I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak and note the Minister's presence. We welcome the de-designation of these bogs. In 2014 RPS determined scientifically that these bogs were not of good environmental value for preservation. For a few years there was nothing happening in terms of paperwork being done. People were very anxious in all parts of the country. This does not affect only one part of the country. While it especially affects the west, there are also bogs in the midlands and other parts of the country that were designated. To put it simply, this is a smarter type of a plan.
When designation was carried out initially, areas were included that basically were no good for conservation. It also put an awful burden on the turf cutting community across the country. Now we are looking at areas that are, and will be, fit to be made good conservation areas. If this is done properly, there will be enough bog for ordinary turf cutting families to cut in different parts of the country. I see that Brian Lucas is present again today. I have criticised civil servants many times but I acknowledge the work he has done in the past year to 18 months, when we have moved further forward than in the previous ten years. That should be put on the record.
The Minister and I debated the special areas of conservation, SACs, last year in the House on Question Time. I said they never existed until all of the paperwork had gone through. I believe letters are now being sent here and there. I welcome that RPS is looking at bogs in different areas. We must bring a common-sense attitude to conservation. Doing that will also facilitate domestic turf cutters throughout the country. I emphasise that they are domestic turf cutters. People who cut enough turf for their own households will be left alone. Regardless of whether a bog is located up or down the road, is a redesignated location beside their property or is in the place that was originally designated, people may have to go to a different section and in order that they can all work together. We have always put these proposals forward but, unfortunately, they were not listened to until the past 12 or 18 months. In fairness, things are working more constructively now. Over the years there was much tension and mistrust, so much rebuilding will be required. There is no point in saying it will not. We crawl before we walk and we walk before we run on this matter. We must do it in the correct manner.
Regulations are catching us, even now, in trying to solve all of the problems. One such regulation relates to the 15 km buffer zone. Every county council includes this when one goes to a meeting to discuss putting anything through planning. The council asks if there is a designated site nearby and points to the buffer zone. It is not law but the councils still comply with it. As a result, where we are trying to find solutions or to find a relocation bog, perhaps, it is being caught by the 15 km requirement. That means we would be obliged to do screening, environmental impact assessments, EIAs, and the usual palaver, which cost money, in order to solve a problem for the State. This planning issue was one of the big problems during the negotiations on forming a Government. If the planning situation is not addressed, there will be chaos. If the State is solving a problem for Europe and itself and if turf cutters are willing to work with it for their own betterment and that of the Government and Europe, we must include some type of planning regulation for major infrastructure projects that will basically overrule much of the palaver that must be dealt with. There is a certain element among the public, unfortunately, that would love to see the gates come crashing down and, unless we do as I suggest, the gates will come crashing down. That must be addressed and resolved as soon as possible.
At present, if a farmer in a natural heritage area, NHA, SAC or a special protection area, SPA, wishes to clear a drain that has been there for the last 200 years, they are supposed to get permission to do so. I do not agree with getting permission to do something on my own land that has been done for the last 100 years. Second, if a farmer wishes to put a fence up on his or her land, as happened in Sligo, he or she is obliged to go through the county council to do so because of regulations introduced in 2011. If I have land in Sligo, Roscommon or elsewhere in Ireland on which there is a designation and if a farmer beside me does not have that designation, it will cost me €4,000 just to put a stake into the ground. That is totally unacceptable. It is preventing people from making a living and imposing a burden on them. The same applies to parts of Clare, Kerry and Cork. It is unacceptable for farmers in such situations. It should be remembered that generally these farmers are from small farms. They do not have €4,000. The fence might cost €500 or €600, but we will now put that additional burden on them. That situation must be resolved. Common sense must prevail. One of the tuberculosis, TB, eradication rules from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is that one cannot have one's cattle mixing with other cattle, yet a farmer must still do this.
I have seen so-called environmentalists from An Taisce and their buddies, who are being funded by the Government, lodging objections in Connemara. People from Wicklow are objecting to things in Connemara, Kerry and other areas. That is intolerable, because it is the farmers and people of those areas who have worked on and farmed the land which has the scenery the way it is. In the Burren in County Clare every farmer was told to get off the mountain and to take the cows and sheep off it. They were told they were doing wrong. The problem in this country is that when a scientist or so-called expert makes a mistake, the State pays. However, it should be remembered that if the landowner or the person who farms the land makes a mistake, it comes from their pocket. They do not have the resources to make mistakes. That is the reason we have kept these areas in such good condition down through the years.
RPS has done a great deal of work and I welcome that. However, from now on there must be a fully joint effort on the NHAs and on a review of the other NHAs. Let us be honest. At the time the designation was carried out in the early 1990s the people doing the so-called designations on these bogs were told that it had to be done quickly or Europe would fine us. The only place where a case was taken was when BirdWatch Ireland reported the Irish Government with regard to Dublin Bay. That is where the pressure was applied. We all believe that there are bogs that can be preserved. We are in favour of that. However, we must ensure a heritage, tradition and way of life. Consider the areas where those bogs are located. They are areas where people do not have massive incomes. People cut their few hundred euro worth of turf to have a fire for the winter. This is not about money or compensation. I wish to be very clear about that. This is about a tradition, a way of life and the way a community has functioned and will function. In Connemara one can see buses full of people who are amazed at what the people do in that area. That is what generates tourism and makes a country better - different ways of life in different communities.
With regard to the 15 km buffer zone, be it for building houses, for any development or for solving this problem, we must look at the stuff that is and is not there. The Department will tell one that it is not law, but when one goes to the council it will say that it must go by these guidelines. Europe has its hands too much in the pie. I object, and I will say this anywhere, to Europe telling me how I run my farm if I own it. Either I own it or Europe does, not both of us. Over the next six months to a year, and I spoke to Brian Lucas about this earlier, everybody, including the turf cutting community, must work as hard as we can to resolve all of these problems. I believe we can resolve them step by step. It will not be done overnight.
Some people will complain and some people will be happy. However, we must give everybody a viable alternative. This is the way forward. The ordinary people out there sat down in 2011 and we put proposals together. These were ordinary people with local knowledge telling us about their local areas. This is how to do things and solve problems. I am glad we have made progress in the Minister's area, Cavan, and in parts of Roscommon and many other parts. We will continue to do it.
I welcome the legislation and I thank the Minister for bringing it before the Dáil. The other NHAs for the review need to be sorted. Deputy Moran of the Independent Alliance is beside the Minister and I ask him to keep nudging her and reminding her about the planning permission aspect of the matter. If we do not solve that, we will have do-gooders jumping up and down again and blocking everything. This is about moving forward. We have made more progress during the past five or six years than we did in the previous 16. When we are near the final furlong, we must ensure we do what is necessary to bring it over the line. It will be better for the turf cutting community to ensure they have a clear path and future. It will be better for the Government, and the EU will be a winner. Sometimes, the EU does not see further than its nose and thinks it will only need to threaten people. I am not afraid of its threats.
I will work with the good people out there and the Minister to try to resolve it once and for all. It will take a while and will not be done overnight. There will be the odd blip here and there. If we make as much progress as we have during recent years to get it over the line, it can be done. A heritage, tradition and way of life will be preserved, as well as a way of heating a house for many people who cannot afford any more than €400 or €500. We will also ensure there are higher quality areas of conservation. That is a sensible way of doing something rather than the bull-headed way that applied for many years when people were told to get off their own property, and if they did not comply, there were gardaí and helicopters. That solves nothing. The history of Ireland shows us that conflict leads to more conflict. There is a way forward of working together and it is the only way we can resolve the situation. I support the legislation and will vote for it. I thank the Minister.