Thursday, 17 April 2014

Questions (18)

Sandra McLellan


18. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding special areas of conservation on which turf cutting is still taking place. [17782/14]

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Written answers (Question to Arts)

I published three major documents relating to Ireland's peatlands in January. These were the draft National Peatlands Strategy, the draft National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) Management Plan and the Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs). Copies of these documents are available for consultation on my Department’s website at Written submissions may be submitted until tomorrow 18 April.

The draft National Raised Bog SAC Management plan sets out the position in relation to SAC raised bogs. In general, turf-cutting on raised bog SACs is incompatible with their conservation and will not be possible in future. There are some exceptions which are dealt with in the draft Plan.

Cutting cannot continue on SAC raised bogs outside the legal framework laid down by the Habitats Directive, as transposed into Irish law, and legal action has been initiated in relation to a number of breaches in recent years. These issues are now before the Courts. It is important to note that the majority of turf cutters are engaging with my Department in relation to the compensation schemes which I introduced.

The draft National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan explores the possibility of using the limited flexibility, within the terms of the Habitats Directive, for continued turf-cutting on a small number of raised bog SACs where relocation possibilities are shown not to exist. In such a scenario, a robust case would need to be submitted to the EU Commission under Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive and compensatory measures provided to make up for any damage to the SAC network.

However, it has not been possible at this point to determine whether this Plan could form the basis of a case to the EU Commission that an exception should be made for continued turf-cutting on any particular site, notwithstanding the damage it would cause. The issue is dealt with in more detail in Chapter 6 of the draft plan.

I hope that the publication of the draft Plan and the consultation process now underway will encourage further consideration by turf-cutters and their representatives in regard to this issue and their engagement with me and my Department to finalise the Plan.