A local farmer has declared he will continue to cut turf on designated bogs despite ongoing air surveillance missions and a number of visits from Gardaí and National Park and Wildlife Services rangers.
The farmer, who does not want to be named, said turf had already been cut on his bog and on a number of surrounding plots. He also revealed that the Gardaí visited the scene on Saturday and twice again on Bank Holiday Monday.
“They’re out with the park rangers to see what’s been cut and what’s been done. There’s also been a number of planes flying overhead out checking things. It was like an airport here at the weekend.”
The farmer, who owns a bog between Newtownforbes and Rooskey, revealed that he will not be put off by the visits of the Gardaí or the threat of any possible legal action.
“All we can do is stand our ground and see what happens. Property rights are very strong in this country and the Constitution is there to protect the property owner. The designation process was completely flawed. The landowners were never notified; we were given no chance to appeal; we were given no oral hearing,” he said.
Last Thursday, a number of turf cutters were prevented from cutting turf and removed from a designated bog in Roscommon by officers from the NPWS and members of the Gardaí. However, while the authorities have yet to take these drastic steps on the bogs between Newtownforbes and Rooskey, the farmer believes such actions are intimidating bog-owners, particularly older people.
“The surveillance and the visits have got a lot of people’s backs up. People in this area are concerned that an arm of the State is forcing people off their own land without as much a chance of appeal. Older people in particular, who were never in any sort of trouble before are very concerned,” he added.
In a statement to this paper, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said: “Work is ongoing to identify the contractors and landowners involved. The evidence gathered will be used for the purposes of pursuing prosecutions, cross reporting and other legal remedies, including the recovery of re-mediation costs from those who have caused damage.”
The Department also noted that more than 2,100 people have applied for compensation (worth €23,000 over 15 years, or a delivery of 15 tonnes of turf pending relocation to another bog, if possible, where they can cut turf legally once again).
The group of farmers in this particular location had proposed a relocation but the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht failed to respond.
“We had even reached agreement with landowners of other non-designated bogs who were willing to sell, but we never got anywhere with that. If we were not given any alternatives, what are we supposed to do?”
Meanwhile, environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has called the Government’s enforcement strategy an abject failure.
“The State authorities seem unequal to the task of protecting what, in relative terms, is a tiny number of bogs,” they write in their just-published report on illegal turf-cutting in designated bogs, which found widespread disregard for the ban.
“The European Commission’s softly-softly approach is failing to protect some of Europe’s most important and most threatened natural heritage areas. Ireland’s behaviour represents a direct challenge to the rule of law in the EU,” they add.