Pressure is mounting on Bord na Móna (BnM) to “explicitly state” that it will provide “written legal agreements” to farmers and landowners who could be affected by the semi-state company’s vast bog rewetting project.
Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan is also being urged to ramp up the role of Just Transition Commissioner Kieran Mulvey as frustrations grow over peat harvesting and turf cutting too.
On the rewetting conundrum, independent TD for Laois Offaly, Carol Nolan said she is "deeply disappointed” by a response she received last week from BnM chief executive Tom Donnellan.
“I can accept that the response from Bord na Móna is an attempt by the company to lay out its position clearly and constructively. What I cannot accept, however, is its ongoing unwillingness to explicitly state that it will provide the kind of meaningful legal certainty that I and my Dáil Rural Independent Group colleagues have sought on behalf of farmers and landowners.”
The response, she said, states that BnM is in the process of engaging with farming groups on clarifying the ‘care and maintenance programme’ that it will operate post the rehabilitation of 80,000ac of peatlands. On the face of it, this strikes us as yet another can-kicking and evasive exercise that does not adequately address the concerns we have raised.
"Consultation must end with a written agreement. That is our entire point. We will not be satisfied by commitments to endless talks."
BnM furthermore stated that a detailed programme of regulatory compliance in line with Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) system will also be administered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
“The whole point of IPC is merely to prevent or reduce emissions to air, water and land, and reduce waste. What has that got to do with the legal certainty around flooding supports that we are seeking on behalf of farmer - this is pure misdirection,” she said.
On the future of turbary rights - the right to cut turf on a plot of bogland - BnM told deputy Nolan that the extent of the right is "limited to the fuel requirements of the dwelling house to which the turbary right is attached... it is not a right to cut turf”.
"It goes on to say that turbary rights holders can continue to cut turf as they have always done… this is something I and my Rural Group colleagues will be returning to as we need to see far more detail on this issue before we are satisfied,” deputy Nolan concluded.
Meanwhile, independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has called for Just Transition Commissioner Kieran Mulvey to become “more involved” in light of the ongoing bog-related issues in recent months.
“Has the Government sidelined the Just Transition Commissioner, because we rarely get to hear what he is working on? Can Minister Ryan clarify exactly what he is supposed to be doing?
"Is the commissioner going to get a just transition for the ordinary people who have for years taken plots of turf on BnM bogs, or the peat operators who supply the horticultural sector - which will be craving peat in the coming months?
“As I understand it, there is a peat consultation group which has been established. One would imagine that the commissioner would potentially be chairing this group - but he is not even involved. The commissioner should be dealing with all of the fallout from BnM’s decision to distance itself from harvesting peat.
“As it stands, BnM is trying to drop the hatchet on up to 4,000 households who have traditionally taken plots of turf on BnM bogs around the country.
“Given Commissioner Mulvey’s experience of dealing with conflict in the Workplace Relations Commission, he is ideally qualified to assist in resolving the current standoff between BnM and the ordinary people who take plots of turf on BnM bogs.
“Everyone keeps talking about a ‘just transition’, but funnily enough, the only ones to have benefitted so far are BnM - who got in excess of €100 million - but the ordinary people have been left high and dry.
“Minister Ryan must direct the Just Transition Commissioner to become more involved in resolving these issues and real results must soon be evident.”
BnM owns approximately 7pc of Irish peatlands. In the past, nearly all of the formerly operational bogs were involved with milling peat, mainly for combustion in power stations.
In 2019 the High Court ruled that peat extraction operations, on bogs over 30ha, requires planning permission - and, as such, in January 2021, BnM confirmed that it would permanently cease peat harvesting and focus on renewable energy, recycling, peatland restoration and the provision of other low carbon goods and services.
In recent years, turf cut on BnM lands accounted for just 5pc of the turf supply in Ireland. In terms of the impact of the High Court ruling on turf cutting, BnM has stated that people with turbary rights on BnM lands “can continue to enjoy” the same property rights as before the High Court ruling.
It says “over 80pc” of the people that cut turf on its lands have a turbary right. As before, BnM said it also remains the responsibility of turbary rights holders to ensure activities “are not in contravention” of any current planning and/or environmental regulations.
Since the 2019 ruling, BnM said it has not issued licences to commercial contractors or other licenced turf cutters. The company stated last week that: “This remains the situation. Unauthorised turf cutting on Bord na Móna lands has always been and remains an illegal activity.”
Source – The Irish Independent