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 Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I will take those three members' questions together if that is okay, Chairman. I will make an initial comment to address Deputy Flaherty, Senator Boyhan and Deputy Kehoe about this being the green agenda. It is not the green agenda; it is the law. That is the reality of this. My Department, which has responsibility for heritage, has no role in this except in the sense that the peatlands strategy, specifically recommendation No. 5 of the strategy, was to establish this working group to look at alternatives. We took up that challenge in September 2020 and acted very swiftly to do that not long after forming the Government. We tasked Dr. Prasad and the working group to look at alternatives. I assure the committee members they are working flat out to try to achieve that and to look at those alternatives.

Excuse me if I am skipping some of the questions. Senator Boyhan raised the issue of my stating that the timeframe for finding a solution is 2030 to 2035. That is the recommendation of the interim report, not my recommendation. I said at the outset of this that my preferred option was not to import peat. I saw the report in The Irish Timestoday and it is disheartening. Peat has been imported but, historically, there have also been significant quantities of peat exported from this country. The reality is that it is a commodity. I am taking on board the issue of a biohazard and the challenges surrounding importation of peat.

I will go through the other questions quickly because I want to try to allow in all the members. In response to Deputy Flaherty's comments on hope, I am saying the whole of the Government is putting all its effort into this. I spoke to the Taoiseach about this last week and he is very concerned and wants to seek a resolution, but we have to act within the law. Even moving towards a single consent regime will not get us there any faster because it will require primary legislation. As for a route forward, we are trying to seek a short-term and medium-term solution. In my view, a longer term solution around alternatives has to be brought about more quickly than 2030 because of the significant challenges surrounding climate and biodiversity but also to provide assurance to the sector. I hope I have addressed that.

As for the imported peat, I have addressed the point Senator Boyhan raised. As I said, there is a significant carbon impact of importation of peat and the vehicles required to transport it. There is no doubt about that. As I said, however, peat is imported and exported, and one of the solutions that had been put forward is importation. It would have been much easier to seek a solution in Ireland and to be able to use Irish peat but, as I said, we are locked within the existing law. If Mr. Brian Lucas is with us, and I thank him because I know he has been before the committee on a number of occasions and has been a great asset in trying to steer us through the legal challenges, he might address specifically the issue of the current dual consent and moving towards a possible single consent regime. The committee has probably heard about that already. The challenges in that regard are significant as well. I will hand over to Mr. Lucas on that.


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