Michael Fitzmaurice, T.D. for Roscommon-Galway, has reported that clarity has been secured on the topic of domestic turf cutting from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
With many people in rural areas depending on turf as a fuel source, Fitzmaurice highlighted its need to become an essential service during the current crisis.
The TD liaised with the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) and the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association (TCCA), to submit a proposal in relation to the cutting of domestic turf in the coming weeks.
A spokesperson for the TCCA said “First of all, we would like to thank the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) who took responsibility for liaising with us on this matter and resolving an issue where there was some ambiguity of late.”
“The detailed submission outlined how the cutting of domestic turf could proceed in a safe and effective manner, without any risk to public health.”
“Moving forward, we would ask that all contractors adhere to the criteria that have been agreed upon. Everyone in the country needs to put their shoulder to the wheel to make sure that the crisis we are in at present is brought to an end as soon as possible.”
“Given that the cutting of turf is a seasonal activity, a delay now would have implications further down the line and people may be left without a source of fuel for next winter. It was recently announced that Bord na Mona workers would be classed as essential, and rightly so. They can now continue their work once specific protocols were followed.”
“The essential work carried out by domestic turf cutters and contractors is much less intensive – and the fact that their work can now go ahead unhindered is a relief for many people.”
The National Parks and Wildlife Service commented on the issue, saying “After consulting with the Department of the Taoiseach, the National Parks and Wildlife Service considers that domestic turf cutting on non-designated bogs, with any necessary regulatory consents in place if required, is an agriculture activity to be carried out by essential service providers, under the new public health guidelines, involved indirectly in crop production and related activities.”
“Any service provider engaged in this activity at this time must operate strictly in accordance with the guidance issued by the Department of Health and the HSE in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak such as that physical distancing must be strictly observed while the activity is taking place.”
“The service provider must also act in accordance with any COVID-19 related guidance issued by the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) or the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association (TCCA).”
The service provider, while undertaking the activity, must not be over 70 years of age, must carry a Driving Licence as ID and some indication that he/she engages in the activity e.g. proof of involvement in the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland or the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, the spokesperson added.
“In line with the submission from the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland and the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, it is understood that there is no need for any interaction between a service provider and any customer on any bog at this time and any communication between them will be done by phone.”
As part of the submission formulated by the FCI, the TCCA and Michael Fitzmaurice TD, it was outlined that social distancing would have to be strictly adhered to.
“It is imperative that workers follow the criteria outlined. A domestic turf cutting team is made up of an excavator driver and the operator of the hopper. Both of these workers would be asked to travel in separate vehicles to a bog and to stick to their respective machines. During the course of the day, they would be working in their own cabs with zero personal interaction.”
“Generally, a contractor knows all of their customers, so any business can be conducted over the phone – as well as any communication with the other operator. This would mean that it would not be necessary for people to travel to the bog when the turf is being cut.”
“In line with best practice, operators should place signs on the cabs of their machines instructing others to refrain from touching the door handles etc – similar to what is being carried out by other agricultural contractors.”
“Regarding the practicality of refuelling, a tank of diesel in a machine would generally last for almost two days. This would allow the drivers of the excavator and the hopper to refuel on intermittent days – whilst using disposable gloves. The operation would require zero human interaction or contact.”
“Once strict social distancing guidelines are adhered to and best practice is followed, the possibility of contracting or transmitting the virus would be eliminated,” Fitzmaurice concluded.