In the aftermath of Ireland’s hottest day in over 130 years this week, small family groups made their way through Allen’s bog in the country’s Midlands to collect sun-dried grass.
The peat briquettes, which are licorice black when cut into the ground, had turned a toasty brown in the high temperatures of July and were ready to be stored and burned as winter fuel.
But the bog, like others across Ireland, has become a frontline in a fight to reduce carbon emissions and conserve peatlands, pitting rural communities against urban decision-makers.
“There is a very deep anger and resentment that people like the Green Party and urban members of the Green Party think (…) they can riot against rural people in Ireland,” he told the newspaper. AFP John Dore, spokesman for the Kildare Turf Cutters Association.
Fourteen percent of the Irish population use turf, a smoldering fuel, to heat their homes, according to the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
For those dependent on the traditional source of energy, which has been cut and burned in the country for centuries, turf is a birthright.
“It’s a very cultural and community activity,” Dore explained. “We are fuel independent. It is also about being independent.”
During a visit to Japan on Tuesday, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said his government needed to focus on emissions as it plans to set legally binding targets by the end of the month.
“I think what the heat waves show is to make people aware of the enormity of the consequences of climate change,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
“It’s here now.”
– ‘Back to the bog’ –
EPA figures released Thursday showed a 4.7% increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 compared to 2020 — and a 1.1% increase from 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
Martin’s three-party government coalition, which includes the Irish Greens, is licking its wounds after trying to clamp down on turf sales earlier this year.
A series of heated debates over the restrictions sparked a rebellion among rural government MPs.
An independent Tipperary lawmaker, Mattie McGrath, said ministers needed a “back in the bog” to realize the impact of the proposed restrictions on low-income families living in rural areas.
As he unveiled revised plans to curb the retail sale of turf last week, Green Party Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said the controversial measures restricting the sale of turf to communities under 500 people had been abandoned.
Under the new rules, sod sales to family, friends and neighbors will continue as before.
But sales at retail outlets and online will be banned, along with advertising of turf sales in traditional media.
For Patsy Power, a sod cutter whose family has the right to cut and remove sod from Allen’s bog, the changes will make almost no difference to the way she operates.
“We’ve taken sod from here all my life,” said Power, 60, who has seven siblings who harvest sod from the same plot.
“We wouldn’t sell it anyway, it’s just for home use and it will just be family use,” he added as he took a break to throw clods in the back of his truck.
– ‘Not worth the heat’ –
Dore called the government’s retreat a “small victory”.
But he said the compromise was also driven by factors such as rising energy prices and energy insecurity due to war in Ukraine rather than concerns for rural communities.
The spokesperson, who also cuts and stores turf at his nearby home, said he understood Ireland had international climate commitments, but called the targeting of turf growers with edging ” beginning with the little ones”.
Environmental campaigners have urged the government to seize the grass-cutting nettle over the damage it is causing to peatlands, which are natural carbon sinks and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“It is not the responsibility of the turf cutters to restore habitat or manage emissions when they drain the bog,” said Tristram Whyte, policy officer for the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.
“Along with that, all the peat silt gets into the waterways and with the emissions there is a loss of biodiversity.
“It’s the most emitting fuel source you can use…the effects of burning peat aren’t worth the heat.”