03/04/2012 – Ministers obtain support of European Commission to prepare a national plan for Ireland’s raised bog Special Areas of Conservation
Following intensive discussions in Brussels today (3rd April, 2012) with Mr Janez Potocnik, Commissioner for the Environment, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan, TD, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr Phil Hogan, TD, announced that they had obtained the support of the European Commission for the Government’s intention to prepare a national plan for Ireland’s Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) raised bogs.
Welcoming the result of the meeting (copy of Joint Statement attached), the Ministers commented that the Commission’s readiness to support and provide assistance to the process marks a real step forward in bringing final resolution to the difficulties that have arisen in protecting Ireland’s raised bog SACs.
The drafting of a national plan will allow solutions for turf-cutters within each of the 53 raised bog sites to be explored in detail. In addition, where alternative solutions can be shown not to exist, the process may allow for consideration of eventually allowing limited turf cutting within a small number of the 53 raised bog SACs in Ireland.
The Ministers stated that the Government will now accelerate the process of putting this plan in place, giving specific priority to identifying the issues around the most difficult bogs.
“The Commission has also agreed to assist and provide support to Ireland in preparing this plan, within the framework of the Habitats Directive. The Government agreed to maintain close and intensive engagement with the Commission on the preparation of this plan, with further meetings to take place soon.”
“In order for the plan to be a success, and to ensure that we have the space to concentrate on those bogs where finding alternative solutions to continued cutting is particularly difficult, we would urge all those with an interest in the plan’s success to ensure that cutting does not take place this year. We appreciate that this is difficult for those for whom turf cutting is part of their tradition and heritage.”
“Nonetheless, thanks to the work of Conor Skehan and the Peatlands Council, Bord na Mona, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, the IFA and others, and to the efforts of Mr. Justice Quirke, who presided over the recent Peatlands Forum, we have a route map to bring us forward. All parties have a stake in following this route map. We appreciate that people must see progress on the plan and the Peatlands Council has been asked to begin work immediately. This will include setting up an implementation group representative of all interests, including turf cutters.”
While turf cutters are being asked to hold back from cutting to allow this process proceed, the Government has taken steps to address their needs over the coming winter. The Government has significantly increased the compensation schemes. People who wish to continue cutting in the long term can choose to take an interim payment of €1,500 per annum, or a delivery of 15 tonnes of free turf per annum, until relocation sites are put in place. The Government has also put in place mechanisms to speed up payments to those affected, together with dedicated teams to immediately contact those who have made applications and follow up on the Quirke Report recommendations to enter into discussions with each community regarding individual solutions for their bog.
To date around 1,500 people have applied for compensation. The Government has asked all those affected, who have not already done so, to avail of the schemes which the Government has put in place while the national plan is being drawn up.
The Ministers asked all interest groups to join with the Government and the Peatlands Council in drawing up the national plan. The Ministers stated “the progress made today is a real step forward in responding to Dáil Éireann’s unanimous motion on 8th March which called for a national plan for Ireland’s protected raised bog and shows the Government’s commitment to follow through on the recommendation of Mr Justice Quirke that such a plan be prepared. It is only by continuing to work together that all issues around protecting our raised bogs and looking after those who are affected can finally be resolved.”