I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 66, 70 and 88 together.
There is a certain amount of confusion regarding the impact that restrictions on turf-cutting are having or will have. Turf cutting is restricted on a very small number of Ireland's bogs. Of the 1,500 to 1,600 raised bogs in Ireland, only 139 are designated as special areas of conservation, SACs, or natural heritage areas, NHAs, and only 32 of these are subject to the ten-year derogation that comes to an end this year. While a similar ten-year derogation period will apply to the balance of the 139 designated bogs, turf cutting may continue as before on the vast majority of bogs.
Raised bogs are found mainly in the Irish midlands, from Kildare to east Galway and from south Leitrim to Tipperary. Less than 1% of Ireland's original active raised bog remains. However, this tiny proportion represents 60% of western Europe's remaining raised bogs.
Under the EU habitats directive, Ireland is obliged to designate certain priority habitat sites as areas for conservation, including some raised and blanket bogs. The habitats directive was transposed into Irish law by the EC Natural Habitats Regulations 1997. Under these regulations, all peat extraction was proposed to be ended on designated bogs. However, a derogation period of up to ten years was introduced by the then responsible Minister in respect of domestic turf cutting.
An agreement reached between the Government and the farming representative organisations in 2004 provided that the Department would review whether there are particular circumstances in which domestic turf cutting could continue beyond the derogation period without damaging the bogs.
Recent scientific reports on bog monitoring and turf cutting found that continuing damage at a rate of approximately 2% to 4% per annum was occurring because of domestic turf cutting. In the light of this scientific evidence, it would not be appropriate to extend the ten-year derogation and turf cutting on the 32 raised bogs designated prior to 1999 should therefore cease at the end of the current season as scheduled. The situation with regard to extraction of peat from blanket bogs is different, primarily because this habitat can accommodate a certain amount of turf cutting without significant damage and is in a better position to renew itself without active intervention.
My Department operates a compensation scheme for persons to stop turf cutting in designated raised bogs. This covers both special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas. It provides payments of €3,500 for the first acre and €3,000 for each subsequent acre of freehold, as well as an incentive bonus of up to €6,000. This has enabled the State to acquire either the freehold or the turf cutting rights on 6,500 acres of designated peat land. Arbitration is available in cases where the turbary owner believes that compensation should be higher. I am providing the Deputies with a schedule of all designated raised and blanket bogs identifying, in particular, those designated in or prior to 1999.