Sinn Féin spokesperson on Rural Affairs Peadar Tóibín TD has said that the government must strive to ensure that the needs of turf cutters are met while maximising benefits to the environment.
While Deputy Tóibín acknowledged the vital importance of the preservation of our peatlands, he criticised the 'gross governmental mismanagement' which resulted in the infringement of turf cutters’ rights.
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, on the Wildlife Amendment Act which provide for the review of raised bog habitats, Deputy Tóibín said, “Cutting turf is an age old practice, a way of life almost in many parts of the country. Many rural households are dependent on turf to heat their homes. However, owing to intensive peat extraction thanks to the Turf Development Board, later Bord na Móna, we now have less than 1% of active raised bog. In the past 80 years, industry has savaged our peatlands."
He add that preservation should not have to mean the infringement of people’s rights noting that in 1998, Ireland transposed the EU Habitats Directives into law. The purpose of the law was to protect wetlands as a natural habitat.
“The Fianna Fáil government at the time chose which bogs would be designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)." added Deputy Tóibín. "While the Directive stipulated that measures must take account of economic, social and cultural requirements – in other words – the needs of the people, it would appear that there was little or no public consultation at the time that these bogs were designated as areas to be conserved.
“Nor did the government at the time seek an exemption from the European Commission to allow for the continuation of turf cutting in the public interest.
He stated that it became a social justice issue as people were being prevented from cutting their own turf claiming that ordinary, decent people were being 'criminalized'. He also claimed that the 'waste of Garda resources' was huge because the government made 'a shambles' of implementing the EU directive.
“While we welcome this Bill, it is also an acknowledgement that management of the conservation of our peat bog has been a failure. An outright ban on turf cutting in certain state-chosen bogs is not a solution to habitat management in of itself.
“In the review and consultation period, we must balance the needs of our turf cutters and adopt an acceptable strategy favourable to all for the management of raised bogs in Ireland. It is also vital that there must be a scientific assessment of the impacts on carbon emission this new raised bog network will have, to ensure that benefits to the climate are maximised,” he concluded.