Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, has outlined the progress that is being made in the management of the turf cutting issue on Special Area of Conservation (SAC) raised bogs.
Nationally, 53 raised bogs were nominated as SACs between 1997 and 2002, under the Habitats Directive signed by Ireland 21 years ago. These bogs - which make up about 2% of peatlands where turf extraction is feasible - are protected because they are unique in Europe, preserve a wealth of wildlife and are a fundamentally important part of our heritage and landscape.
In May 2010, the then Government confirmed that turf cutting on these bogs would come to an end. In January 2011, the then Government received a formal letter from the European Commission noting that Ireland faced legal proceedings in the European Courts as a result of the failure to protect these SACs.
The establishment of the Peatlands Council brought all parties together and helped with the introduction of a compensation package including the delivery of turf to homes, and the sourcing of alternative bogs where turf cutters can continue to cut legally.
Almost €3.5 million has now been spent on this compensation package, including annual payments of €1,500 per applicant or deliveries of turf to homes where turf cutters have taken this option.
Minister Deenihan thanked the turf cutters for their co-operation, “I know it’s a big ask, but the majority of turf cutters have come with us and I thank them for that. I think the beneficiaries of this will be our children and their children who will still be able to visit and appreciate the wonderful habitat that is the bog in fifty or a hundred years time, unlike in much of the rest of Europe where these bogs have been cut away and lost forever.”
Under the Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme, affected turf cutters receive a total of €23,000, index linked and tax free, over the course of the scheme. Applicants may also apply for relocation to a bog where they can continue cutting turf legally and, in the interim, can apply for the financial payment or the delivery of turf to their homes.
Of the total number of raised bog SACs, arrangements are at an advanced stage for turf cutters from four bogs to transfer to relocation bogs where they can continue to cut turf legally. Of the remaining 49 raised bogs, potential relocation sites have been identified for a further 31 bogs.
The Department is developing a National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan, as called for by unanimous vote in Dáil Éireann and agreed with the European Commission, to underpin the long-term approach to restoration and management of each of the SACs. The review of the Natural Heritage Areas is also being progressed.