Sunday last October 7th the TCCA held an EGM in Birr, Co. Offaly. The meeting was attended by representatives from 37 bog committees from all over the country. The overwhelming consensus of the meeting was that we should continue to cut our turf again next year.
Many representatives present made the point that they could not understand the information which was being widely circulated by Minister Deenihan through the media in relation to turf cutting having ceased. The Minister claimed in the Dail on Wednesday of last week that “it is simply not true” that most turf cutters had cut their turf this year. Well the reality is that if he had spoken to his own neighbours he would have known that it was in fact true. At the EGM our turf cutters committee from Moanveanlough Bog in County Kerry, in the ministers own constituency, informed us that in fact more people had cut this year than last year on their bog.
The minister went further in his denial of reality. He says that turf was cut on only 11 of the 53 SACs. This is simply not true. The TCCA can definitively prove that in fact turf was cut on 26 of the bogs and that 3 others would have been cut but for bad ground conditions. Last year turf was cut on 29 of the 53 SACs. So in other words we have done as we said we would do in spite of threats and intimidation from the state.
We also hear figures which would suggest that the numbers of turf cutters who have applied for compensation is in the region of 2200. As with everything the devil is in the detail. 2200 may very well have applied for compensation, although we seriously doubt it, but that is a lot different from active turf cutters applying. We have numerous examples of cases where people have not cut for years and in some cases decades yet they have received compensation. If the purpose of the compensation package was to encourage active turf cutters from practising their centuries old tradition then it has been a failure.
We also have numerous examples of bogs where the NPWS are deliberately massaging the figures in order to make it look like the compensation package is working. In one particular bog there are 105 registered turf bank owners. Yet when one adds together the figures for those who cut turf this year and those who supposedly applied for compensation then the total comes to 133. I understand that the NPWS has people employed with scientific backgrounds. Surely the basic task of addition and subtraction should not be above their level of skills.
There are some turf cutters who have applied for compensation on the basis that it was only for an interim period while a relocation bog was being organised. The TCCA had forewarned people not to sign anything until the relocation bog was finalised. We now have solid information that the NPWS are not in fact seriously trying to find alternatives. In fact the two examples which Minister Deenihan boasts about as being successfully organised relocations are now in a complete and utter mess due to the NPWS’s inability to deal with people straight. But then again Minister Deenihan should have known that would happen given what was said in the Quirke report i.e. “new personnel should be put in place with a new approach.” The facts are. No new personnel have been put in place and the approach is not new. The approach is in fact the same old bullying tactics which they have employed for years.
In discussions with the state the TCCA had made it clear that if people were to relocate to another bog then they would receive like for like. In other words if they had turbary rights on one acre of bog then that is what they would get in return for relocating. We now know that the government are reneging on this promise. In the few bogs, where relocation is being worked on, people are being offered a license to cut turf for 65 years at a maximum of ten hoppers per year. If the NPWS deemed that you only had only ten years left then that is what one would be forced to accept. However the NPWS methodology does not take into account the value of the spread ground attached and the distinct possibility that one can actually go back and recut it. Given that it is quite clearly our members who are making the sacrifice by relocating then it should be done on our terms. Why should someone be expected to relocate only to end up with less. It is totally against the basic principles of natural justice.
The European Commission has been asking Irish Governments for the last fifteen years to put together a credible plan. The governments’ recently published “National Raised Bog SAC Management plan” is anything but credible. For a start there is no mention of the necessity to de-deisgnate a number National Heritage Area bogs in order to facilitate relocation. It is physically impossible for our relocation proposals to work unless some of these NHAs are de-designated. The credibility of this plan working is dependent on Turf Cutters supporting it. We do not and will not support this plan. The strange thing about the government plan is that it will not be concluded until 2018 where as if they had followed TCCA proposal the issue would been resolved by 2015.
On Tuesday of this week the TCCA were given a tip off that the environment department of the EU commission was in the country to meet turf cutters. Given that the TCCA represent over 95% of turf cutters we contacted the commission immediately in order to arrange a meeting with them. We were told that it was up to the Irish Government to decide who they met and that there hands were tied. We informed the commission that it was our suspicion that the government would cherry pick a location in Clara in order to give an incorrect impression of progress on plans for relocation. We also warned them that people in that area who were unhappy with the government would be bypassed. Our predictions have unfortunately been proven to be correct.
The minister has stated that court action against Ireland has been suspended on the basis that massive progress has been made. How long does the Minister think he can get away with this? Well at this stage the TCCA have gone back to the commission and told them the truth. The truth that turf cutting has not ceased and the fact that the government know this. For too long this country has attempted to con Europe into thinking that they are dealing with this issue. The fact that the court case is on hold presents a window of opportunity for the government to solve this once and for all. Instead of doing this the government is sticking its head in the sand. If it continues to do so then they risk this country being lumbered with massive fines.
There is solution though. Work with turf cutters. Build trust with turf cutters. Follow our proposals as agreed in a private members motion passed by the Dail on March 7th. The TCCA has always been open to honest dialogue. We have in the past participated in the interdepartmental committee on the cessation of turf cutting, the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the environment, the Peatlands Council and earlier this year in the Peatlands Forum. On each occasion turf cutters have been betrayed and that is why we are where we are. Now the Minister wants, through megaphone diplomacy in the Dail, to talk again. As always our door is open. But as always, we will not fooled by the slippery language of deceit.
Thanks and Regards