The Department of Agriculture has strongly denied claims by environmental and heritage groups that illegal turf-cutting on nine of the country’s 53 protected bogs is going unchallenged.
According to the department, gardaí are also working to “pursue prosecutions where breaches of the law have occurred”.
Earlier this week, An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment said they had “eyewitness reports of members of An Garda Síochána laughing and joking as they apparently stand by watching the law being broken”.
Last night, FOIE’s Tony Lowes said they received complaints on Monday that “rotas of 20 people are cutting turf on a protected bog near Listowel”.
“If the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the gardaí go softly with the turf cutters, they won’t get anywhere,” said Mr Lowes. “We’ve heard stories of gardaí even letting the cutters bring their turf home after they have been cautioned for turf cutting. We’ve had several reports of NPWS rangers not being able to get on to the bogs.”
However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture has said such allegations are “incorrect and misleading”. The NPWS said its rangers and gardaí have “followed up on all incidences of illegal cutting that have come to light in recent weeks”.
The department said people illegally cutting turf are putting their Rural Environment Protection Scheme, Agri-Environment Options Scheme payments or payments under the NPWS farm plan scheme at risk.
“Where a farmer cuts turf on a bog plot where cutting is prohibited then he/she is liable to be penalised under cross compliance,” said the department spokeswoman. “This penalty can apply to payments under the direct payment and any other area related aid schemes. In addition, persons who carry out unauthorised works or permit such works to be carried out on these sites may jeopardise the receipt of compensation under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme, administered by the department.”
The nine bogs allegedly being cut are Barroughter, Lough Lurgeen, Curraghlehanagh, and Ardgraigue in Co Galway, Lough Corrib in Galway and Mayo, Corbo in Co Roscommon, Drumalough, Cloonchambders, and Lough Ree in Co Roscommon.
Last month, Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan said Europe could impose fines of up to €25,000 a day on Ireland if turf was cut on bogs deemed special areas of conservation.
The turf cutters have been offered a substantial package to compensate for the loss of the bog. Turf cutters can apply for a payment of €1,500 every year for 15 years, along with a sign up payment of €500 year. More than 2,000 applications for compensation have been made.
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