Lawn contractor Mick Maher thought long and hard before bidding on the new backhoe he found at Done Deal, part of a sell-off at an engineering firm that was forced to close.
At €100,000 it was a sizeable investment – but he was heading into peak mowing season, when they would be working flat out from first light for the next eight weeks, and he feared his old, unreliable machine would let them down .
It was available immediately, with no lead time, and Mick decided the excavator was too good a deal to turn down. And while the 72-year-old contractor had no intention of driving it himself – he “didn’t want to be greedy” – it would prove to be an invaluable addition.
The new bog dredge arrived in the back of a truck at Maher’s farm in the picturesque townland of Wood-Of-O (from the old word for yew trees) outside Tullamore, Co Offaly, late Friday evening.
Within three days his seat was still wrapped in clear plastic sheeting as Mick’s livelihood and that of every lawn contractor in the country was hanging dangerously on the edge of a cliff amid news that the sale and distribution of sod peat was to be banned from September.
“We realized the industry was down about five or six years ago, but we never thought it would end up happening overnight. We thought we had time,” he said.
He does the rough math and anticipates 500 customers – all heavily dependent on turf and now deeply concerned about what may lie ahead for them next winter.
“The phone is bouncing, so it’s bouncing with people asking if we’ll have Revier for them. All I can say to them is, ‘We don’t know’.”
At a Zoom meeting on Tuesday night, district chairmen of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) vented their general “anger and frustration” at the decision and at a government they see as “completely out of touch”.
“We can’t take any more of this,” a source said. “With the whole climate debate, you kind of feel like the farmers are being blamed, and it’s coming from all sides.”
“There are people in rural Ireland who would like to switch to green energy if they could afford it and if the right incentives were in place,” said Tim Farrell, ICSA Chair for Rural Development.
“Blaming each individual for helping family members, neighbors and friends keep their homes warm is a step too far, especially with soaring energy costs.”
On Wednesday night, a heated meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party ended with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar assuring members that the ban would be “parked for the time being” and that it would be like telling those who cut and sell peat that they should French can’t drink wine or Italians can’t eat pasta”.
On Thursday, Eamon Ryan insisted the ban would apply.
This was warmly welcomed yesterday by the Climate and Health Alliance – a group made up of public health organizations and stakeholders across the island. speaker dr Colm Byrne said domestic burning of smoky fuels is the main source of air pollution and is responsible for the majority of the more than 1,400 air pollution deaths in Ireland each year.
“The ban on turf sales, as proposed by the Minister in the upcoming solid fuel legislation, is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Dr. byrne
“Burning fuels at home has a hugely detrimental impact on the nation’s health – with children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases being the hardest hit.
“The fact is, sitting in front of an open fire exposes you to levels of toxic fumes similar to those found in rush-hour transportation hubs.”
But it is clear that this debacle is far from over.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not in the government program,” said Longford Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy. “We didn’t agree to that as a party and personally I know I won’t agree to that. This goes a step too far and is an attack on rural heritage. We are in the middle of an energy crisis and we have to be realistic. If this continues, there would be a lot of cold houses next winter.”
The cherry red Stanley Range Cooker in Mick Maher’s kitchen exudes an even, soothing warmth. Over tea and apple pie with local customers Ollie Larkin and John Larkin and retired Daingean Bord na Móna man Seamus Behan, the men discussed the inevitability of protests.
“I’d like to get Eamon Ryan running,” Seamus explained. “I don’t think he appreciates the situation.
“He thinks people burn turf because they like burning turf – if I had a choice, I’d burn oil because it’s easier.
“If there were an alternative, you could speak a different language. But it’s all a matter of finances – people wouldn’t burn peat if they didn’t need it. And many homes are not designed to be retrofitted.”
He knows of a neighbor who installed a new wood pellet stove six weeks ago but couldn’t get any pellets.
Mick shared how he developed his Moor based on a grant given by Charlie Haughey during the 1980s oil crisis. Energy Secretary George Colley told the Dáil in 1981: “The increasing scarcity and cost of imported energy makes it imperative that our domestic energy resources be used as fully and effectively as possible.”
Shaking his head, Mick says: “Now there’s another oil crisis and they’re doing the opposite.”
Most of his customers order a load of 15 tons of turf, which costs around 2,200 euros – almost half of which is due to taxes, including the CO2 tax. But the safety of stocking up the shed for the winter cannot be underestimated.
For the contractor, a September suspension would mean “four full-time positions gone and eight part-time positions at the height of the season. I would retire and my son Nigel would have to start from scratch and do something else.” The €1million worth of machinery would have to be scrapped, the excavators would have to be sold, but the old Irish-made Teva hoppers that do the Forming lawns into lawns would be superfluous immediately.
For Ollie and John Larkin, it could mean “cutting with the Slane” in their own swamp again when they can no longer rely on the ease of Mick’s machine to do it for them.
“I can’t think of a retrofit at this point,” said Ollie.
Both brothers believe that the generation that burns the lawn should be phased out. “Younger people don’t burn lawns — in a lot of counties you can’t even get planning permission to put a chimney up,” he said.
Timber isn’t the solution either, says Seamus, opening up about the difficulty of getting logging rights in his 60-acre forest, adding that supply would also be an issue.
Outside in the yard, fitters Pat McEvoy from Portlaoise, his son Pat Jr and grandson Ciaran, 15, are getting ready for the lawn mowing season which starts on Monday. A quarter of their business each year is in the turf industry.
Amidst the uncertainty, Mick and his team prepare to break the stillness of the moor one more time, perhaps for the last time.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/therell-be-a-lot-of-cold-homes-next-winter-if-this-turf-ban-goes-ahead-41558059.html “There will be a lot of cold houses next winter when this turf ban is in place”