EU warns on illegal turf-cutting
European officials have raised "serious concerns" about continued illegal turf-cutting in Ireland and urged people to stop doing it.
As four men charged in connection with cutting turf on a special area of conservation in Co Galway learned they face trial in December, the European Commission warned such offences have both environmental and financial implications.
"The commission supports the prohibition on turf-cutting on these raised bogs as well as the range of measures that the Irish Government has taken to accommodate all affected turf cutters, including financial compensation and re-location measures," it said in a statement.
"The urgency of cessation of turf-cutting is underlined by the latest scientific assessments which show that around 38% of Ireland's active raised bog habitat has been destroyed in the period 1995 to 2012, overwhelmingly as a result of turf-cutting."
The commission has not demanded a ban on all turf-cutting in Ireland - just on 4% of the overall total area of bog land in the country. But it warned that it has the right to take the issue to court to ensure compliance with the law.
It said not only does illegal turf-cutting result in the loss of "nationally and internationally important biodiversity", it also costs the state which is obliged to compensate for the damage.
The European Commission and Ireland have worked together over the last 20 years to help conserve raised bogs, which are protected under EU directives.
But the commission said many of the bogs continue to be degraded and destroyed at "an alarming rate", mainly because of peat cutting which damages the conditions essential for the raised bogs.
The commission said European officials appreciate measures being developed by the Irish Government, including a new national peatland strategy which is aimed at promoting conservation. "Apart from undermining these objectives, continued illegal turf-cutting requires the authorities to devote resources to taking effective enforcement action," it added.
Four men who appeared in court on Tuesday learned they will stand trial in connection with turf-cutting. The alleged offences relate to three separate incidents at Clonmoylan Bog in south Co Galway in May and August last year. Scores of people gathered outside Galway Circuit Court during proceedings to support the accused men.