Senators Pippa Hackett and Michéal Carrigy.

Midland senators clash over future for turf cutting

Two Midlands senators have clashed over the future of turf cutting in the region.

In an address to the Seanad this week, Offaly Green Party Minister of State Senator Pippa Hackett called out those who knowingly extract turf from bogs in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

And she urged those who cut turf because of a perceived identity, or because they want to show ‘the wildlife crowd’ that they won’t have any impact on their tradition to reconsider their actions saying “It is not true to say that because you ‘love’ the bog, you are doing no harm.”

During the course of her address, she stated that while turf burning will continue for many, “our days on the bog are numbered”.

This comment sparked an angry response from Longford Fine Gael senator Michéal Carrigy.

He said he took grave exception to the comment and said he and his colleagues in Fine Gael were fully committed to ensure that there was no end to traditional turf practices.

In a statement, he said: “During her contribution, Minister Hackett said that ‘our days on the bog are numbered,’ a claim that I take grave exception to given that cutting, selling and burning turf is a vital part of our way of life in many areas of rural Ireland.”

“According to the most recent Census results available, almost one in four [23.6%] households in the Midlands use turf to heat their homes, including many elderly people who have been alarmed by the discussion around the use, sale and distribution of turf in recent weeks.

“The lack of alternatives to the use of turf to heat homes is a major factor which at times is overlooked in this debate.

“Until people's homes are insulated to a standard where they do not need solid fuel, and particularly homes in rural areas, then we should be allowed to keep our houses and homes warm.

Senator Hackett had argued: “A person’s identity should never be so entangled with a tradition that they can justify harming our landscape in the name of that tradition.”

"These bogs have taken thousands of years to form, yet just 1% of Ireland’s active raised bogs now remain, after years of land reclamation and peat harvesting,” she said.

She asked “those who think calling for improvements in air quality, or habitat preservation, is some form of an attack on them, to think deeply about alternatives. And think about the damage that is being done. We are depleting one of our largest carbon stores, and the habitat of some of Ireland’s most important species.”

The Minister previously said she is in favour of a balanced approach to turf burning saying she has advocated on behalf of those in the Midlands that rural homes and smaller towns be excluded from the proposed ban, and for small scale sale of turf between neighbours and family to be permitted.

"And I hope that when future generations visit bogs of the Midlands – they will be thankful for the preservation of these wonderful natural resources. Resources that many of us stood to protect, when we had the chance."

However, Carrigy insisted: “We all have a role to play in responding to the climate challenge and having cleaner air, but it must be stated that the use of turf only contributes to a very small proportion of air quality problems.”