Minister for State Robert Troy.

Push to reinstate turf cutting amid energy crisis

Amid skyrocketing fuel and energy prices, the Taoiseach and the leaders of the main government parties are being urged to convene a meeting with the management of Bord na Móna to “explore how domestic turf cutting could be facilitated on a transitionary basis for those most in need”.

That call is contained in a letter from local Minister of State Robert Troy, to Taoiseach Michéal Martin, Tanáiste Leo Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael and Green Minister and party leader Eamon Ryan.

“Affording flexibility at this time to domestic users is the right and fair thing to do,” the Fianna Fáil Minister maintained in the letter sent to his government colleagues on March 10 last.

“While I fully accept the constraints due to the judicial judgement on this matter, I believe it is widely acknowledged that this was largely in response to industrial harvesting and not domestic use.

Back in 2019, a High Court ruling stated that peat extraction on bogs over 30 hectares required planning permission. This has left large numbers of households who traditionally cut turf on Bord na Móna bogs each year, and who do not have turbary rights, out in the cold.

“We absolutely must embrace and support the transition away from fossils fuels to more sustainable alternatives, but we must do so in a fair way and acknowledge that people need time to make the transition,” Minister Troy stressed to the Government leaders.

“The SEAI grant was only announced this year meaning there has been little time afforded to adapt and upgrade heating systems in these homes and flexibility must be granted to those that need it,” Minister Troy argued.

Minister Troy's call comes as Fine Gael Cllr Tom Farrell put down a motion at Monday's Westmeath County Council meeting seeking the approval of members to write to Minister Eamon Ryan requesting permission for Bord na Móna to “allow contractors to harvest turf due to the urgent need for fuel, in light of the war in Ukraine”.

Across the border in Offaly, the issue of turf-cutting came to the fore at a public meeting on Tuesday night in Clara, which was expected to include contributions from high-profile rural TDs Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Fitzmaurice, along with Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carty.

“This issue is a huge crisis for many families, particularly older people who have no other option but to burn turf, and they are not allowed access their turf banks at the moment, it is an outrageous situation,” said organiser Christina Devine prior to the meeting, who cuts turf on a bog in Ballivor, north Westmeath.

Minister Robert Troy said that the problem of turf-cutting has only been compounded by the recent price increases.

“Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine will, unfortunately, continue to have an increasing impact on everyday life, and the rising energy and fuel prices as a result of war are adding huge pressures on people in every part of the country,” he concluded in the letter.