Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme Relocation Options
9. To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number and location of turf cutters affected by SACs, NHAs or other conservation measures who have so far been offered and have accepted alternative turf cutting facilities; the number and location of those yet to be resolved; the extent to which progress is reported in respect of such negotiations over the past 12 months; when it is expected that full and final agreement is likely to be reached in all cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51459/13]
17. To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of bog relocations that have been completed; the number where an alternative location has been sourced that will meet the demand for relocation; the number where alternatives have yet to be sourced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51401/13]
206. To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht notwithstanding his reply to previous parliamentary questions in this regard, the extent to which his Department has engaged with traditional turf cutters at the various locations mentioned that have been affected by special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas throughout County Kildare; the extent to which agreement has been reached in each case; those still outstanding; his expectations as to when final agreement will be reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51910/13]
The questions relate to the extent to which the Department has entered into arrangements with traditional turf cutters at various locations who have found themselves displaced by virtue of the application of special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas arrangements.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 17 and 206 together.
Some 2,839 applications for compensation under the cessation of the turf cutting compensation scheme have been received and acknowledged by my Department. Of these, 797 applicants have expressed an interest in relocation to non-designated bogs.
Deputies will appreciate that relocation is a very complex process in terms of investigating suitable sites for turf quality and quantity, the infrastructure and drainage works required, establishing the number of turf cutters who can be accommodated on the site, the cost and feasibility of land purchase or lease and possible planning and environmental impact assessment requirements. Notwithstanding this complexity, progress in relocating turf cutters to non-designated bogs is being achieved in a number of cases.
A group from Clara Bog special area of conservation in County Offaly commenced turf cutting at a relocation site in Killeranny, County Offaly, in June 2012, where 23 qualifying turf cutters have now been accommodated. Turf cutting for the 2013 season took place on this site in April last. Qualifying turf cutters from Carrownagappul Bog and Curraghlehanagh Bog special areas of conservation in County Galway are expected to be able to commence turf cutting in a relocation site from the 2014 turf cutting season. Relocation of seven qualifying turf cutters from Ballynafagh Bog special area of conservation to Timahoe North, County Kildare, which is in the ownership of Bord na Móna, is progressing, with the expectation that qualifying turf cutters will be able to commence cutting in the relocation site during the 2014 turf cutting season. Relocation of two qualifying turf cutters from Ballynamona Bog and Corkip Lough special area of conservation to Togher, County Roscommon, which is in the ownership of Bord na Móna, is also progressing, with the expectation that qualifying turf cutters will be able to commence cutting in the relocation site during the 2014 turf cutting season. Lattins Bog, also known as Mouds North Bog, in County Kildare has been identified as a potential relocation site for turf cutters from Mouds Bog. Bord na Móna has undertaken a full suitability assessment for the site and my Department has provided a copy of the assessment report to the secretary of the committee of the Kildare Turf Cutters Association.
I am advised that of the remaining 49 raised bog special areas of conservation, potential relocation sites have been identified for a further 33 bogs and work is ongoing on identifying and investigating sites. Relocation is unlikely to be required or is likely to be small-scale for another 16 raised bog special areas of conservation due, for example, to the small number who had been cutting turf on these sites during the relevant five year period and would qualify for the relocation option available under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme.
Bord na Móna has been contracted by my Department to assist the process and has so far assessed in the region of 100 potential relocation sites. It has also entered into negotiations with landowners on the purchase or long-term lease of number of sites. A payment of €1,500, index-linked, or a supply of 15 tonnes of cut turf per annum is available under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme to applicants while awaiting relocation to non-designated bogs.
On raised bog natural heritage areas, my Department is finalising a review of the position in accordance with the programme for Government. This review will provide clarity for turf cutters and landowners in advance of the 2014 turf cutting season. My Department will contact individual landowners and turf cutters on these sites in due course.
Has it been noticeable the extent to which agreement can readily be reached between the bog owners who have traditionally had a right to cut turf but have not exercised that right for a number of years and those who have traditionally exercised their right and have found the relocation to be a considerable inconvenience? Has the Minister examined the possibility of offering alternative special areas of conservation, SACs, or natural heritage areas, NHAs, in cases in which it is possible to determine that the hardship being created for those who are traditional existing turf cutters is significant?
The conditions for compensation and relocation were set out quite clearly. It was for those who had exercised their right for the previous five years. That has been quite clear, unless there were other reasons those concerned did not cut turf. For example, if they were in a REPS plan, consideration was given to that.
As regards the substitution of SACs by NHAs or anything else, there are three plans coming out shortly. There is a national plan for SACs, as requested here in March 2012, a plan for the NHAs which was committed to in the programme for Government, and a national strategy for all peatlands regarding how people will cut turf and look after their peatlands for the future. That is how people can manage their bogs in the future while, most importantly, continuing to cut turf. The plans will be going out for public consultation. They will not be a fait accompli. That will open a major debate on the peatlands strategy of this country. The debate has been ongoing for a number of years, but it will open the debate on those three critical areas. Some of the questions Deputy Durkan asked here will be answered in these reports, which will be published shortly.
I am aghast at the last comment of the Minister. It is bad enough that SACs have been designated and we are trying to deal with that headache, and that the issue of NHAs will arise next year, but now the Minister is telling us that there will be issues regarding every other bog in the country. Has he not got enough on his plate without looking for more trouble?
On the designated bogs, my understanding is that, out of a possible 800 turf cutters who are looking for relocation, to date 32 have been relocated. In the context of the report on NHAs that is due out, can relocation to NHAs be considered where there are no alternatives available? That is the particular problem in my part of the country.
As the Minister is aware, the Department designated special areas of conservation, SACs, and then went back and designated all the alternatives as natural heritage areas, NHAs. Will the new plan regarding the non-designated bogs have an implication for the possibility of relocating some of the turfcutters?
The proposed plan will be out shortly. The national peatlands strategy was part of an agreement with Europe to address the court case but people have nothing to fear about it. It is very important for the continuation of turfcutting in the future. When Deputy Naughten sees it I am sure he will appreciate that there has been input from several agencies. The Peatlands Council has had been working on this for some time. There is an input from all the relevant agencies and from the non-governmental organisations. It is a comprehensive discussion document.
The focus will be on SACs and NHAs but there is a broader discussion to be had here. The plan will be available to the public and everybody will get an opportunity to discuss it.
The NHA plan to which our Government gave a commitment in the programme for Government will be announced shortly. It will go out for consultation. It will contain solutions to some of the existing problems; obviously, I cannot announce what is in the plan today. I can, however, assure the Deputy that it is completed and it will go out for consultation.
I do not know if the Minister heard himself say this but he said people have nothing to fear. Three years in prison is a lot to fear. The families of contractors could be dragged before the courts on Christmas week, and he claims there is nothing to fear. How can that be if there is the potential that a person could be jailed for three years for trying to make a living. The Minister said that when the document is published we will start the debate. With whom will he have the debate, with himself and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, or will he have it with the people? If it is the people with whom he will have the debate, perhaps before he starts it he should call off the hounds. He cannot bring people to court on Christmas week and threaten them with imprisonment for three years. One would get less time for rape, in some cases, in this country. There is nothing to fear, is there not? There is nothing to fear if one is in the Minister's position in that he has money to put oil in his tank. There is plenty to fear because the number designated is moving from 53, to 128 and, as Deputy Naughten said, to a position where they will be all up for grabs. When the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, TCCA, said this originally we were put down as exaggerating the position, but, guess what, we have been proven right again. It is getting boring at this stage.
In view of the general debate that is to take place on the SACs and NHAs over the next few years, will it be possible to review the ongoing debate that is taking place and to identify those areas of contention about which traditional turfcutters feel aggrieved at being asked to relocate, given that the State's agency, namely Bord na Móna, does not have to comply with the same relocation and given that in the North and in the UK it has been found possible to accommodate the needs of the traditional turfcutters? Will the Minister encourage the possibility of engaging with all concerned with a view to achieving a final resolution on a broader playing pitch which that would present?
The national peatlands strategy has been discussed by the Peatlands Council for a number of years and, unfortunately, the TCCA decided to withdraw from the Peatlands Council after it had signed up to an agreement that it would not cut any more turf on the SACs.
That was a signed agreement back in June 2011-----
-----and then they withdrew, which was unfortunate. They should have been discussing whether it was the SAC, the national heritage areas or a strategy for the future. There is nothing to fear about the national peatlands strategy. The law is very clear. European law, transposed into Irish law, states clearly that we have 53 SACs that we promise to protect and allow no damage to. This was in place long before I was in this job. There was a postponement of the decision by the previous Government. It was unfortunate it did not go ahead at the time but it did not have the guts to do so or perhaps the issue was too political. If it had, the matter of the SACs would be solved and we would not be discussing it today. In response to a Private Members' motion, which I accepted and was passed in the House, we carried out a review of the 53 SACs. Unfortunately, the Deputy's organisation, the TCCA, did not involve itself after calling for it in the Dáil and after we all accepted it. It then withdrew from it. What was the reason for the motion at that time?
Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan does not want any settlement of this issue. He has made no effort to arrive at a settlement and it is in his interest to create mayhem in rural Ireland. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan has been totally disruptive and does not want to recognise European law or Irish law.
As regards any contravention of the law, it was obvious that this is breaking the law and people must be brought to justice the same as anyone else breaking any law.