The Government has put in place a compensation scheme for those affected by the cessation of turf cutting on raised bog special areas of conservation. This entails payment of €1,500 per year, index linked, for 15 years or, where feasible, relocation of turf cutters to non-designated bogs where they can continue to cut turf. Those wishing to relocate can avail of the financial payment or the delivery of 15 tonnes of cut turf per annum while relocation sites are identified and prepared. The costs of acquiring and preparing relocation sites will be met by the State. An additional once-off payment of €500 for qualifying turf cutters will be provided where legal agreements are signed with me, as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Over 2,250 applications for compensation have been received under this scheme and some 840 payments have been made to date.
While turf contractors do not, generally speaking, own legal rights in terms of freehold ownership and/or turbary rights in raised bog special areas of conservation, the Peatlands Council provides a forum for contractors to put forward their ideas and views for consideration. There may also be a potential role for contractors in the relocation of turf cutters to non-designated bogs and in restoration of sites.
Earlier this year, at the request of the Government, Mr. Conor Skehan, Chair of the Peatlands Council, convened a Peatlands Forum, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice John Quirke, and involving my Department, the IFA, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, Bord na Móna, and representatives of turf cutting and environmental groups. This Forum allowed each community affected by the cessation of turf cutting to put forward their views on the issues and follow-up steps were identified for each bog. The report on the Forum from Justice Quirke also recommended that a national plan should be prepared to examine how the 53 raised bog special areas of conservation are to be protected. This recommendation was agreed to by Government and Dáil Éireann also gave unanimous support to a Private Members' Motion, which called for such a national plan to be put in place. On the 3rd of April last, a delegation led by Minister Hogan and I met with EU Environment Commissioner Potoènik in Brussels, where we secured the support of the European Commission for developing a National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan.
The Plan will be wide-ranging, looking at the practical aspects of conserving, restoring and managing the affected bogs and will allow solutions for turf-cutters to be explored in detail. In the context of such a Plan, it may be possible to bring some flexibility, within the terms of the Habitats Directive, that could allow limited cutting within a small number of sites. The Plan will be progressed both at local level for each site and at national level through the Peatlands Council.