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 Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State and Mr. Lucas for coming in. I am fully aware that at the time no Department would take it up and they and their Department were essentially lumped with it. There is a serious concern here for a simple reason. We had a person in from the Department with responsibility for climate and they were the most arrogant person ever to come before a committee. They basically said straight out that part of the solution is going to be importing peat. Anyone with any environmental brain in their head will know bringing peat 200 km to a boat, 3,000 km on the boat and then having 200 lorry loads of it going up and down the country is complete lunacy. I know everyone wants to get in questions fairly quickly. We need clarity on this. We are dancing from report to report. It is not the Minister of State's fault. Earlier Deputy Kehoe mentioned the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. He is in the Department with responsibility for the environment. He has the authority to bring planning forward if need be and it would be helpful if that was done. Substitute consent in the quarries has been a disaster.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, whether there is a commitment one way or the other in Government on harvesting next April. Nobody is going to harvest it now for the winter; there is no point. The Government now has a window of seven months to get this solved. As Deputy Flaherty asked earlier, will the Government give a commitment to the people who need to harvest this by next April? I understand from the working group that everyone is in agreement we must do it until 2030 or maybe 2035, as the Minister of State has outlined. Is there a commitment from Government that for the harvest season starting April next year, people will be able to go out to save this industry? That is my first question.

Mr. Lucas will be familiar with my second question. I have worked with him for years and, as the man says, I cannot commend him well enough, in fairness to him. We did a system for certain bogs where we picked areas out - Mr. Lucas will be able to give me an answer on this - and you looked at the up-welling and did all the scientific work. Mr. Ray Flynn, who all the witnesses probably know, was involved in it. You basically showed there was an area of the bog that would not be worth restoring, to put it simply. Is there a process like that which could be brought in? To Mr. Lucas specifically, what if these people picked out, say, a 50 ha plot and said they were going to do that 50 ha this year, keep men in there and then go to another place and revamp that? Are there not solutions like that which can be done to ensure we keep the consistency of supply to resolve this problem?

My third question is for the Minister of State. It is not associated with this and he may not know about it. I raise the issue of the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, where natural heritage areas, NHAs, were to be in category 2. Many farmers who want to plant trees are held up at the moment because of a Bill that fell in the previous Dáil that was to come in before Christmas of this year, I think. Is getting that resolved on the agenda?


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