Minister of State Ciaran Cannon has hit out at turf cutters after An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny had to be escorted to and from his car by gardaí as he arrived to perform the official re-opening of Abbey Community Centre on Friday.
Decrying what he described as “horrendous, foul-mouthed abuse”, Minister Cannon said the scenes that greeted An Taoiseach were “very, very nasty” and that the gardaí present were concerned for Mr Kenny’s safety.
The Fine Gael Galway East TD, who is Minister of State for Training and Skills, said the protestors were not representative of the people of South-East Galway and were not interested in resolving the dispute over turf-cutting on protected bogs.
When a car carrying An Taoiseach and the Minister of State arrived at Abbey Community Centre on Friday evening, 15 November, the road had been blocked with upwards of 200 protestors, consisting of members of the Barroughter, Clonmoylan and Ardraigue Bog Action Group and members of the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association (TCCA) from bogs in other counties.
The assembled protestors demanded that the Taoiseach exit the vehicle and address them, however, according to Minister Cannon, Mr Kenny decided this was inappropriate, and offered to have a private meeting with representatives of the protestors, an offer that was declined.
The Taoiseach subsequently required a garda escort to push his way through the protestors to fulfil his engagement at the Community Centre.
“They refused that option [of meeting the Taoiseach], which leads me to conclude that they don’t want to talk, they don’t want to negotiate and, ultimately, I don’t know what their aims are here,” said Minister Cannon.
“These people would purport to represent the turf-cutting community in South-East Galway; they don’t,” he added.
Minister Cannon said that alternative representatives from Barroughter and Clonmoylan Bogs had joined a Local Liaison Committee to work with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht towards finding a solution to the protected bogs problem and that the problem would be solved despite the actions of the protestors.
“Ultimately, we’ll arrive at a small group of people for whom compensation or relocation is not an option. We will then go back to the Commissioner and say ‘Look, we’ve solved 98 per cent of the turf owners in Ireland and here’s a small little group in South-East Galway and there genuinely is no other solution other than letting them continue cutting turf for their own domestic use, not on a commercial basis’,” said Mr Cannon.
However, Dermot Moran, spokesperson for the Barroughter, Clonmoylan and Ardraigue Bog Action Group, said that following a statement released last week, in which they called for representatives from the 53 protected bogs to refrain from negotiation with the Government, they had no option but to refuse the Taoiseach’s offer.
“If we went in and met the Taoiseach, we might as well have torn up that statement,” said Mr Moran, adding that the protestors were still very angry over the actions of the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the ‘siege’ which took place at Clonmoylan Bog in June of this year.
Mr Moran also said the Bog Action Group had no interest in accepting Minister Cannon’s invitation to join a Local Liaison Committee.
“We’ll have nothing to do with Ciaran Cannon. The only thing we’ll have to do with Ciaran Cannon, as we made clear the other evening, is make sure he’s never elected again,” he said.