We are this week running an advertisement in the Roscommon Herald to initiate a campaign seeking the public’s assistance in bringing to an end the wide scale unauthorised extraction of peat across the Irish midlands.
The extent of this has been demonstrated in our Reports to the national and European authorities for three years and while legislation has been revised to assist in controlling these activities – such as the elimination of the 7–year rule – on the ground nothing has happened.
Not a single Environmental Impact Assessment has yet been done on the industrial peat extraction in Ireland, including by Bord na Mona. In a test case we have taken in Westmeath, the EPA has required the first two such assessment, but there are thousands of hectares of Ireland’s midland raised bogs that are being actively and increasingly devastated without controls or protection.
Midland rivers and lakes are silted up, smothering breeding grounds for fish and denying light to the plants that also provide food for diving birds. To date, more than 120 water supplies have been identified as having excessive levels of potentially carcinogenic pollutants which are a known product of peat drainage and chlorine in drinking water.
One of the measures intended to bring this extraction – most of it by non–Irish companies for export – under control through the planning and licensing system was the establishment of the Register of Extractive Industries by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009.
Local Authorities are required to complete a register of quarries and peat extraction in their counties. While many quarries have been registered, this is not the case for peat extraction. In 2011, FIE wrote to every planning authority and not one had records of any private industrial extraction sites as they believed the operations to be exempt under the planning regulations.
Local authorities told us the main obstacle to legal enforcement action was the 7 year rule whereby developments (like houses) that had been on a site for 7 years could not be legally challenged. We strenuously lobbied for a change in this legislation and this change took place in 2011.
But closing this loophole will do nothing if the sites are not assessed for their planning and discharge licensces, and if they have not been assessed by the EPA for the necessary licence to protect the environment.
Would you at your next Council meeting ask the Manager to Report on the status of your county’s Register of Extraction industries in relation to peat extraction? Enforcement actions must be undertaken by local authorities and the first step is to identify the sites where these activities are taking place.
Call us on the hotline if we can provide any further information.
Friends of the Irish Environment
Whistleblowers 24–hour Hotline: 087 2176317
Email contact: admin@friendsoftheirishenvironment
url for advertisement http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/cmsfiles/Library/FIEBOGS.jpg
FIE’s case study in County Westmeath http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/peat/peat_study.html
MINISTER FOR the Environment Phil Hogan has been warned that illegal turf–cutters are selling their produce door–to–door and he has been asked to introduce legislation to prevent the practice.
Mr Hogan’s Fine Gael colleague, Senator Cáit Keane, has written to the Minister to alert him to reports of the practice she has received from Co Galway.
“I am proposing that you introduce legislation to make it mandatory for anyone turf–cutting and selling turf at doors to have a licence and be able to display it openly,” she said.
Ms Keane, who is Seanad spokeswoman on the environment and local government,
suggested to Mr Hogan that the licence she proposed could also be displayed on
the vehicle in which the cutter is operating from.
“The introduction of legislation to govern this area would have a positive
impact in curtailing and perhaps obliterating illegal turf– cutters operating in
Ireland. It would act as a deterrent for those who are involved in the
practice,” she said. The State gave a commitment to the European Commission that
there would be no more turf–cutting on 53 raised bogs.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, who has
responsibility for the area, warned in April the EU Commission could impose
fines of up to €25,000 a day on Ireland if turf–cutting occurred on bogs
designated as special areas of conservation under the European habitats
Mr Hogan has yet to respond to Ms Keane’s representation.
Separately, turf–cutters banned from using certain bogs have begun receiving
free turf as part of a compensation deal. They are entitled to a concession
worth €23,000, spread over 15 years, with a once–off payment of €500.
Environmental organisations, An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment, have asked the Taoiseach to stand over his promise to defend bogs protected under law.
Peat is now being illegally extracted on 9 of the 53 protected bogs in spite of the Taoiseach’s pledge that the law would be upheld.
“Because the law is not being enforced, turf contractors are being emboldened. Starting with unlawful cutting on one or two protected bogs, the situation quickly rose to 9, and without a commitment to uphold the law, the situation could spiral out of control”, the environmental organisations have warned.
Fines from Europe are becoming inevitable as breaches of European law are at issue. These fines will be paid for by the country not the illegal turfcutters and unless action is taken, Ireland risks losing the goodwill of member states such as the Netherlands and Germany for an apparent couldn’t–care–less attitude on this issue.
The environmental organisations have eyewitness reports of members of An Garda Siochana laughing and joking as they apparently stand by watching the law being broken. While the organisations are not willing to release their sources, they say they have received too many such reports to be in any doubt about their authenticity.
Those breaking the law face no sanctions apparently, note An Taisce and FoIE, saying that it does not seem that names are being recorded with a view to prosecutions. No turf–cutting machines are being seized – in fact, there appear to be no consequences whatsoever – and all this in spite of new legislation which the Government announced was enacted specifically to cope with illegal extraction on what is around 2 per cent of Ireland’s peatland.
An Taisce and FoIE also note that a home insulation and energy enhancement programme was to be offered to turfcutters – but there has been a wholesale lack of progress on this issue over the past 6 months, despite promises in the intervening period that lost ground would be recovered.
A decision was made in September 2011 to offer a home insulation / energy package to households, and this programme offers by far the best solution to the turf–cutting impasse when economic, environmental and social considerations are weighed together.
The problem seems to be resources. In spite of the millions upon millions now being talked about for annual compensation payments, there appears to be no resources for home insulation / energy enhancement. There is a hopeless mismatch between what the Government says it wants to do and how it is deploying resources.
For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley–Smith, An Taisce Communications, 087 2411995
The 9 Bogs: 000231 BARROUGHTER GALWAY
000301 LOUGH LURGEEN GALWAY
002356 ARDGRAIGUE GALWAY
000297 LOUGH CORRIB GALWAY/MAYO
002349 CORBO ROSCOMMON
002338 DRUMALOUGH, ROSCOMMON
000600 CLOONCHAMBDERS ROSCOMMON
000440 LOUGH REE ROSCOMMON
002350 CURRAGHLEHANAGH GALWAY
The Dept of Agriculture is being given the details of the plots cut to further its work on cross–compliance (regarding single farm payments).
See question from Deputy Sandra McLellan and reply from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Celebrity Irish gardener Diarmuid Gavin, whose ‘Westland Magical Tower Garden’ won an award last week at the Chelsea Flower Show, has been asked to visit Co. Westmeath to see the damage being caused to Irish peatlands by his sponsors, Westland Horticulture, UK.
Friends of the Irish Environment [FIE] have written to Diarmuid Gavin, who led the UK Government Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ campaign to phase peat out for amateur gardening altogether by 2020. He is on record as saying that “Using peat–free products in the home and garden is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways that people can make a positive environmental impact and reduce their carbon footprint.” Yet his prize–winning garden is sponsored by one of Ireland’s largest peat–producing companies, which is doing untold damage to Ireland’s natural heritage.
A spokesman for FIE, which has a petition before the European Parliament regarding Westland’s activities, said that ‘Westland’s operations are vast – greater than 50 hectares – and are polluting rivers and lakes, including an adjacent Special Protection Area for birds as well as damaging protected drinking water sources. They require an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Licence, which Westland has only just been forced to apply for after many years of operating without a licence.’ ‘We have been lobbying for three years here and in Europe to ensure the implementation of a judgment of the European Court of Justice from 1999 which would mean that operations by vast peat extraction companies would be assessed for their environmental impact and properly licensed. A return to the European Court of Justice for Daily fines in 2003 was withdrawn after Irish assurances of compliance. Yet nothing has happened. In one case, a site is still being harvest 13 years after being identified in the European Court’s judgment as operating without legal assessment. FIE reported Westland to the Environmental Protection Agency three years ago, and in spite of the Agency agreeing that a licence is required the unlicensed operations have continued to increase, pending a seemingly never–ending licensing process. ‘All the while these vast, hugely damaging peat extraction operations continue operating illegally. It is clear as a matter of law,’ says an FIE spokesman, ‘that Westland’s operations in Co. Westmeath cannot legally be granted a licence, in particular given the impacts on the adjacent Special Protection Area for birds. ‘We have even been to the High Court to try and bring Westland and other companies under control here in Ireland. To see a world famous gardener who leads campaigns against the use of peat in gardening accepting support from this company is disheartening in the extreme.’ In a Petition to the EU, FIE claimed that ‘Ireland has failed, generally and structurally, to apply EU law in respect of peat extraction, with significant biodiversity and climate change impacts’. In addition to these impacts, the petition alleges that Ireland’s behaviour represents ‘a direct, persistent challenge to the rule of law in the EU.’ FIE Director Tony Lowes said that ‘We can only hope that Mr. Gavin is simply unaware of what is happening to our peatlands, and we have therefore invited him to join us on a site visit this summer to see in person the scale of these unregulated activities.’
Verification and comment: Tony Lowes, 027 74771 / 087 217 6316
Letter to Dermot Gavin
Dear Mr. Gavin;
We have been very concerned to discover that you are accepting sponsorship from Westlands Horticulture in the United Kingdom and are afraid that you are not aware of their activities here in Ireland.
Westland Horticulture is one of the biggest extractors of turf from raised bogs in the Irish midlands and they have been doing so for many years without the benefit of an environmental assessment, planning permission, or licence from the Environmental Protection Agency.
We wonder if you would like to accompany us on a site visit this summer so that we can show you the damage that this company is doing to the environment– not only to the flora and fauna and the wider environment, but to drinking water quality.
We would be pleased to arrange the tour for a time which is convenient to you and look forward to hearing from you at the earliest opportunity.
Friends of the Irish Environment
Site Report ion Westland’s operations in Westmeath:
Tpwnland of Coole http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/peat/links/peat_case_study/peat_coole_report_web_april2010.pdf Townland of Clonsura http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/peat/links/peat_case_study/peat_clonsura_report_web_april2010.pdf Full Petition: http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/peat/links/peat_petition_web_june2010.pd
FIE, who brought illegal
turf cutting in protected areas to the attention of the European Commission and
the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee in 2011, issued a short statement ‘deeply regretting’
the decision of the TCCA to withdraw from negotiations on the end to turf
cutting in protected bogs.
‘Any further cutting on
protected bogs will increase the likelihood of an emergency injunction against
the state, which would be a huge political embarrassment. We will join the ranks of Poland, Malta
the only other countries which have been the subject of applications for such
injunctions and we will run the risk of lump sum and daily fines that tax
payers can ill afford. The European Commission will not and cannot allow Ireland to set
a precedent of disregarding EU law in this way.
The Habitats Directive was negotiated and adopted unanimously by all EU
Member States, including Ireland.’