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 Header Item Crèche Inspections (Continued)
 Header Item Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 805 No. 2

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny The Minister is over her time.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald We are clearly working towards a more comprehensive and broadly based inspection regime. Unlike the previous Government, this Government will bring in mandatory reporting and has already had consultation. It was not done in 14 years despite promises by previous taoisigh.

To answer the question on the child and family agency, in a few weeks we will have legislation in the House to establish the new child and family agency, which is the most radical reform the area of child protection and child care services has seen in decades. This is under way at present. The legislation will be in the House and will go to Government in a number of weeks. This will mean we will have a dedicated focus for the first time on these issues with dedicated management throughout the system. We have not had this in the HSE. This dedicated focus will ensure we have higher standards and this is extremely important.

A number of Deputies raised the question of child minding. Every day parents take decisions and a total of 70% of children in the country are looked after by private childminders. This is the decision parents take. They make decisions about the quality of this care and take the decision these childminders will mind their children. There is no regulation in this area. In other countries there is such regulation. This is an issue which may well be on the agenda in the near future also.

Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Unfortunately, the way the Dáil is structured does not work very well at times and today we have seen it. I hope we will have another debate on the child care issue very soon. Everyone would like to have been involved in it. I have children and we were lucky we had excellent child care facilities.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny I ask the Deputy to speak to the issue.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I will but it must be said that the debate must be held again. Surely it is worth 30 seconds.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I agree.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I wish the Minister the best of luck with it.

The cessation of the turf cutting compensation scheme has caused much concern for quite some time, and major concern in recent weeks because legal agreements were sent to those who signed up to the scheme. A frequently asked questions document was sent with the legal agreement and one of the questions was with regard to what the letter was about. The answer stated under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme in order to finalise - a very important word - compensation arrangements applicants must sign a legal agreement with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It also stated the letter included the legal agreement the person was being asked to sign, with the instruction to return both copies of the agreement to the Department within four months.

One of the implications of signing this finalising legal agreement is that if the more than 700 families who wanted to be relocated, or signed up to be relocated under the compensation scheme, sign up they will be told that if an alternative bog is not found by 2017 in the case of the first bogs designated, or 2018 otherwise, then the Minister may move these people to another scheme. This other scheme is financial compensation, something to which they did not sign up and something about which we warned them, but now their eyes have been firmly opened.

Some people will say 2018 is a long way away and all of the relocation bogs will be organised by then. Perhaps if we had a competent National Parks and Wildlife Service it would happen and perhaps if we had a Minister who would really work with turf cutters it might happen, but this is not what is happening. As a result, since 1997 none of the 53 supposedly special area of conservation bogs has been successfully organised with regard to relocation for the turf cutters affected. The idea that between now and 2018 something will happen all of a sudden and all of these people will be satisfied is barely credible to say the least. The Turf Cutters and Contractors Association warned - I am bringing in its message; these are not my words but those I have been asked to bring in - that all the Government was trying to do was slowly but surely stop people cutting turf. Now it transpires, and is quite clear, that the scheme was a halfway house to stop people cutting turf.

Other concerns have been raised in this regard, one of which is whether it will put a burden on the land. It will and there will be a cost to this. Who will bear it? It looks like it will be the turf cutter. There is also an issue with regard to indemnity but we will return to this.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan): Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan It is a condition of the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme that applicants must sign a legal agreement with me as Minister. These legal agreements are required under the scheme to give legal certainty to people regarding their long-term compensation. It binds the State to deliver on the compensation they have been promised. The signing of agreements also means the applicant undertakes to no longer cut turf on special areas of conservation. The scheme sets out clearly the obligations placed on the recipients and on me as Minister. As announced in the Dáil debate in March last year, an additional once-off incentive payment of €500 for qualifying cutters is being provided where agreements are signed with the Department.

Under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme, three types of legal agreements have been and are being issued by the Department. There is an agreement for qualifying turf cutters who sign up to the annual payment of €1,500, index-linked, for 15 years. There is also an interim relocation agreement for qualifying turf cutters who have expressed an interest in relocation but where no relocation site is available for them. This relocation interim legal agreement provides for the payment of €1,500, index-linked, or a supply of 15 tonnes of cut turf per annum while these applicants are awaiting relocation to non-designated bogs. There is also a final relocation agreement. This agreement has been issued to qualifying turf cutters who have expressed an interest in relocation and where a site has been assessed as suitable for relocation and is ready or can be made ready for use for domestic turf cutting.

The legal agreements are modelled on those which have been agreed with groups of turf cutters from Clara bog in County Offaly, and from Carrownagappul bog and Curraghlehanagh bog in County Galway. The interim legal agreement is required in the case of relocation sites because for the majority of raised bog special areas of conservation the relocation site and the terms and conditions applicable to these sites will take time to finalise. Turf cutters are being asked to sign the interim agreement on the understanding that when a relocation site is sourced, assessed and agreed they will be asked to sign a final legal agreement at that time. If it is not possible to find a suitable relocation site, for example, for reasons of quality or quantity of turf, planning requirements, or issues with regard to the purchase or lease of a site, the Department will consult with turf cutters as to the best option to take at the time.

All of the legal agreements clearly state that title to the property will not change. The existing land ownership or turbary rights held by an applicant will not transfer to me as Minister by the signing of the agreement. As the Deputy is aware from my reply to his question on 25 April last, relocation is a very complex process, in terms of investigating suitable sites for turf quality and quantity; the infrastructure, including drainage works, required; establishing the number who can be accommodated on the site; the cost and feasibility of land purchase or lease; and possible planning and environmental impact assessment requirements.

Of the 2,651 applications for compensation under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme received and acknowledged by the Department, 781 applicants have expressed an interest in relocation to non-designated bogs. In collaboration with the Peatlands Council and with the assistance of Bord na Móna, the Department is actively engaging with turf-cutting communities to consider how relocation can be progressed for these applicants.

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