Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Impact of Peat Shortages on the Horticultural Industry: Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for coming in. I am aware our peatlands are an important ecosystem. I was lucky enough to grow up in the bog and I am lucky enough to still live on the edge of the bog. I value and appreciate what the bog did for us as a young family when we were growing up. I am appreciative of the people who worked on the bogs of Ireland over the years.

We were warned time and again that we would end up importing peat. We were warned time and again that just transition was going to fail the midlands. My phone was pinging from early this morning. The Irish Timesis not widely circulated in Longford but the story quickly made the rounds. Former Bord na Móna employees and peat producers were aghast to learn of the massive importation of peat into County Louth at the weekend. Some 3,600 tonnes of peat travelled 3,000 km from Latvia. Similar if not better quality peat could have been extracted from bogland no more than ten to 15 miles away and could have been brought on 10 km journeys. We are now being told by Growing Media Ireland, which represents the peat producers, that we are going to need at least two shipments the size of what arrived into the country last Saturday to meet Ireland's peat demands for the foreseeable future. As I say, there is great anger out there, not only with the Department Housing, Local Government and Heritage but also with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan. We have had 11 meetings of the working group at this stage and yet we have seen no actions emanating from the interim report that was submitted in May.

Peat producers are aghast, disillusioned and disappointed. They looked for a fair, equitable and workable licensing system that would have enabled them to extract peat. Everybody within the sector accepts there is a short lifespan left for the sector. As the Minister of State rightly said, that lifespan may end in 2030 or may extend to 2035. I appreciate the Minister of State is only here for a short while but we need to see some message of hope and positivity, and some degree of certainty, going out to these peat producers because the midlands, the heart of Ireland in terms of bogland and energy production over the past 60 years, has lost faith in the just transition process. Bord na Móna and the ESB have ridden roughshod over the region at this stage. It must be said we are rapidly losing faith in the Minister of State's Department and, as I said earlier, in the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan.

I have three questions to ask before I hand over to my colleagues. What hope can the Minister of State give us today that I can relay to the peat producers, many of whom are logged in and watching his contribution? What reassurance can I give those producers, their families and employees that their sector is not going to be written off, that it is going to get a lifeline that will enable them to continue producing to 2030 or 2035? Will the Minister of State tell us definitively whether there will be a route forward for the sector?

Bord na Móna withdrew its seven applications from An Bord Pleanála at the start of the year, leaving two live applications, both of which are from a local producer, Klasmann Deilmann, which is just up the road from me in Rathowen. There is surely an opportunity there for some of the Department officials to liaise with An Bord Pleanála and to prioritise and, it is hoped, get those two applications over the line to allow the producer to start extracting that peat to try to head off the absolute folly whereby we imported more than 200 truckloads into our country last Saturday, something we are going to repeat twice every month.


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