Offaly TDs meet Bord na Mona chiefs as turf war deepens

Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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justin.kelly@iconicnews.ie

Offaly TDs meet Bord na Mona as turf war deepens

Offaly TDs meet Bord na Mona as turf war deepens

Offaly TDs have been reacting after meeting with Bord na Mona chiefs over a deepening turf cutting rights row.

Following the meeting with senior management this week, Sinn Fein TD Brian Stanley said that “domestic turf cutters must be protected."

“We are facing into another turf cutting season with hundreds of households in both counties [Laois and Offaly], who are dependent on fuel from Bord na Mona owned turf banks, are at risk of not being able to cut this year. The 2019 High Court ruling that forced Bord na Mona to cease commercial peat harvesting is also causing problems for small scale domestic turf cutters. Those who owned their turf banks or who have turbary rights are unaffected.

"However, hundreds of turf cutters, some of whom are former Bord na Mona workers are now being told they can’t cut as their banks are owned by Bord na Mona and therefore come under court ruling. At the meeting with Bord na Mona management, which included CEO Tom Donnellan, I made the case that solutions must to be found to resolve this issue as most of the households affected cannot afford the €40 - €60K to retrofit their homes. A lot of their homes are not suitable for retrofitting.’’

“I also put it to Tom Donnellan that Bord na Mona where possible should try and relocate cutters to suitable turf banks as some of these moved off other turf banks in the past, which they had rights to, to facilitate Bord na Mona harvesting. I also requested that the companies legal advisors would re-examine the outcome of the 2019 ruling to ascertain if domestic turf cutting can continue under licence or some other means on their bogs.

“The CEO committed to revisit this, and also the suggestion that the small scale turf cutters could be facilitated by way of being formed into local groups or associations. The management team are to examine all these options and to engage in a process with turf cutters and representatives to find solutions on each of the relevant to local bogs."

Fianna Fail TD also attended the virtual meeting and commented afterwards: “The key issue for discussion was the impact of the 2019 High Court ruling which stated that peat extraction on bogs over 30 hectares requires planning permission and the consequences of this ruling for families and contractors across the Midlands.

“It was established and agreed that the vast majority of people are turbary rights holders and fortunately, retain the same property rights as prior to the ruling.

“One of the key proposals tabled is the potential of bestowing a turbary right to newly-established community co-operatives whereby families and individuals dependent on turf as a home-fuel source could continue to engage with a contractor to cut their turf for a period of up to five years as part of a Just Transition."

Deputy Cowen continued, "There is a commitment on everybody’s part to try to find a resolution because the Just Transition programme needs to bring everybody with it – nobody can, or should, be left behind.

"What was taken away from the meeting, on-foot of various suggestions, is that the board and their legal team would look at the prospect that the solution for each bog may well be a co-operative one.

"The High Court decision specifically talked about peat extraction for industrial use – even though just 1pc of Bord na Móna bogs are used for turf cutting, which is not industrial in its nature, it is not in the same realm.

“With that in mind, we’ve asked they consider the prospect of a leasing arrangement over a number of years to a community co-operative, made up of the entirety of cutters, which will allow them to find alternatives over a period.

“Bord na Móna have agreed to explore what it believes to be a proposal which has great potential. A further meeting has been set for April 28th, the hope being that they would be in a position to legally recognise and implement the thrust of the proposal made by the cross party group of TDs," Deputy Cowen concluded.