The appeals process established to adjudicate on applications for bog relocations for turf cutters has described as “shambolic” by Denis Naughten TD.
“Firstly, the Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht is dragging its heels in issuing rejection letters to turf cutters who had their applications refused,” explained Denis Naughten. “In one particular case it has taken three years to get a formal decision from the Department C with the initial application submitted in June 2011 and the refusal eventually issued in May 2014. It is estimated that up to 200 such cases exist at present.
“Secondly, while there is supposed to be an appeals process and the impression is given that applications will be determined within an 8 week period, this is nothing but an illusion. After processing just one appeal the Peatlands Council has commenced a review of the process. But what will it be reviewing?
“At every turn turf cutters have been impeded in getting their just entitlement. There has been a policy within the Heritage section of the Department to postpone, delay and drag out every single measure proposed to try to address this ongoing issue.”
Denis Naughten added: “Even though bog relocation was to form part of the solution to this problem when the first designations took place, after nearly 20 years just 6% of turf cutters have been offered alternative banks on which to cut turf. At this rate it will take over 300 years to relocate all turf cutters wishing to have an alternative bank.
“Over this period no efforts have been made by the Department to assist turf cutters and their families in sourcing alternative fuel options for their homes; again something that was to form part of the overall solution.
“This debacle is a clear example of where Department officials are determined to undermine any constructive solution proposed to this problem. Therefore it is now vital that the new Minister starts, without delay, to immediately implement the terms of the Report on the issue produced by Mr. Justice John Quirke, which provides a blueprint to resolve the turf cutting issue once and for all.
“The comments by Mr. Justice Quirke in his report are very telling and concluded that ‘as a result of circumstances over which they (turf cutters) have had no control and as a result of legal and other procedures into which they appear to have had little, if any, input, they are now at risk of acting unlawfully or failing to act lawfully’.
“This issue needs to be resolved and resolved without any further delay by the Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht,” concluded Denis Naughten.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see below recent Dáil reply.
To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the terms of reference of the peatlands council appeals sub group; the membership of the group; the number of appeals received by the group; the number of cases on hand and the numbers determined; the current processing time for such appeals; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Denis Naughten.
* For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 16th October, 2014.
Ref No: 39598/14 Proof: 271
R E P L Y
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, (Ms. Heather Humphreys, T.D).
In April 2011, the Government agreed to the setting up of an independently chaired Peatlands Council to assist the Government and stakeholders regarding certain issues related to the management of Ireland’s peatlands, in particular bogs designated as Special Areas of Conservation and Natural Heritage Areas.
Applicants to the Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme operated by my Department may, further to the option of an internal review, appeal their case to the Peatlands Council in the event that they are informed that the qualifying criteria of the scheme have not been met. The Council may then make recommendations to me, as Minister, on such cases.
As part of the appeal process the Council decided in May 2013 to establish an Appeals Sub-Group consisting of 3 members of the Council. Membership of the Appeals Sub-Group is a matter for the Peatlands Council. The present membership comprises representation of Irish Rural Link, the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council and Bord na Móna.
The Council received one request for appeal in 2013 which was duly considered and a recommendation made to
the then Minister. Earlier this year, it was decided to review the approach to appeals and to draw up full Terms of Reference in relation to the appeals function. These Terms of Reference will be published on-line once the review is finalised. I hope that this will be concluded shortly.
Two further appeals have been received which I understand will be dealt with as soon as the review is complete and appeals should be decided upon within an 8 week period.