Turf cutters face circuit court trial after district judge declines jurisdiction

Two men accused of illegally cutting turf in an EU-protected bog face trial in the circuit court after a district judge declined jurisdiction.

Agricultural contractor John O’Connor, 50, and his employee Christopher McCarthy, 26, both of Kilbaha, Moyvane, Co Kerry, appeared at Listowel District Court charged with illegally cutting turf at Moanveanlagh bog, near Listowel, on May 20 last year.

They are being supported by the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association (TCCA). Upwards of 80 protesters from Kerry, Clare, Kildare, Galway, and Roscommon gathered on the streets outside the courthouse holding placards.

State solicitor Edward O’Sullivan said the raised bog was in a special area of conservation (SAC) in which turf cutting was prohibited under the European Community’s Birds and Natural Habitats Regulations. He said much of the 200-acre bog was owned by the State, but local people owned plots from which they traditionally harvested turf. Despite a preservation order, turf was cut there last year. Mr O’Sullivan said gardaí and National Park and Wildlife Services officers found the defendants operating turfcutting machinery. They were told to desist and to remove the machinery, but failed to do so.

He said they also cut turf at different locations in the bog on May 21, 22, and 24, using the same machinery.

There was also a certain amount of obstruction, not so much by the accused but by other people that had gathered in the bog, which made it difficult for investigations to take place.

After Mr O’Sullivan indicated a substantial amount of bog was involved, solicitor Philip Moroney, for the defendants, asked for a precise definition of the area of the bog.

Following a short break for consultations, however, Mr O’Sullivan said some essential Garda witnesses who could state the amount of bog involved were not available and he sought an adjournment.

Judge Mary Larkin said she would need details of the area of bog and of the alleged damage, given that it was in an SAC, and the likely cost of repairing damage done.

Refusing jurisdiction, she said she would send the case to the circuit court. The case was adjourned for mention in Listowel on July 23 for production of the book of evidence.

Independent Roscommon TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, a spokesman for the TCCA, was in court for the hearing and afterwards told reporters it was the first case being funded by the association.

He called on the Government to engage with the turf cutters and said a solution acceptable to all sides could be found.

Mr Flanagan also said he planned to cut turf in a preserved bog this year.

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