06/03/12 Deenihan Publishes Quirke Report on Turf-Cutting Enhanced compensation for turf cutters announced
Jimmy Deenihan, TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht today, Tuesday 6 March, published the report of Mr. Justice John Quirke following a four day Peatland Forum on turf-cutting which was chaired by the High Court Judge in Athlone last week.
Minister Deenihan also announced an enhanced compensation package for turf-cutters required to cease cutting in raised bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).
The Quirke report was considered by Government at its meeting earlier today.
The Minister thanked Mr. Justice Quirke for his contribution in assisting in resolving the matters relating to meeting the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive as they relate to Ireland’s protected raised bogs.
Speaking during Private Members Business, Minister Deenihan said “It is clear from Mr. Justice Quirke’s Report that communication between the State and affected turf-cutters has not been what it might have been over the past twenty years and trust needs to be re-established. The Peatland Forum, chaired by Mr Justice Quirke, allowed for a frank exchange of views and an examination of the potential solutions for each of the 53 raised bog SACs. I hope that we are now moving to put in place the conditions for the State and turf-cutters to turn over a new page and work together to address this difficult issue.”
“The IFA, the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, Bord na Móna, individual representatives of turf-cutting groups and environmental groups have done enormous work over the past months and years in trying to find a resolution to this issue within the legal constraints that we face, and they are to be commended”. Minister Deenihan added.
In his report Mr Justice Quirke recommended the preparation of National Raised Bog SAC Strategy which could provide some limited flexibility for a few of the most difficult bogs and in full compliance with the EU Habitats Directive.
In his contribution to the Private Members Motion, the Minister pointed out that the bar set is very high in seeking flexibility. Any case made must show that it stands up in terms of being for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, there being no alternatives, and any such proposals must obtain the consent of the European Commission.
It is also clear that there will be a requirement for compensatory habitat to meet the requirements of the Directive.
The Minister stated that preparation of the plan would require the closest ongoing consultation with the European Commission.
Commenting on the situation this year, the Minister said that the State has no option but to ensure that the sites are protected and he would appeal to turf-cutters to refrain from turf-cutting on these 53 SACs while the plan is being produced.
The Minister further stated “that we are now in a position to begin to roll out solutions, over the coming months, to many of the communities who came to the Forum.”
The Minister also cited cases where relocation solutions have been agreed. In both Clara, Co. Offaly and Mountbellew in Galway, his Department and Bord na Móna have worked successfully with the local community to put in place re-location bogs.
The Minister also undertook to ensure that affected turf-cutters will be provided with alternative fuel, or monetary payments, while the plan is being prepared.
Enhanced Compensation Scheme
Minister Deenihan also announced that the Government has agreed to an enhanced package of measures to assist those who are affected by the requirement to cease cutting turf on 53 raised bog Special Areas of Compensation.
The enhanced compensation includes the following:
- Qualifying turf-cutters who opt for the annuity scheme will now be offered €1,500 per annum, index linked, for a period of fifteen years. This is an increase of €500 per annum to the previous terms of the scheme.
- All qualifying turf-cutters participating in the scheme will also receive a once-off payment of €500 in the first year of the scheme.
- Turf-cutters who opt to relocate to an undesignated bog will also receive a one off payment of €500 and will be entitled to receive either a payment of €1500 (increased from €1000) or a delivery of 15 tonnes of turf (increased from 10 tonnes) for each year until their relocation bog is ready to commence turf-cutting. The scheme will also allow for flexibility in terms of the provision of more than 15 tonnes of turf for those wishing to relocate where more than one household in the same family has sourced its turf from a single bog plot.
The decision increases the value of the annuity scheme by €8000 per applicant to a total of €23,000. These payments will be exempt from capital gains tax in accordance with a provision in the Finance Bill, 2012.
“The Government decided, following discussions I and my officials have had with affected turf-cutting groups and land-owner representative groups such as the IFA and the TCCA, that the enhanced compensation package is justifiable.” said Minister Deenihan. “While these are extremely difficult times for the tax-payer and we must think very carefully about how public funds are used, the individuals affected by the cessation of turf-cutting are being asked to sacrifice their traditional source of fuel for the good of the wider community and for Ireland to meet its EU legal commitments.
The increases in payments will be automatically applied to existing applicants to the annuity scheme or for those who have agreed to relocate but are in receipt of payments under the interim arrangements. Back payments will also be applied automatically.
Any person who has entered into a contract with the Minister to relocate under the scheme will be given an opportunity to review that decision in light of the adjustments to the annuity scheme.
In conclusion the Minister noted that the Motions proposed by Government and the Technical group both recognised “the innate value of Ireland’s unique natural habitat and the necessity to protect it from harm.”
“There is no more unique habitat in Europe than our remaining examples of functioning raised bog. We are legally bound to protect the relatively small amount of raised bog habitat remaining in Ireland that we have nominated as Special Areas of Conservation.
In effect, what we are asking is that the communities affected by the designations sacrifice, or change, part of their cultural heritage, so that we maintain a representative sample of this very valuable part of our natural heritage for future generations. To not do so would be unforgiveable.
This then places an obligation on the State to compensate fairly, or otherwise look after the needs, of those whose traditional rights are being curtailed. This Government is committed to that principle,” concluded Minister Deenihan.