Irish U-turn on EU peat-cutting bans
The Irish government has revealed plans to end a bitter dispute over a European Commission ban on harvesting peat for domestic fuel on protected bog lands.
Bans on turf-cutting are to be lifted in some areas with new, alternative protected sites created elsewhere, under the draft proposal.
Much of the new protected areas will be on state land or in areas where little turf-cutting takes place.
People openly defied the law last year to cut turf in front of police.
Only a handful of prosecutions followed. Brussels has threatened Ireland with 9m euros (£7.5m; $12.3m) in annual fines in response.
The row stems from the EU Habitats Directive adopted into Irish law, which bans turf-cutting on 53 Irish bogs protected as special conservation areas of international significance.
Turf-cutting campaigners say the European Commission is destroying part of traditional rural Irish life and interfering with property rights. They also claim that bogs recover and can environmentally co-exist with turf-cutting which has been done for centuries.
Environmental groups argue that cutting turf destroys unique habitats of world significance and causes huge carbon release through burning peat.
Turf-cutting campaigners said they needed time to respond to the plans but said they were published to head off rural anger before local and European elections in May and June.
"There are hundreds of pages to read and the devil is in the detail, which will take time to assess," said one independent member of Ireland's parliament, Luke "Ming" Flanagan.
"If there was an election every year, there'd be no turf-cutting bans at all," he remarked.
Friends of the Irish Environment director Tony Lowes gave a "guarded welcome" to the plans but said they represented "huge work" in developing a "clear strategy" for the future of Ireland's bog lands.
"The bogs are really Ireland's Amazon," he said. "When you cut and burn from the bogs, you are releasing huge amounts of carbon. Turf is a fuel that's dirtier than coal."
The draft plans are open to public consultation until April before the government decides on its next move, ahead of the summer turf-cutting season.