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Deenihan to press turf cutting case before the EU

THE Irish Government is going to Europe to argue the case for turfcutters on the protected Moanveanlagh bog.

Moanveanlagh bog is among a handful of remaining Special Area of Conservation (SAC) raised bogs nationwide on which the Government has hit a wall in trying to come to a resolution with turfcutters. Now Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said Taoiseach Enda Kenny are going back to Europe to see "if there is any flexibility on Moanveanlagh and other problematic bogs that remain".

Turfcutters were in buoyant form at a massive protest outside Dáil Éireann that coincided with Independent TD Luke Flanagan's successful passing of a crucial motion; coming on the back of the government's doubling of offers of compensation for affected turfcutters. Deputy Flanagan's motion went through when Minister Deenihan withdrew a proposed Government amendment, in what was seen by some coalition backbenchers as a 'cavein' to turfcutters.

Moanveanlagh Bog, however, remains a sore point as alternative plots cannot be easily located for the turfcutters there. While they have been offered new plots, but the cutters say they are too far away and too split-up as to be considered seriously.

"We have to go back to Europe now and press on the Commission how problematic a number of remaining bogs are," Minister Deenihan said. "We will press them for flexibility on the matter to see if anything can be done for our turfcutters."

Minister Deenihan insisted his apparent Dáil capitulation was nothing of the sort. "It wasn't a cave-in at all, if I hadn't withdrawn the Government amendment Deputy Flanagan's motion could not have gone through. I did so to keep to a spirit of co-operation on this issue I have always pursued," he said.

"My sympathies are first and foremost with the turfcutters, including members of my own extended family on Moanveanlagh. Part of me wishes that the portfolio had been kept to arts, sports and tourism, but that wasn't the case and I have to accept responsibility on behalf of the Irish State on this issue. Indeed, I have done more to progress this in the last year than all ministers responsible have done in the previous 10 years. This isn't going away and we will face fines of up to €26,000 per day if we are found in breach of the EU directive this year," he added.

Minister Deenihan said he was very pleased that the majority of turfcutters will now work with the State to achieve a resolution of the matter.

Meanwhile, Minister Deenihan announced on Monday an extension to the deadline for the receipt of applications for compensation until 30 April 2012 from those affected by the cessation of turf cutting on raised bogs for reasons of environmental protection. This extension includes Moanveanlagh and applies to turf cutters on the 24 raised bog special areas of conservation nominated for designation in 2002.