New threat to Bord na Mona peat harvesting plans

"Our plans and applications will be reviewed again in light of this current threat by FOIE"

Gearoid Keegan

Reporter:

Gearoid Keegan

New threat to Bord na Mona peat harvesting plans

Peat being harvested on a Bord na Mona bog

BORD na Mona has said potential legal action by an environmental lobby group poses a very real threat to the company's plans to harvest peat this year.

In a letter to all employees on Monday, Bord na Mona chief executive Tom Donnellan said he was taking “seriously” a solicitor's letter from Friends of the Irish Environment (FOIE).

The letter said the FOIE is concerned about media reports which appear to suggest the recent An Bord Pleanala (ABP) decision on substitute consent permits peat harvesting.

“A decision to grant leave to apply for substitute consent, simply permits a further application for substitute consent. In no way is development authorised by these decisions,” said the letter.

“Accordingly we hereby put you on notice that if any works or development is carried out, without development consent we are instructed to commence proceedings pursuant to Section 160 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and we will rely upon this correspondence in relation to the costs of same,” the letter added.

In his message to Bord na Mona workers, Mr Donnellan said the Bord Pleanala decision allowed the company to commence the formal substitute consent application process and begin pre-harvesting preparations.

He described the correspondence from FOIE's solicitors as “a threat that we will take seriously as it follows their challenge to ABP which ultimately struck down plans for the phased transition of two Midlands power stations to net zero emissions”.

“Our plans and applications will be reviewed again in light of this current threat by FOIE, with a view to taking every measure possible to ensure we submit the strongest possible substitute consent applications to ABP,” he added.

“As I said previously, harvesting will sustain peat supplies to Derrinlough Briquette Factory, the Horticulture business and to meet the reduced peat requirement for Edenderry power station. I remain hopeful that our application will be successful, but I am also cognisant of the very real threat posed to the harvest this year as a result of any potential action by FOIE and perhaps others.”

In a statement, the FOIE said recent reports that the turf cutting season is ‘in full swing on privately owned bogs’ had resulted in letters to the Chairperson of Growing Media Ireland (GMI) and the officers of Turf Cutters and Contractors’ Association (TCCA).

The FOIE said letters copying the Bord na Mona letter were issued to Michael Fitzmaurice, TD, the chairman of the TCCA and Luke Ming Flanagan, MEP, their PRO, as well as to John Neenan, the chairperson of Growing Media Ireland (GMI) which represents the majority of the country’s privately-owned producers of horticulture peat.

The State’s January 2019 Statutory Instrument attempting to exempt industrial scale peat cutting was struck down by the High Court last autumn, the FOIE said.

In the letters to the organisations, the FOIE warned that “the requirement for planning permission for sites of over 30 hectares is the law and any extraction undertaken without permission is unauthorised”. Sites of over 10 hectares require planning permission but not an Environmental Impact Assessment.

The FOIE said the turf cutting industry's claim that no substitutes for the growing medium are available is “simply not true”.

“What is true is that excellent substitutes are available – even from one of the foreign peat extraction companies operating in Ireland - but that they cost money when peat has always been virtually free.”

The FOIE said it spent eight years in the courts “simply to have the requirements of the Environmental Impact Directive applied to this industry”.

“We believe that when the consequences of this activity are properly and fully examined, it will be obvious that our bogs must urgently be rewetted to meet our biodiversity commitments, to attenuate flooding, and to allow them to return to their natural function in absorbing greenhouse gases.”

The group urged residents to “report any activities to their local authority” and copy the report to the FOIE.