Fine Gael TD for Kildare South, Martin Heydon, travelled to Brussels last Friday to meet with EU Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potocnik in relation to the Habitats Directive. The TD was joined by colleagues Frank Feighan TD (Leitrim/Roscommon) and Paul Connaughton TD (Galway East) along with chairman of the Irish Peatlands Council, Conor Skehan.

“The purpose of the meeting,” Heydon stated, “was to highlight to the Commission the role of the turfcutter and the potential impact of the Habitats Directive on those who work on the bogs and the surrounding community, in particular Mouds Bog, which is just outside Newbridge.”

Heydon had sought letters from Kildare Turfcutter’s at short notice before the meeting to illustrate the human side to life on the bog and the impact that the Habitats Directive is going to have on their lives. He presented 160 letters to the Commissioner with a warning as to the implications for the European movement of forging ahead without some leeway being offered to the turfcutter’s.

Heydon continued, “The Commission has being listening to a minority of environmentalists and scientists over the last two decades and have not heard the views of individual turfcutter’s. I highlighted a number of key points to Commissioner Potocnik at the meeting, in particular:

  • The tradition and heritage associated with turf cutting in Ireland;
  • That turfcutters are proud custodians of the bogs who’s actions of maintaining access roads, monitoring and assisting in fire prevention and removing illegal dumping of rubbish have all been hugely beneficial for the bogs;
  • That the existing bog (Mouds) has changed dramatically from the original bog that they were trying to preserve. The development of a large number of one off houses in the vicinity of the bog has to be taken into consideration when considering regeneration;
  • The huge population of households who rely solely on solid fuel heating systems;
  • The failure in the past of authorities to engage properly with turfcutters, land owners and local communities;
  • That bad laws make good citizens criminals.

“Officials from the Commission attending the meeting expressed their regret and concern that the period of grace offered to Ireland since 1997 had been wasted as no action was taken to put plans in place for the cessation of turfcutting,” Heydon stated. “They highlighted that their role was to enforce Directives which have been agreed by all EU countries, and that Ireland had, in their eyes, a poor track record in enforcing environmental laws.”

Heydon continued “The officials acknowledged the significant work that had been carried out by the new Government. The establishment of the Irish Peatlands Council and the ongoing interaction with all relevant stake holders impressed them.”

“It was a very important meeting where the Commission for the first time heard the views of the turfcutters and they were left with plenty of food for thought. While accepting that we had to stay within European law which we had signed up to, we stressed the need for the Commission to work with us to find solutions to the many issues that were arising, in the short time frame that remains.” Heydon concluded that he believed that this would be the first of a number of meetings between the Commission, public representatives and turfcutters in the coming months.”