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Turbary Rights

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 22 June 2011

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Questions (40)

Sandra McLellan


36 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if persons who cut turf on the 32 raised bogs designated as special areas of conservation under the EU habitats directive can cut, save and harvest turf this year without facing penalties. [16484/11]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht)

The effective cessation of turf-cutting on 31 SAC sites was confirmed by a decision of the previous Government in May 2010 and had immediate effect. In addition, 2011 is also the final cutting season for a further 24 raised bog SACs.

On the 5th April this year, the Government made a number of decisions to give effect to these cessations, including the putting in place of a compensation package for those who are required to cease cutting and the establishment of an independently chaired Peatlands Council to represent the interests of affected parties. The Council includes representatives from the Irish Farmers Association, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, Irish Rural Link, Bord na Móna, An Taisce and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Following reports of ongoing turf cutting on a small number of the 31 bogs, and severe concerns expressed by myself, the European Commission and Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations, the Peatlands Council held an emergency meeting on the 1st of June. The Council and all its members accepted that turf cutting could not continue on these raised bog SACs and representatives of the turf cutting contractors agreed to contact their members to ensure that no further cutting would occur. The Peatlands Council also recommended that those who had cut turf this year should be allowed to take it home as the damage to these bogs had already occurred and the removal of the turf would not cause further damage. I welcomed the agreement at the Peatlands Council on 1 June and stated that we now have a clear understanding that turf-cutting cannot continue on these sites and that the requirements of the Directive must be met.

I also acknowledged that the needs of turf-cutters must be further explored and addressed as soon as possible. I also commended all those who refrained from cutting turf this year following the Government's decision and I invited all turf-cutters in these sites to engage with my Department, which is currently hosting local clinics, in order to progress compensation and relocation arrangements. Issues in relation to prosecution or penalties will be kept under review in the light of compliance with the agreement not to cut turf on these sites. Any person who has had turf cut on these bogs during 2011 will not qualify for payment from the compensation scheme this year.

I have put in place a system of monitoring to ensure that no further cutting takes place on the affected bogs. Any person found engaged in such activity will be pursued through prosecution and/or cross compliance.