The Government’s recent announcement to establish an independent Peatland Council is the first positive step taken to address the turf cutting issue in over a decade, but the real fear is that it is coming too late and, as a result, requires further clarification, according to local TD Denis Naughten.
Deputy Naughten, who has spent the last month in particular working to find an agreeable solution to this issue, pointed out that this latest announcement has come about as a result of the decision of the previous Fianna Fail-led Government to introduce a complete ban on the cutting of turf on 139 bogs throughout the country, the implementation of which is now being insisted upon by the European Commission.
“It would appear that the strict interpretation of the EU Directive and subsequent decision of the previous Government has now left us in a situation where the EU Commission will not accept anything less than the full implementation of the ban agreed to by the previous Government,” said Deputy Naughten.
“Since the change of government four weeks ago I have had meetings with the Ministers concerned, Minister Phil Hogan and Minister Jimmy Deenihan, on five separate occasions, as well as meetings with their officials and further informal discussions.
“On foot of these talks, discussions took place with the European Commission and the EU Environment Commissioner Potocnik to allow for alteration of the implementation plans submitted by the last Government. However, the Commission has been critical of Ireland’s approach to the lack of implementation of its peatland protection plan and initiated infringement proceedings against Ireland in January of this year.
“While I believe that the establishment of an independent Peatlands Council can progress many of the issues, I believe that if such a structure had been put in place a number of years ago - and both sides of the argument listened to - then we would not have been tied into an unworkable implementation plan on the SAC bogs,” said Deputy Naughten.
While he believes that it is still possible to make some progress on this issue, and on the NHA designated bogs, Deputy Naughten says the “window of opportunity to resolve these issues has been restricted by the actions of the outgoing Government”.
“However, I do believe that there are aspects of the Government statement which require further clarification and I will be meeting with the new chairman of the Peatland Council within the coming days to progress these issues and ensure that the commitments set out in the Programme for Government are progressed.
“The new Government’s objective is not to jail or prosecute anyone but is, and always has been, to find a resolution that is acceptable to all sides both in the short and longer term,” he concluded.