The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has rejected claims that observation flights chartered by the organisation were engaged in nosedive-type activity over the houses of turf-cutters near Clonmoylan bog in South Co. Galway.
A spokesperson for the Barroughter and Clonmoylan Bog Action Group contacted the Galway Independent last week claiming that a white plane they believed to be engaged in observation on behalf of the NPWS had nosedived over the house of Seán McGettigan, Looscaun, Woodford on the morning of Thursday, 23 August.
Mr McGettigan, who is currently out of the country, could not be reached for comment, but according to Mr Dermot Moran of the Bog Action Group, the observation plane dropped to such an extent that it was no more than 100 metres from the ground when it passed over Mr McGettigan’s house.
“They circled around the bog on a number of occasions, but, each time they were going out over [Mr McGettigan’s] house. On the third time, they came around, and he was out waving at them to get away from the place, they came down in a nosedive fashion to within, he said, at least 100 feet of the house,” said Mr Moran.
Mr Moran said that the plane was close enough that Mr McGettigan could see the people inside, and the noise was such that his children were “afraid of their life”.
Mr Pat Warner of the NPWS, who is overseeing the observation of the 52 bogs that have been designated Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), said that the NPWS did have a plane flying over Clonmoylan bog on the date in question.
Mr Warner said he was sorry for any inconvenience caused by the flyovers, but denied that the pilot was engaged in any “death defying manoeuvres” and insisted the plane flew no lower than 500 feet, or 150 metres, which is the minimum altitude allowed in such circumstances.
“There was no diving down or anything like that…the pilot would lose his licence doing something like that,” said Mr Warner.
“Obviously, we have no desire to frighten or upset members of the public, but what we’ve got here is a situation where we’re trying to keep an eye on illegal activity. I’m really sorry if there’s been any inconvenience, but we are doing the job in the least in-your-face way we can find of doing it,” he added
Irish aviation rules dictate that, in uncongested areas, an aircraft must not fly closer than 150 metres, or 500 feet to any person, vehicle, vessel or structure, or above the ground or water. Mr Warner said it was necessary to fly at the minimum allowable altitude in order to accurately observe goings on at the bog.
Mr Tony Lane of the Irish Aviation Authority said it was difficult for people on the ground to gauge the height of aircraft overhead.
Meanwhile, Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish has called for the Government to relax its ban on turf cutting, due to the rising cost of fuel and the difficult economic conditions faced by many rural families.
“I am calling on the Government to relax the ban on turf cutting and allow people save turf for private use to heat their homes,” said Deputy Grealish.
“The Government must seek concessions from Europe on this issue and defend the rights of our citizens to continue doing what has been done for generations,” added Deputy Grealish.