The separate trials of two turf-cutters, charged with cutting turf on protected bogland in east Galway nine years ago, collapsed on Wednesday 2 November at Galway Circuit Criminal Court when the State decided not to prosecute them.

Patrick Lavin, from Mullen, Frenchpark, Co Roscommon, and Thomas Ward, from Gort an tSléibhe, Claregalway, Co Galway, had always indicated since first being brought before the courts in 2015 that they would be pleading not guilty to a charge of cutting turf on a protected bog near Ballymoe on the Galway-Roscommon border on 28 June 2013.

“It is not the intention of the prosecution to call any evidence and I’m instructed to enter a nolle prosequi in both cases. A jury for both will no longer be required,” Mr Conall MacCarthy, prosecuting counsel for the State, informed the packed courtroom.

“There is no longer a prosecution against you and you are free to go. Have a good day,” Judge Brian O’Callaghan told both men.

A group of 15 supporters, led by Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, waited in the courthouse lobby for both men to emerge from the courtroom.

Afterwards, on the sheltered steps of the nearby town hall, Deputy Fitzmaurice held his own court, surrounded by his cheering supporters.

Scathing attack

First of all, he said he and the group welcomed the State’s decision not to prosecute the turf-cutters.

He then launched a scathing attack on EU bureaucrats, whom, he said, were not even elected representatives, but who were dictating to the Irish people by intervening in the real progress that had been made over the last five years between the State working in partnership with rural dwellers.

And he warned that if Europe continued to interfere, then the progress that has been made over the last five years would be jeopardised with people "returning to the trenches".

He said that, in recent years, there had been “huge engagement” with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and that engagement would continue, as it was the most important in helping to resolve the issues surrounding the cutting of turf.

Winners or losers

“This isn’t a day for winners or losers. These are ordinary people that basically defend their piece of bog or their turf-cutting rights. In fairness to the National Parks - they have engaged constructively with us.

“That will continue and I think Europe should look at the amount of engagement and the progress that has been made over the last five years in resolving these issues.

“I think Europe should forget about all these reasoned opinions and the things they are talking about and watch when people are working constructively together how you can achieve what everybody needs."


When asked if he was surprised that these particular cases went back to 2013, Fitzmaurice replied: “For anyone who followed the turf-cutting scenario, it even goes back further in a lot of other cases.

“The habitats directive was signed, unfortunately, without people knowing, by our now president Michael D Higgins in around 1997/98.

"Since then, without the ordinary people on the ground knowing what was gong on, a lot of decisions have been made. Thankfully, since 2016, the ordinary turf-cutters right around this country have made a lot of sacrifices.

“I know this isn’t a day for one or other being up or down, this is a day when we move forward over the coming months and the coming years and I think the likes of Europe should take note that when you’re working together, they shouldn’t be sending letters back to the Irish State for reasoned opinion, that is very important to highlight."


When asked what compromises turf-cutters would eventually have to arrive at with the National Parks, Fitzmaurice said: “It’s not just about compromise. We’ve worked together for the last five years.

"If you look at the amount of bogs when we started off, it was 53 bogs - there’s 14 bogs at the moment that we’re putting solutions together for four to five more of them at the moment.

“We have found relocation bogs, we have science done as well on bogs that are more difficult. Every bog is different, there is no one size that fits all.

“But what is very important to highlight is that the ordinary people in the back roads and the byroads of rural Ireland are very committed to making sure that resolutions are found.

Sad day

"It would be a sad day if a foreign, so-called - they are unelected to be honest about it - these people who are sending reasoned opinions over, be it commissioners or bureaucrats - if they send over reasoned opinions to Ireland that would put us back to that.

"We do not want that and in fairness, the National Parks do not want that and it would be a sad day if Europe was to be the cause of that, which they are shaping up to be at the moment, unfortunately,” Deputy Fitzmaurice said to loud applause and cheers.