Turf cutters vow to defy EU ban as four appear in court
HUNDREDS of turf cutters from around the country gathered outside a court to show their support for four men who face trial for allegedly cutting turf in protected bogs.
Among the protesters was Independent TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, who has previously challenged the authorities to take him to court after he cut turf on his own protected bog in Co Roscommon last year.
Carrying placards saying "turf cutters are not criminals", around 200 protesters came from as far afield as Kerry and Donegal in support of four Galway turf cutters who are facing trial.
Michael D'Arcy (43), of Ballycahill, Killimor; Padraic Byrne (57), of Main Street, Killimor; Pat McDonagh (43), of Portumna; and Anthony Porter (44), of Woodford, posed for photographers as they made their way into Galway Circuit Criminal Court amid cheers from the crowd.
The men face prosecution under the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011, for allegedly cutting turf at Clonmoylan Bog, near Killimor, on May 22, 23 and August 21 last year.
The men are the first to be prosecuted since the EU habitats directive imposed restrictions on turf cutting on 53 Irish bogs that are designated Special Areas of Conservation.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association chairman Michael Fitzmaurice, said his members will defy the EU directive by continuing to harvest turf from protected bogs this summer.
He said there was strong support for the four Galway turf cutters from right around the country.
"We're all one big family – together we stand, divided we fall. The Government has been trying to divide and conquer. Over the last few years they're been trying to intimidate and bully people. But people are resilient," he said.
"This (the protest) was only the beginning. We will be going further afield to the High Court. We are going to defend our property and defend our rights," he added.
The battle over turf cutting in protected bogs led to several confrontations last year and Mr Fitzmaurice said his members will be cutting turf again in the months ahead.
During yesterday's brief hearing, defence counsel Conal McCarthy told Judge Keenan Johnson he was still awaiting disclosure by the State on a number of outstanding issues in relation to the case.
Judge Johnson agreed to adjourn the matter to July 2.