Department considers relaxing ban on Moanveanlagh turf-cutting

Tadhg Evans

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is undertaking a special examination of Moanveanlagh Bog which could see turf cutting restarting after eight years of a ban on the age-old practice there.

Turf-cutting had been carried out by local families for generations on Moanveanlagh only for it to be halted when EU regulations were transposed into Irish law in late 2011, much to the fury of local turf-cutters. But now it appears as if their long fight to cling onto their beloved practice might be bearing fruit.

The development comes days after the State dropped cases - at Tralee Circuit Court last week - against two North Kerry men facing charges of illegal turf-cutting there in 2012.

The ban led to fierce opposition locally as turf-cutters opposed to it mounted a protracted campaign in the years since. 

However, there was take-up of a package of compensation and/or turbary on alternative bogs in North Kerry offered to those affected. Some turf-cutters accepted compensation, others were not entitled to compensation as they had no deeds on the bog, while more than a dozen families refused compensation.

Then-Minister of Culture and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan said he had no choice but to sign the EU Provisions into Irish law, to protect the State from fines of up to €25,000 a day. But it now appears there may be a way forward to the satisfaction of local turfcutters and Brussels. 

The Department of Heritage confirmed to The Kerryman this week that it began testing in April aimed at identifying the threat of peat subsidence if domestic turf-cutting resumes.

The Department said the tests will consist of what it described as 'shear-strength profiling'; limited turf-cutting, subject to consent from relevant authorities, from 'facebanks' within the three-and-a-quarter-hectare survey zone; monitoring of porewater pressue; and measurements of organic matter. 

The tests were halted at the end of May 2019 due to what the Department called 'access issues'. 

A spokesperson said that: "Work is ongoing in relation to the resumption of the tests", but did not elaborate on what the access issues were and said it was not possible to say when testing would resume. The Department said tests will take about a year, with results expected a few months after the monitoring period. Turf Cutters and Contractors Association North Kerry branch spokesperson Michael Looney said he is hopeful that turf-cutting will resume at the site next year. 

Mr Looney claimed that turf-cutting has continued at other sites under restriction around Ireland, but this was not possible at Moanveanlagh as the only contractor available to them was one of the two men subject to the charges that were dropped last week.

"We want to resume cutting at around 130 hectares of high bog at the site, and testing is going on at the Bunaghara end with a view to allowing this," Mr Looney said. 

"The ban affected around 30 to 40 families. Some were compensated, some weren't entitled to compensation because they had no deeds, while 15 or 16 families didn't accept compensation. 

"Within those families, you might have had several people not able to cut. Cutting has continued at some bogs around Ireland, but the locals here haven't cut turf at Moanvealagh since 2012 as [the contractor] was going through the courts," Mr Looney said.

"We have taken a significant financial hit as a result of this ban. That, I'm afraid, is Mr Deenihan's legacy," Mr Looney added.

Meanwhile, he said all in the group were 'absolutely delighted' that the State had entered a 'nolle prosequi' in the cases of the two men charged with unauthorised turf-cutting at the site in 2012. But an action by the men to stop the cases, which went to the High Court and later the Supreme Court, failed in 2017, and Mr Looney said "The law still stands" despite the State's decision last week.

"I'm absolutely delighted for both men," Mr Looney said.

"But the law is clear, the law still stands. 

"We can't cut turf on Moanveanlagh, which we had done for generations. 

"Unfortunately, Jimmy Deenihan's legacy is that people can be fined up to €500,000 and put in jail for up to three years for cutting turf."