots with associated turbary rights.”

Deputy Nolan said she was “deeply alarmed” by the minister’s response.

“It is just over two months since this Government almost tore itself apart trying to assure those with plots of bogland that turbary rights would, in fact, be protected from the wilder excesses of Minister [Eamon] Ryan’s turf-banning agenda,” she said.

“From a statutory basis, it has been absolutely clear since at least 1951 that ‘right of turbary’, in relation to bogland, means a right to cut and carry away turf from the bogland and includes the right of preparing and storing on the bogland any turf cut therefrom.

“Now we are in a situation where a minister is unable or unwilling to provide a basic assurance that even persons in possession of a folio number for bog plots with associated turbary rights will have that right protected.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said draft solid fuel regulations “continue to be developed and will be settled in due course for agreement by Government”.

“Such regulations will not prohibit the owner of a turbary right, or a customary right, or a person entitled to sod peat harvested for distribution in accordance with the Cessation of Turf-Cutting Compensation Scheme, from using or sharing sod peat.

“This will ensure, that while measures are introduced to enhance the quality of our air, they will not impinge upon traditional local practices associated with sod peat.”

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