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 welcome the Minister of State and his officials. I do not want to repeat some of what the other speakers have stated but I fully concur with their thoughts on this issue. I know we are all very interested in the green agenda, but I can tell the Minister of State that it is getting a huge amount of negativity since we are not able to sort out what I believe is a small issue but a major issue to an awful lot of people out there in the indigenous horticulture and nursery sectors. A short-term measure is needed to look after the horticulture and nursery sectors because of the sudden end of harvesting here. What is needed is for us to have a practical approach to this and to be able to harvest a small amount of peat that is needed for a huge industry but a very minor industry in the scheme of things. It is a very important industry to all of us.
As an island nation, Ireland is exposed to a huge number of risks, including disease, by importing peat. We have seen that with ash dieback. I am not sure whether the Minister of State and his Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have taken this into consideration. I understand there is a suggestion that there is a need for a change to legislation for a very common-sense solution here. I do not want to finger-point - I understand the Green Party is in government and that my party is in government with the Green Party - but I would suggest there is an unwillingness on the part of the Minister of State as a member of the Green Party and on the Green Party as members of the Government to have this practical change to legislation. We see the green agenda coming down the tracks and fast approaching us. If we were to do something small for this sector, I assure the Minister of State that the Government would get a huge amount of goodwill from other sectors. A common-sense approach is needed.
We hear that 4,000 tonnes arrived into Ireland on Saturday morning, involving 200 trucks travelling 3,000 km. What does that do for carbon emissions? If we try to sell peat, it is almost like selling sand to the Arabs. We can sell peat to everybody, but importing it does not make sense on this occasion. I have great respect for and support the green agenda, but we have a very small agenda here that we have to look after as well. I know the Minister of State will probably ask what else will come down the tracks if we look after this small industry. I think most people understand carbon credits and the green agenda that faces us.
I was contacted by the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, about Kelly's Nursery, in Streamstown, near Mullingar. Some other Deputies from the midlands might be very well aware of Kelly's. It had a recent inspection, there was a positive result for a disease and plants within an exclusion zone of 2 m around all the plants that were found to be positive had to be destroyed. If a disease comes in with the imported peat, what sort of financial package will be available for that? We have seen this with ash dieback and in other areas. I feel there is a common-sense approach to be taken, and Deputy Noonan is a common-sense Minister of State. I have known him for many years. He and his officials, along with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, have to see a common-sense approach here.