top of page

The Bogs

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about Turf and the Bogs.


Dubliners might be forgiven for letting it all go over their heads.


But this is serious business and many families rely on turf in local bogs for their heating, approximately 100,000 people.


The debate on turf is part of the overall idea of a ‘just transition’ away from dirty fossil fuels to renewables. How do we do that without inflicting pain on those who can endure it least?


President Macron discovered early in his first term that even a modest Environmental levy could be politically disastrous - triggering the ‘gilets jaune’ (yellow vests) protests in 2017. As protesters said, ‘you are thinking about the end of the world but we’re thinking about the end of the month’.


Now with a new cost of living crisis, Ireland is confronted for the first time by a similar protest in rural Ireland.


My own grandfather Todd Andrews was asked by Sean Lemass to develop the bogs. He was met with amused indifference by civil servants who thought the whole idea ridiculous.


No problem footing your own turf for your own home, they argued, but forget about any commercial prospects. In his book ‘Man of No Property’, Todd recalled his early prejudice about the bogs.


“The word ‘bog’ had become a symbol of backwardness and contempt - ‘bog-trotters’, ‘bog-man’, ‘bog Latin’. It is curious that the Irish word for bog, portach, has no such disparaging connotations nor does the Irish word ‘móin’ (turf).”


He visited Germany and Russia in the 1930s making careful note of the way in which peatland was developed for the generation of energy and for agriculture. Soon, the Turf Development Board was established and after that Bord na Móna in 1946.


For decades, Bord na Móna was a great Irish success story providing a living for thousands of families in the midlands especially.


The trouble was that peatlands are the most efficient carbon sinks on the planet. Burning turf is environmentally disastrous accounting for 8% of Ireland’s carbon emissions in the energy sector. It also produces less heat than other fossil fuels. They are also fairly important for biodiversity with lots of plants and animals relying on their preservation.


Faced with these issues, the Government has sought to apply EU rules about conservation but have been met with understandable opposition. Converting bogs for other uses is not a new idea. Boora bog in Offaly is a cutaway bog which ceased operation in the 1970s and is now reclaimed for agricultural and eco-tourism use, including helping to conserve the Grey Partridge.


There has been a tendency to dismiss the concerns of turf-cutters. However, this is where the rubber hits the road on climate change. The Irish Times wrote that it is embarrassing to be discussing bogs ‘when Europe is in the throes of the first major war since 1945’.


I totally support Eamon Ryan’s decision to ban smokey fuel. This isn’t about hostility to rural Ireland, much and all as it has been characterised in this way by rural Independents.


So turf sales can continue for a little while yet. But the days are numbered so a little more effort is required to sell the story to those who have genuine concerns. Incentives should be provided including lower electricity bills and the promise of a tourist dividend based on a comprehensive census of turf burning in Ireland.


The end of commercial cutting of turf was supposed to be the easy bit. There are bigger battles on transport and energy down the road. The climate debate will not go away - if this generation loses the debate, the next generation will pay an even higher price.


FOGRA: It will be my honour this week to open the ‘Andrews Room’ in Bord na Móna’s refurbished premises in Newbridge, named after my grandfather.


Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page