Some home truths from the recent Kildare Turf Cutters Association / National Parks and Wildlife Service meeting
Posted by Admin
Below is an article the Kildare Turf Cutters Association has submitted to the Leinster Leader:
The Kildare Turf Cutters Association (KTCA) including representatives from Mouds Bog (SAC), Ballynafagh Bog (SAC), Hodgestown Bog (NHA) and Black Castle Bog (NHA Edenderry) met with three executives of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at Sarsfields GAA Clubhouse on May 1st 2013. It was explained that the KTCA was attending the meeting under protest, to a great extent, as many members did not see any merit in the meeting, but that the KTCA would not give it to Minister Jimmy Deenihan to proclaim that the KTCA was in some way unreasonable and would not meet him or his agents.
The meeting lasted for three hours and the position of both sides on many issues was clarified.
Fairness of relocation
The NPWS considers that relocation is the main remedy for the cessation of turf cutting on the raised bogs it has designated as Special Areas of Conservation. It also clearly states on its website that “The Government is committed, as part of the social partnership process, to the payment of a fair and proper level of compensation to landowners and users for actual losses suffered due to restrictions imposed as a result of their lands being included in formal proposals for designation as NHA, SAC or SPA”. The problem here however is – what is fair? And why does the NPWS continue to dictate what it considers to be fair without proper consultation or agreement with those affected. This polarity was clearly outlined when the NPWS relocation scheme was discussed at the meeting. This scheme is based on a pilot scheme at two of the fifty three SAC Bogs throughout the country. Turf cutters have been relocated to nearby bogs and accepted a maximum of 650 hoppers of turf over a period of 65 years in return for ceasing to cut on their own bogs. There are mixed reports on the success of the scheme. The KTCA challenged the NPWS on the fairness of this scheme. The meeting agreed that there could be from over 1000 to over 2000 hoppers of turf in an acre of raised bog – so why would a turf bank holder with three acres of raised bog accept 650 hoppers in the NPWS scheme? – The NPWS “tongue in cheek” considers this to be fair. The NPWS has also not given due consideration to disturbance costs associated with relocation. A KTCA member who lives beside her turf bank readily accounted for increased costs associated with any proposed relocation for her. In return for substantial increases in haulage and commuting costs (€2,000 per annum) and the loss of home security and facilities – the NPWS is granting a one off payment of €500 – is this fair? Bord na Mona are also conducting tests for quality and quantity of turf for the NPWS on potential relocation sites without involving any representatives of the affected turf cutters or moreover without conducting the same tests on the affected turf cutters’ banks. The KTCA position is that a relocation will not be considered unless there is at least “like for like” quantity and quality of turf offered from the turf bank held and that disturbance costs are agreed on an individual basis. This should be verified independently as Bord na Mona is not considered independent in this matter by the turf cutters. The KTCA also questioned the NPWS on a recent government tender for planning consultants to deal with the planning requirements of relocation sites. It appears that if planning is required that NGO’s or any individual could stall the planning process in a major way.
National Raised Bog SAC Management Plan
There has been little or no progress with this plan. This time last year Minister Deenihan saw the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association’s national plan being adopted unanimously by the Dail and on the back of it pledged to have his national plan in place or at least well advanced by the end of 2012. The present position is that he has just appointed consultants to help him to have his national plan in place or at least well advanced by the end of 2013. This seems to be the way in Irish Political life and it is anyone’s guess as to whether there will be much progress this year. The KTCA asked the NPWS that if this plan was like other plans – say a county development plan – would there be an objection process to it? and could NGO’s like Friends of the Irish Environment and the Irish Peatlands Preservation Council stall the adoption of the plan? – The NPWS did not know. There was also an understanding last year that Mouds Bog was a bog where there was little or no feasible options for relocation and that there was a possibility that limited turf cutting could be allowed on it. The NPWS agreed to write to the KTCA advising that Mouds Bog would be formally put forward for such consideration. This did not happen however, so the NPWS agreed to pursue this matter again.
Interim Compensation Arrangements 2012/2013
This issue mainly concerns Mouds Bog. At a meeting in the Dail with Minister Deenihan and his Secretary General last year, the KTCA sought permission to continue turf cutting for the period it took to finalise the National Plan and put in place a final acceptable solution. This was a reasonable request but the permission was not forthcoming. The KTCA then put it to the Minister that it would consider an interim cessation of turf cutting for 2012, if in return there was -1 – an upfront delivery of 15 tonnes of turf for every dependant household on Mouds Bog turf in advance of the turf cutting season, -2- the turf cutting contractor would be compensated for loss of earnings, and -3- a written guarantee would be given that turf cutting would resume at Mouds in 2013 following the National Plan. The Minister passed on the matter to be dealt with at a further meeting between the NPWS and the KTCA. It followed that the NPWS could only attempt to deliver on the first of the three demands. This was unacceptable to the majority within the KTCA but some turf cutters chose to avail of the interim compensation arrangements in return for ceasing to cut. The offer was that each turf bank holder could receive a payment of €1,500 or they could receive a delivery of15 tonnes of turf to each household dependent on the bank. Forms upon forms were introduced and the NPWS also attempted to put a cap of 30 tonnes on each turf bank holder irrespective of how much was previously harvested and applied for. A small number of holders succeeded to secure in excess of the 30 tonnes but they had to “jump through hoops” with both the NPWS and Bord na Mona to verify their normal cut and that they had the required spreading area.
There are still outstanding applications for turf in excess of 30 tonnes for 2012 but the NPWS informed the meeting that these were still only being considered even though we are now half way through 2013.
It transpired from the meeting that although forms were filled for 2012, there are no permanent legally binding contracts between Mouds Bog turf bank holders and the NPWS. All €1500 payments or turf deliveries in 2012 were interim compensation measures. The NPWS offered the same again for 2013 but stated that permanent 15 year contracts could also be applied for. The NPWS went silent when asked would the successful outstanding applicants for turf in excess of 30 tonnes receive both their outstanding 2012 turf and the 2013 turf together this year.
The meeting erupted when the NPWS clarified that all interim compensation measures will be deducted should Mouds Bogs turf bank holders be forced to relocate or accept the permanent 15 year compensation package. The KTCA initial understanding from the 2012 meetings was that the interim compensation measures for 2012 were a once off concession for ceasing to cut until the National Plan was implemented and that they were independent of any final measures that may come out of the plan. One turf bank holder who succeeded in receiving five deliveries of 15 tonnes for himself and four other dependent family households, having clearly demonstrated and agreed his entitlements with the NPWS, was further enraged. He questioned the fairness of the NPWS relocation scheme and the permanent 15 year compensation package, in light of his proven annual entitlements. How could he and his family accept 10 tonnes of turf per year for 65 years under the NPWS relocation scheme or €1,500 per annum under the compensation package, when the NPWS has already rigorously tested and acknowledged that his annual cut and requirement is 75 tonnes of turf ? The NPWS was intransigent in response and kept parroting the terms of their schemes.
The KTCA also queried the implications of the day’s new Carbon Tax introduction especially for turf cutters in receipt of the annual €1500 payment who had to buy turf in place of their own turf. The Carbon Tax does not apply to turf cut from a turf cutters bank for his own domestic use, it applies only to all sold turf. So will the NPWS compensate the €1,500 recipient for the additional Carbon Tax he will have to pay for replacement turf? The Carbon Tax on 15 tonnes of Turf for 2013 will be €200 and will rise to €400 for 2014. The NPWS have not even considered the implications of the Carbon Tax.
Position at Ballynafagh Bog
There was a discussion on Ballynafagh Bog and on the proposed relocation to Trench 21. Although contracts have been issued in relation to this relocation, none have been signed yet. There is a major issue about access to the site to be sorted. Ballynafagh also stands by the KTCA position on relocation. The NPWS has also deviated from its position last year where it stated it would accept affidavits to verify a genuine turf bank holder without proper title, for its schemes. They have only dealt with title holders to date. A turf bank holder without an updated title whose family had been cutting for two generations on the bank, voiced his concern at the meeting. The NPWS said they would look into it. The issue of turf remaining in cutaway also was discussed. The NPWS stated it was only concerned with compensating for uncut bog irrespective of the amount of turf that remains in cutaway bog. The NPWS is not concerned if you still have 6 to 20 feet of turf left in your cutaway. This is not acceptable to the KTCA.
NHA’S The 70 NHA Bogs are scheduled to close at the end of 2013. The representatives of Hodgestown Bog and Black Castle Bog got a clear picture of all the issues that will face them from the meeting. The NPWS stated that it will have more flexibility with the NHA’s because they were introduced under Irish Law. The KTCA takes this assertion with “a grain of salt” and believes the NHA’s will meet the same faith as the SAC’s. The NPWS are finding it difficult to manage the SAC situation and it transpired from the meeting that there will be no extra resources employed to handle the addition NHA work load. What a mess and they expect the turf cutters all to lie down while they muddle along. The NHA’s are fully behind the KTCA policy – No Surrender! No Cessation of Turf Cutting! until there is a final fair acceptable solution in place first.
Chairman and PRO
Kildare Turf Cutters Association