August 2012        

Turfcutters fight for a way of life


Luke Ming Flanagan TD, PRO of the Turf Cutters’ and Contractors’ Association, has claimed that “the turfcutters are being intimidated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.” He likened the turfcutters’ activities to the resistance movement of the black American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks. “There are occasions when, during the tyranny of the state, the law needs to be broken,” he said.
     Similarly, two hundred turfcutters took part in an overnight protest at Clonmoylan Bog near Woodford, Co. Galway, during torrential rain, observed by up to sixty gardaí, some in riot gear. The protest arose when turfcutting machinery was seized by the NPWS.
     John Dore, PRO of the Kildare Turf Cutters’ Association, described the present situation as “totally unsatisfactory since the introduction of the EU Habitats Directive, which prevents domestic turfcutters from cutting turf as they have done for hundreds of years.”
     The NPWS came to inspect the Mouds Bog in Rosberry, Co. Kildare, with the Gardaí recently and were met by some twenty-five to thirty angry people. The turfcutters held a silent protest, with more than three hundred people standing in silence as Pádraic Comerford of the NPWS attempted to carry out various bog inspections. (The highlight of the protest was when he fell into a bog hole and had to be rescued by the turfcutters.)
     A statement was read out by 92-year-old Annie Burke on behalf of the turfcutters at Mouds Bog. She stated that “the NPWS inspections were akin to trespassing on their lands. We did not agree with any laws passed to authorise trespass. It was not debated properly and then passed in Leinster House. The Government said that the issue will be sorted out in a year, but the NPWS said it will take three years before we have a solution. We have asked if Mouds Bog can be given the option of limited turfcutting, but we are not sure that they will put us forward for consideration. People feel now that they won’t have enough turf for the winter.”
     The authorities have been determined to close all fifty-three bogs classified as special areas of conservation, including Mouds Bog, this year, and a further seventy-five closed by the end of 2013. But because of the opposition from turfcutters the Government promised to implement the National Raised Bog Plan. The turfcutters had hoped there would be no change to existing domestic turfcutting until the national plan was devised and fully implemented. This was not to be, however, as the Government reneged on its commitment.
     The Government cannot implement any national plan unless it has the full co-operation of the communities that own and live on these same bogs.
     The turfcutters will continue to keep the path of communication open, but the authorities now seriously need to talk straight, listen, and engage honestly in finding a solution that is acceptable for all the community.
[MH]

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