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EU move could trigger new raft of bog protests


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

EU move could trigger new raft of bog protests EU move could trigger new raft of bog protests

A decision to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice over its failure to halt bog cutting could spark another wave of protests across rural Ireland and set back years of progress on protecting them, one local TD has claimed.

The EU Commission said bogs in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) continue to be degraded through drainage and turf-cutting activities and insufficient action is being taken to restore the sites.

“For instance, whilst some restoration work has been undertaken on raised bog sites, no action has been taken regarding blanket bog sites where Ireland has failed to put in place an effective regulatory regime to protect these unique bog sites,” it said.

The EU executive has been warning Ireland to take action on protecting these “biodiversity hotspots” since 2011 and their decision to take Ireland to court could see massive daily fines levied.

Independent Ireland TD for Roscommon-Galway, Michael Fitzmaurice (pictured), said the decision to refer Ireland to court had obliterated years of progress made between the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), domestic turf-cutters and contractors.

“The decision creates the serious risk that we will see a complete breakdown in cooperation between stakeholders domestically and may very well see a return to tensions on Irish bogs which in recent years had been defused,” predicted the chairperson of the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association (TCCA).

A year ago, Deputy Fitzmaurice from Glinsk visited the European Commission where outlined the progress made through collaboration between the NPWS and those who harvest bogs.

He vowed to convene a meeting of the TCCA Executive to work out its next steps, which could include the withdrawal of cooperation by private landowners in the re-wetting of lands and whether to resume dialogue with the NPWS.

“The day of turf cutting is, sadly, coming to an end. The EU has once again shown that it is out of touch with reality and is more interested in using a hammer to crack this nut than diplomacy. Which in my book is the mark of a bully.”

Galway East TD Sean Canney urged the Government to defend the rights of people to cut turf for their own use.

“At present people who are cutting turf are doing so as the only way of heating their homes, providing hot water, washing clothes and cooking meals for their families. The alternative form of heating is too expensive for most people to install, and the running cost are not affordable to most families,” the independent deputy from Belclare insisted.

“The Habitats Directive requires member states to protect their most precious natural habitats but where does the Irish citizen fit in, and rights of a citizen to live and provide heat and food for their family. Surely human life is more precious than a bog.”

The Aontú candidate for the Tuam Municipal District, Luke Silke, said it is the taxpayers who will pick up the bill for this court action. While trying to deter people from cutting their bogs, there are plans across north-east Galway for wind turbines on peat lands, where bogs will be dug and concrete poured for turbine foundations and access roads across raised bogs.

“The crowd abroad in Europe don’t understand how important turf and solid fuel is for the people of rural Galway. We must remember that the EU has recently downgraded Ireland North and West to a ‘Lagging Region’.

“What we need from the EU is assistance and support to develop our region – not a court case against our country,” the Lavally-based candidate stressed.

“The people I speak to on the doors are trying to decide between fuel for the fire, and food, over the past few winter months and the cost-of-living crisis. To slam a court case in their faces, to try to deter them from cutting turt, is tone deaf in an election year”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said during his visit to the US for St Patrick’s Day festivities that the Government intended to defend itself in court and there were no plans for any new restrictions on turf-cutting.

“We believe that what we have done to date is adequate and complies with European law.”

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said between 2022 and 2023 peat extraction from blanket bogs had reduced by 40% and 50,000 hectares of bogs were being restored with work continuing in 30 of the country’s 53 raised bogs.

He told RTE Radio that the amount of turf being cut was miniscule today compared to a decade ago and he praised farmers for their cooperation in restoring bogs.

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