Illegal turf cutting may result in large fines for Ireland, says commission

Paul Cullen - Irish Times

IRELAND STILL faces the threat of massive fines for illegal turf cutting on protected raised bogs despite an agreement reached last week to end the practice, according to the European Commission.

The commission noted the agreement reached by turf cutters and environmental organisations but was anxious to see if it resulted in a complete end to the cutting of turf on the protected bogs, a senior source told The Irish Times.

“We’re wary and cautious. What counts is what happens on the ground,” he said. “If the effect is merely temporary, you’d wonder whether an approach that does not attach any consequences to illegal activity is sustainable.”

The official expressed particular concern at the interpretation placed on the deal by Independent TD Luke “Ming” Flanagan, who has warned his members would start cutting again on some of the bogs next year if alternative arrangements were not agreed.

The agreement brokered by the Peatlands Council provided for an immediate end to cutting but allowed those who had already cut turf on protected bogs to remove it. Alternative arrangements, including compensation and the opportunity to cut turf on undesignated bogs, are to be put in place.

Mr Flanagan, the spokesman for the Irish Turfcutters and Contractors Association, said the deal had bought his members some breathing space. He described his members’ agreement to stop cutting turf this year as “purely academic” because this work has already been done for the year.

The association wants the ban on cutting removed from about six of the 55 protected bogs where, it says, it is not possible to provide local turfcutters with access to alternative sites. “If serious efforts are not made to make this happen then it’s all up in the air,” he said.

Mr Flanagan cuts his own turf at Cloonchambers bog in Co Roscommon, one of 31 bogs where cutting was supposed to have ceased . The bog has suffered extensive damage from machine cutting, according to Friends of the Irish Environment. The TD said Cloonchambers “could” be one of the six bogs the association wanted reopened. He acknowledged he had cut all his turf for this year, despite the ban, and was only waiting for it to dry out.

Asked whether he believed he acted illegally by cutting turf on a protected bog, he said there was a lack of clarity in the law. “I have a letter from Éamon Ó Cuív saying I could cut and I have the Fine Gael manifesto which says it would be premature to end cutting now.”

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