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Turf wars block Ireland’s green agenda – International News News – Report by AFR

After Ireland’s hottest day in more than 130 years this week, small family groups made their way through the Bog of Allen in the country’s Midlands to collect sun-dried peat.

The peat briquettes, which are liquorice black when dug out of the ground wet, had turned a toasted brown with the rising July temperatures and were ready to be stored and burned as winter fuel.

But the moor, like others across Ireland, has become a frontline in the fight to reduce carbon emissions and conserve peatlands, pitting rural communities against urban decision-makers.

“There is very deep anger and resentment that people like the Green Party and urban Green Party members think … they may be upset with rural Ireland,” John Dore, a spokesman for the Kildare Turf Cutters Association, told AFP.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ireland, 14 per cent of the Irish population use peat, a smoky fuel, to heat their homes.

For those who rely on the traditional energy source that has been cut and burned in the country for centuries, peat is a birthright.

“It’s a very cultural and community activity,” explained Dore. “We are fuel independent. It’s about being independent too.”

During a visit to Japan on Tuesday, Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin said his government needed to focus on emissions as it aims to set legally binding targets by the end of the month.

“I think what the heat waves are showing brings people closer to the enormity of the consequences of climate change,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

– ‘Back to the Moor’ –

EPA figures released Thursday showed a 4.7 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 compared to 2020 — and 1.1 percent from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Martin’s three-party coalition government, which includes Ireland’s Green Party, has licked its wounds after trying to curb turf sales earlier this year.

A series of heated debates over the restrictions sparked a rebellion among government rural MPs.

An independent Tipperary lawmaker, Mattie McGrath, said ministers needed a “journey back to the moor” to see the impact of the proposed restrictions on low-income families living in rural areas.

Unveiling revised plans to curb retail sales of turf last week, Green Party Environment Secretary Eamon Ryan said controversial measures restricting turf sales to communities with fewer than 500 residents had been dropped.

Under the new rules, selling turf to family, friends and neighbors will continue as before.

But sales in retail stores and online, as well as advertising turf sales in traditional media, will be banned.

For Patsy Power, a peat cutter whose family has the rights to cut and remove peat on the Bog of Allen, the changes will make virtually no difference in the way he works.

“We’ve taken sods from here my entire life,” said Power, 60, who has seven siblings who collect sods from the same property.

“We wouldn’t sell it anyway, it’s for domestic use only and it will be family only,” he added as he paused to dump floes in the back of his truck.

– ‘Not worth the heat’ –

Dore called the government’s withdrawal a “small victory”.

But he said the compromise was also driven more by factors such as rising energy prices and fuel insecurity from the war in Ukraine than concern for rural communities.

The spokesman, who also cuts and stores peat at his home nearby, said he understood Ireland had international climate commitments but characterized targeting curb peat farmers as “starting with the little boys”.

Conservationists have urged the government to curb sphagnum to eliminate the damage it is doing to bogs, which are natural carbon sinks and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“The lawn mowers have no obligation to restore habitat or control the emissions caused by draining the moor,” said Tristram Whyte, policy officer at the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.

“As a result, all the peat sludge gets into the water and biodiversity is lost with the emissions.

“It’s the most emitting fuel source you can use…the effects of burning peat aren’t worth the heat.”

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