EU Policy. Commission sues Ireland for failure to protect habitats

Brian Nelson / Geograph Britain and Ireland
Brian Nelson / Geograph Britain and Ireland Copyright Brian Nelson / Geograph Britain and Ireland
Copyright Brian Nelson / Geograph Britain and Ireland
By Marta Pacheco
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The EU executive says that peatlands have unique qualities and that Ireland must redouble its efforts to move turf cutting machines away from these sites.


Ireland will need to answer for its failure to protect peat bogs, swamps which act as ‘carbon sinks’, following a referral from the European Commission to the EU Court of Justice announced today (March 13).

The EU executive has been warning Ireland to take action on the issue since 2011, and considers the country has failed to apply EU law designed to protect the habitats, specifically related to raised bogs and blanket bog habitats, claiming that continued “turf cutting” and “insufficient action” has degraded these “biodiversity hotspots”.

In the midlands and the west of Ireland, using turf or peat as fuel has been a tradition and many homes still use it to heat their homes and cook. While peatlands have a net cooling effect on climate, damaged bogs dry out and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, propelling climate change.

“They [protected sites] are categorised as 'priority' habitats under the Habitats Directive due to their unique qualities. Peat bogs are also vital carbon sinks when healthy,” the commission said in a press release citing a UN report which estimates that Ireland's degraded peatlands emit 21.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year.

Lawmaker Grace O’Sullivan (Ireland/Greens) welcomed the commission’s decision, saying it should have come earlier. “For far too long, instead of actions to protect and restore these peat bogs, we’ve heard excuses, delays, and a pretence that the issue would simply go away,” O’Sullivan told Euronews.

The Irish MEP was hopeful that with the recently voted nature restoration law, “the excuses will stop” and there will be action to “finally protect these sites that are so important for nature and biodiversity.”

Jutta Paulus (Germany/Greens), a lawmaker contributing to the nature restoration law, said the commission’s decision was “the right way forward” and that turf cutting “must finally be stopped”.

"The best legislation is ineffective if the law is not enforced. Healthy bogs are able to serve as carbon and water reservoirs as well as protection against flooding, making them our allies in fighting climate change and acting on climate adaptation. Therefore, they need to be rewetted and protected," Paulus told Euronews.

Elise Vitali, peatlands policy officer at Wetlands International Europe, welcomed the commission’s infringement procedure noting it “sends a clear signal” not only to Ireland but also to all member states to “take peatlands protection very seriously”.

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