In Ireland, peat is at the center of a war between rural people and green people

published on Sunday, July 24, 2022 at 08:49

After Ireland’s hottest day in 130 years this week, harvesting peat under the sun-dried grass is a family activity in the Bog Of Allen, a large bog in the center of this country.

Peat briquettes, licorice black when freshly picked, turn toasty brown in summer, ready to serve as heating fuel for winter.

But the peat bog, like the rest of Ireland, is at the center of a showdown between rural residents and city politicians, some promoting traditional culture, others a natural carbon sink to protect.

“There is a deep anger and resentment that the Green Party and the urban members think … they can go wild on the people of rural Ireland,” John told AFP. Dore, spokesperson for the Kildare Turf Cutters Association.

About 14% of the population use peat for heating, according to the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. And for them, this traditional source of energy, cut and burned for centuries, is a right.

“It’s a cultural event, part of our community,” Mr. Dore said. “We are independent in terms of fuels. That is also the point.”

On Tuesday, during a visit to Japan, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said his government should focus on the country’s carbon emissions, aiming to legislate on the subject at the end of the month.

“I think what the heat waves are showing us is that it’s bringing home a lot of the consequences of climate change,” the Prime Minister said. “Here it is, now.”

– “Back to basics” –

Official figures released on Thursday show CO2 emissions increased 4.7% in 2021 compared to 2020, and 1.1% compared to 2019, before the pandemic in Ireland.

But the ruling coalition, in which the Greens participated, is still healing its wounds after trying to legislate peat, the project that sparked the rebellion of some deputies in the rural majority.

An Independent MP for Tipperary, Mattie McGrath, said ministers needed a “back to basics” to determine the consequences of peat bans for low-income rural families.

Since then, the opening of his revised project, the Minister of the Environment Eamon Ryan has assured that the controversial measures, in particular the restriction of the sale of peat within communities with less than 500 inhabitants, have been abandoned. .

Under the new rules, the sale of peat to families, friends and neighbors will be allowed as before.

But retail and internet sales will be prohibited, as well as advertising of peat sales in the media.

For Patsy Power, a peat cutter in the Bog of Allen, the new rules won’t change anything.

“All my life, we’ve been growing peat here,” the 60-year-old said. In his land, he harvests peat with his seven brothers and sisters.

“We don’t even sell it, almost only for household items, only for the family,” he added.

– Carbon sink –

For Mr Dore, the government’s withdrawal was a “small victory”. But the compromise, he said, was struck because of rising energy prices, not because of local concerns.

Aware of the environmental issues facing the country, he believes that targeting peat means attacking “the little people first”.

Environmental groups are urging the government to take the bull by the horns for damage to peatlands, which are natural carbon sinks.

“Peat cutters are not required to restore habitat or consider emissions when they drain peatland,” said Tristram Whyte, manager of the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.

In addition, according to him, the culture pollutes the waterways and leads to the “loss of biodiversity”. “It’s the most emitting source of fuel we can use … The effects of burning peat are not worth the heating” it allows.

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