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22 of Ireland’s 53 protected bogs still being openly cut breaching EU law

category national | environment | press release author Wednesday January 08, 2020 10:58author by foie

Press Release - Friends of the Irish Environment 6th Jan 2020

Turf cutting on protected raised bogs reported to the European Commission.
22 of Ireland’s 53 protected bogs still being openly cut breaching EU law

Ireland’s failure to protect the 53 bogs designated for protection under the Habitats Directive in 1997 has been reported to Virginijus Sinkevicius, the newly appointed Director General for Environment. [1]

A spokesman for Friends of the Irish Environment [FIE], who first brought the illegal cutting to the attention of the Commission in 2009, said in fact almost half of the protected bogs ‘continue to be systematically destroyed by industrial machinery’.

75% of Ireland’s national carbon store is held by Ireland’s peaty soils, releasing greenhouse gases when extracted and again when burnt.

‘The Government’s own 2019 Report to the EU in August on ‘The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland’, prepared by the National Parks and Wildlife Service every 7 years, records continued cutting at 22 of the existing Special Area of Conservation [SAC] sites and 6 of the proposed National Heritage Area [NHA] sites’. [2]

‘The State has confirmed to members of the Peatlands Council that the number of plots cut in the raised bog SACs in 2019 was 282. The turf cutters themselves now openly boast of ‘the fantastic amount of turf cut in the 53 bogs in 2019’ on their Facebook page.’ [3]

Proceedings against Ireland for its failure to protect the designated raised bogs were closed in 2013 by the European Commission based on ‘enforcement actions by the National Parks and Wildlife Service’, including ‘70 flights in 2012’, ‘quick detection and prevention in many instances’ with ‘9 different Garda investigations underway’. [4]

CONTACTS
Tony Lowes: 353 (0) 87 2176316
David Healy [Irish language]: 353 (0)87 6178852

Notes
Significant efforts were made by the State to resolve the issue based on the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme established in 2011. 2,569 applicants are regularly receiving annual payments for 15 years under the scheme of €1500 (index linked) a year or 15 tons of turf. The state is spending €4.5m a year with €30m expended by July 2019. [5]

RELOCATION OVERULED
Of the 263 cutters who have applied for relocation only 72 have been relocated from 11 of the 53 bogs. A case taken by An Taisce and FIE led to a September 2019 ruling by An Bord Pleanala rejecting the Minister for Heritage’s application to relocate 9 of the turf cutters. The Board overruled the Inspector’s view that ‘the scale of the works proposed is small and the impacts are not considered to be significant’, stating that ‘over the lifetime of the project, it would contribute both directly and indirectly to greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst cognisant that there were conflicting national policies applicable to the proposal, the Board considered that the proposed development was in contravention of the national climate action policy objective to achieve transition to a low-carbon energy system.’ [6]

DERROGATION IN ‘PUBLIC INTEREST' PROPOSED
‘Not only does the Minister refuse to recognize the Board’s decision, but she now has told Michael Healy Rae on 12 November stating that the Government was considering applying Article 6.4 of the Habitats Directive to 14 of the original 53 protected bogs. This allows an activity take place on the grounds that a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for ‘imperative reasons of overriding public interest’. [7] ‘To suggest that the exploitation of our bogs can be justified as in the ‘overriding public interest’ is politics at its worst.’

FIE recently had two Statutory Instruments from Minister for Climate Richard Bruton and Minister for Planning Eoghan Murphy struck down. They purported to allow industrial peat extractors to continue without planning permission and a licence from the EPA for up to a further 3 years. [8]

FIE Director Caroline Lewis’s letter to the Commissioner concludes by quoting Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission Mission’s letter to the Commissioner of 1 December 2019:
‘Given that any legislation is only as good as its implementation, I want you to focus on the application and enforcement of EU law within your field. You should provide support and continuous guidance to Member States on implementation, and be ready to take swift action if EU law is breached.’

ENDS

NOTES
[1] FIE letter to EU link https://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/peat/CHAP_SAC_cutting_2019.pdf
[2] ‘The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland’ https://www.npws.ie/publications/article-17-reports/article-17-reports-2019
[3] Facebook page in Library link http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/peat/FIE_TURF_FACEBOOK.pdf
[4] Closure letter in library http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/peat/pre-closure_letter.pdf
[5] Dáil debates, Thursday, 12 December 2019 https://www.kildarestreet.com/debates/?id=2019-12-12a.102&s=turf+cutters#g105
[6] FIE PR on turf cutting relocation https://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/press-releases/17698-minister-s-turf-cutters-relocation-contravention-of-the-nationa...ctive And December 24 letter to Minister on relocation: https://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/peat/Minister_relocation_3012198.pdf
[7] Written answers: Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme Data, Wednesday, 4 December 2019
https://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2019-12-04a.658&s=turf
[8] FIE PR on Judgment of High Court
https://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/press-releases/17706-minister-s-statutory-peat-regulations-dissolved-by-high-court

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