The Turf Cutters and Contractors Association [TCCA] has withdrawn from the Government's mediation structure, the Peatland's Council.
The Council was established in April 2011 to assist the Minister in implementing the Government's decision to end turf cutting on 53 raised bog Special Areas of Conservation. It was to act as the key mediation structure, as envisaged in the Programme for Government, and was to oversee and advise the Minister on possible relocation of turf cutters, compensation, and rehabilitation.
On July 2 the Council issued a statement confirming that they had the secured the agreement of all the parties to the Government's decision to close the bogs.
The TCCA representatives said at Monday's 5th meeting of the Council they had been mandated to withdraw based on a ‘lack of faith' in Ministers Hogan and Deenihan and the Peatlands Council. The TCCA have continually argued that Special Area of Conservation boundaries should be amended in locations where alternative peat cutting sites could not be provided to allow cutting to continue. At a series of well-attended meetings around the midlands, the TCCA have been organising resistance against the ban for next season.
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is reported to have told councillors in Sligo that there was no possibility of turf cutting continuing within the existing boundaries of the SACs. ‘The SACs are gone', he is reported to have said.
Minister Dennihan recently met EU Commissioner Podzonick in Brussels for an hour-long meeting during which it is reported that the Commissioner displayed ‘some frustration' with the position of Ireland and of the Commission itself given the inaction from 1997 to 2009.
The Commissioner is reported to have told the Minister that they will not tolerate ongoing cutting in SACs and that the Commission will be enforcing the Habitats Directive in all member states, having similar meetings in Malta (hunting of wild birds) and Sweden (wolves).
NGOs, which have been proposing a Home Energy Package combining NPWS compensation funding with SEAI grants to total €16,000, are concerned that the Government has done nothing to begin to conserve the sites.
Friends of the Irish Environment, who published a Report in May on the ongoing cutting, said that ‘The Government now has the power to take immediate action to block the drainage network which is currently degrading these bog lands. Immediately, after drain closure, the natural water table of the bogs will begin to rise and the habitat be gradually be restored to its natural state.
‘If this drainage is stopped, not only will the conservation process begin but by next spring most of the affected bogs will be so wet that it will be impossible to bring heavy machinery into them. Not to begin the blocking of drains now will only allow the damage to continue but will facilitate the cutters proposed illegal actions.'