July 2013        

Government to abolish people’s right to cut their own turf

On 28 May 2013 four turf-cutters from Co. Galway were before the Circuit Criminal Court in Galway. About four hundred supporters from all over Ireland protested outside the courthouse and later marched to Eyre Square. After a very brief mention, their case was put back to a further hearing in Galway on 2 July.
     The Government is trying to abolish people’s right to their own turf on their own bogs. There are major constitutional issues here regarding ownership and long-standing custom and practice. EU directives have been over-interpreted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and are being used in an attempt to cast aside our inalienable rights. If they get away with this illegal procedure without opposition, what is next?
     Correspondence, accompanied by a legal agreement, has been sent by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to the turf-cutters who opted for the compensation scheme. It does not make for pleasant reading. Those who signed in good faith and believed that the Government was serious about relocation will be left very disappointed, as will those who went for monetary compensation or turf deliveries.
     With the agreement came a document containing frequently asked questions. One of the questions was: “What happens if the Department is not able to provide a relocation bog for me?” The answer is very revealing. The NPWS informs the applicant that “the legal agreement will be in place for up to six years from 1st January, 2011 for properties included in European sites nominated for designation between 1997 and 1999 and, from 1st January, 2012 for properties included in European sites nominated for designation in 2002 and, should relocation not be finalised at the time, the Minister may request you to move to another scheme on offer and to sign a final legal agreement at that time.”
     So in other words, if the Government has not arranged for an alternative bog by either 2017 or 2018 it “may” decide that people will have to accept the compensation of €1,500 instead.
     It is a fact that successive Governments have not managed to solve a single one of the fifty-three so-called special areas of conservation in sixteen years. The idea that they would be capable of getting their act together between now and 2018 is barely credible.
     The consequences of signing this form are immense. It will give the state the thumbs-up to put an end to turf-cutting for that individual. This is something that both Government parties said would not happen.
     To make matters worse, it eliminates the turf-cutter’s right to cut not only on the specific bog signed for but also on any other bogs designated in the future. It is also likely that this would prohibit one from cutting at any of the seventy-five national heritage areas that are due to come into force from 1 January next.
     One of the major differences between the Turf-Cutters’ and Contractors’ Association and the Government on the issue of relocation is the conditions that people are being asked to accept in moving from their bog. The association’s position is that people must receive like for like. This is not what turf-cutters are being offered and is one of the stumbling-blocks when it comes to relocation.
     People have been asked to accept a licence, which is non-transferable, to cut turf for up to sixty-five years. It would be the decision of the National Parks and Wildlife Service how much turf is left on a person’s original bog. Furthermore, no account would be taken of the value of one’s spread-ground. If they were to decide that one had only five years of turf, then one would lose this licence within five years.
     This is something that has prevented solutions being found in bogs such as Carnagapall near Mountbellew—one of the bogs that the minister, Jimmy Deenihan, has claimed is a prime example of how his plan is working. Strange, then, that turf was cut there in 2013.
     It is also now very clear that those who agreed to the monetary and turf-delivery option are not guaranteed that the scheme will run for the full fifteen years. As with the relocation situation, the National Parks and Wildlife Service will adjudicate how much turf a person has left on their plot. If they consider that there are only five years of turf left, at the end of that period the compensation will be stopped.
     The question is, How can the NPWS be trusted to adjudicate on this? Also, as with relocation, no account of the potential turf that is left in the spread-ground is allowed for.
     A major concern among turf-cutters with regard to relocation was that of the indemnification of landowners. At the peatlands forum it was stated by turf-cutters, one after another, that they were worried about the effect the reflooding of vacated bogs would have on surrounding lands. Would turf-cutters who signed up to the scheme be liable for any potential damage to neighbouring land through flooding?
     Well, the Government have dealt with indemnification, all right. They have indemnified themselves, but not turf-cutters. So, signing this form might make the signatory liable for damage to neighbouring lands in the future.

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