A group of men illegally cut turf on a protected bog in north Kerry yesterday to highlight the plight of local families.
Gardaí in a white van observed from a distance as a token cutting operation proceeded at Moanveanlagh, outside Listowel, one of 53 Irish raised bogs on which turf-cutting is banned under an EU directive.
The gardaí did not intervene and the occasion, which attracted around 150 people, passed off without incident.
TDs Martin Ferris (SF) and Michael Healy-Rae (Ind) attended and voiced full support for the turf-cutters, as did Listowel town councillor Den Stack (FG).
The event was billed as an open day — to which the media and others were invited — to demonstrate how around 40 local families had “minded the bog’’ by harvesting turf there for generations, in some cases for around 200 years.
A man playing the traditional tune ‘The Old Bog Road’ on a melodeon led the turf-cutters, who carried pikes and sleans, and their supporters down a boreen into the bog.
A large Tricolour was placed on the turf bank and Irish music continued to be played.
Significantly, the turf was cut in the old-fashioned, manual style and machines were not used.
Michael O’Sullivan, 86, the oldest of the turf-cutters, rested on his slean and declared: ’”The landlords are back again. They’re taking people off the land. It’s very sad.’’
Mr Ferris, who denied the event was a Sinn Féin protest, said the overwhelming majority of those present were not supporters of his party. He claimed that many were supporters of Arts and Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan, a local Fine Gael TD.
Both Mr Ferris and Mr Healy-Rae called on the Government to avail of opportunities to renegotiate the regulations banning turf-cutting, imposed by the European Commission.
The TDs rejected suggestions they were endorsing breaches of the law and said people were merely exercising their “traditional rights’’ to cut turf for their own use in their own bogs.
“My grandmother would roll in her grave if she knew people were being stopped from cutting turf,’’ said Mr Healy-Rae.
The turf-cutters, who previously attended protests in bogs in Galway and Roscommon, said an alternative proposal to relocate to other bogs was not practical for all of them as such bogs were up to 15km from their homes.
A total of 24 applications for financial compensation and three for relocation have been made to Mr Deenihan’s department by the north Kerry turf-cutters.
Mr Deenihan has urged turf-cutters to avail of the package for compensation/relocation.
Mr Deenihan, again vehemently criticised by the turf-cutters’ spokesman Mick Looney for implementing the ban, has repeatedly urged his constituents not to break the law and to apply for the package.
Failure to observe the directive could result in fines of €25,000 per day being imposed on the Government.
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