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
I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. I, too, want to reference today's edition of The Irish Times. There were two articles relating to these matters. My phone was hopping at 9 o'clock in response to those articles. The timescale to find a practical and ecological alternative to peat must be reasonable and realistic. I am not sure the times the Minister of State has set out to 2030 or 2035 are realistic, sustainable or appropriate given the difficulties faced by the mushroom industry and horticultural propagation sector, with which I know the Minister of State is familiar.
The Minister of State referred to the target date of 2030 with a maximum target date of 2035. That means ten to 14 years to phase out the use of peat in the Irish horticultural industry. We are, in effect, going to importing peat for the next 14 years, according to the logic the Minister of State has set out, while research is done on replacing peat with an alternative. Of the 3,600 tonnes of peat imported from Latvia last week, what purification, if any, was carried out on this important product? That is an important question. What controls are being put in place for the by-product of this imported peat? That is particularly relevant if we have not addressed the issue of purification. The cost of importing peat could be up to three times that of sourcing it domestically. Consumers will have to absorb that cost in their pockets and that is a concern.
What about the countries that are exporting their peat and their carbon stores? We live in the European Union. We have heard time and again in recent debates on climate action and the challenges around all that about solidarity with our neighbours in the European Union and how we are all in this together. We have to address that. It is not good enough to say we have a different requirement. We have our neighbours in the European Union. The Minister of State has his fellow activists and party members across many of the states of the European Union. We need to address those issues.
I would like to hear the Minister of State's response. I do not doubt his commitment to biodiversity and peatlands conservation and restoration - I share those ambitions and concerns with him - but we have to be realistic about timelines for the phasing out of peat and we have to have a successful, viable and commercial alternative, and we simply have no idea when that will happen.