Defiant turfcutters have been warned that they are breaking Irish and European law by working on protected bogs and have been urged to accept compensation packages.
Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan made the plea yesterday after turfcutters in two counties confronted gardaí while working on bogs at the weekend.
Turfcutters yesterday insisted they would continue to work on their lands, as they had done for generations.
In defiance of the turfcutting ban implemented under the EU Habitats Directive, families gathered at dawn on Saturday to work the bogs at Monivea, Co Galway.
Turfcutting also took place on a protected bog in Kilteevan, Co Roscommon.
Mr Deenihan said reports of communities illegally digging turf on bogs had done a “lot of damage” to Ireland’s reputation in Europe. A number of cases were before the courts and there would be further cases, he added.
The Turf Cutters and Contractors Association has pledged to continue cutting turf. Representatives say the Government’s compensation package is “derisory”. Local bog workers also said that communities did not want money, and just wanted to continue to cut turf as they had done for generations.
However, Mr Deenihan explained that the Government was providing turf to families as well as €1,500 in compensation and another €500 every year for 15 years. Some families affected by the ban were also being relocated, he said.
He said consultants were putting together a national plan on the 53 special areas of conservation (SACs) where turf cutting has been banned. He asked turfcutting communities to engage in negotiations with Bord na Móna as well as wildlife and park services. He said the 53 SACs were just 2% of the total peat land.
“Europe is just asking us to preserve a small amount of our very special bogs.”
He said many rural families had benefited from agriculture payments and that other people abided by the law when it came to other protected areas, such as sand dunes.
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