Clara turf cutters are first to relocate to new bog

Twenty four turf cutters from Clara and The Island have become the first in the country to successfully relocate as part of a scheme that saw turf cutting stopped on bogs declared Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). Turf cutting began on the new bog in Rahan last week, and chair of the Clara Island Turf Cutters group Seamus Boland said everyone is happy with how everything has turned out. The model pioneered locally has been praised by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan and is expected to be replicated with affected turf cutters nationwide. Fifty-three raised bogs were nominated as SAC areas between 1997 and 2002 under the 1992 Habitats Directive. Turf was cut for the last time in Clara Bog in 2009, with monetary compensation paid to affected turf cutters since then while a relocation package was being worked out. Negotiations involving Irish Rural Link, Bord na Móna, Minister's Deenihan's Department and local turf cutters led to an agreement that turf cutters are now legally entitled to cut turf at the Bord na Móna bog they've been relocated to in Rahan for 65 years. According to Mr Boland the new bog is between four and seven miles away from turf cutters, who are delighted with the resolution. "We started cutting turf last Thursday," Mr Boland told the Offaly Independent. Work was stopped by the recent inclement weather after about 20 hoppers - or enough turf for two and a half families - was cut, but Mr Boland said cutting will resume as soon as the weather allows. Mr Boland said the deal has worked out satisfactorily for local turf cutters and everyone is pleased. "Everybody is extremely happy because they got what they wanted," he said. "You get, in return for giving up Clara, as much as you left behind." A further six or seven turf cutters who didn't make the relocation deadline are expected to join the 24 turf cutters next year. "It's a very difficult process," Mr Boland explained, adding that a big problem was ensuring legal titles to original bog plots. "Like all issues relating to Irish land this will take time," he said. Meanwhile Minister Deenihan has praised local turf cutters for addressing their needs "through constructive and co-operative engagement". "Coming from rural Ireland I understand the depth of feeling on this issue," he said. "The bog on which my own family cut turf for more than 100 years is one of those now being preserved and protected. However, these latest developments are very significant as they show the way forward in resolving this issue and highlight the flexibility of the compensation scheme that has been put in place by Government." Minister Deenihan is expected to visit relocated turf cutters in Offaly next week.