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 Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

There are thousands of jobs at risk. In his opening remarks the Minister of State indicated he recognised the importance of these jobs to the rural economy and rural communities. He also said he was disappointed at the importation witnessed today.

Does the Minister of State accept that, at present, there is no alternative to the extraction of peat for many sectors of the horticultural industry? I refer, as I have done on multiple occasions, to the mushroom industry which is of particular importance in my constituency. Stockpiles are close to exhausted. There is sub-30 ha harvesting under what can only be described as confused structures that even those harvesting do not believe can meet demand. Alternatives do not exist. Even where there are limited options like coir from India and Sri Lanka, they themselves create environmental concerns. Take it as a given we want to protect our bogs, the biodiversity they have and we want to see an alternative to peat use. On the other hand we also want to see viable rural communities and economies based on them.

We should bear in mind this is the seventh ship entering the island of Ireland because there have been others to Belfast and that product has made its way down. We now have a situation where huge shiploads are being imported into Ireland. Each of these shiploads involve 200 trucks transporting peat from where it is harvested in the Baltic to a port there, then a 3,000 km sea journey to Ireland where a further 200 trucks meet the ship to unload the peat and deliver it to Irish plants to be processed. We can compare that to journeys in Ireland for peat production, which were as short as 10 km on average. Does the Minister of State accept this is an absolute failure on his part and on the part of his Department and the Government?

The first three people who uttered, in my presence, that importation was to be the alternative were the Minister of State himself, the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. This was not just an accident we should all be surprised about. This was the strategy. We would eliminate the extraction of peat in Ireland to create the facade we were doing something on environmental protection but we would, on the most hypocritical basis, then allow these shipments to arrive.

I agree with the Minister of State on one point. It is nothing short of a scandal that a State-owned company, Bord na Móna, was for over two decades exporting hundreds and thousands of tonnes of peat, knowing as it did that this crisis was likely to emerge. Nobody said "Stop" when that was happening and now we have a situation where for the next decade or so we will see the importation of what is primarily water. The shipments coming in are 80% water because the peat must be wet for sectors like mushroom production.

My two questions are as follows. How is it that Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and other countries are able to put in place legislative frameworks allowing for the extraction of peat in those countries while remaining in line with EU law while we are not? The Minister of State as mentioned the second issue. The only viable alternative to the importation of peat is for Government to introduce a single-stage application process that would allow the harvesting of horticultural peat to meet the domestic needs of the sector in a sustainable way. This would allow us to manage, monitor and enforce the environmental regulations. The Minister of State has acknowledged the need for legislation, which would need to be primary legislation. What steps have been taken within his Department to prepare that legislation? Considering the number of emergency laws that have been passed over the last 18 months, surely it is not beyond our capabilities to prepare such legislation quickly, speedily and efficiently so that we can protect core jobs for rural economies that have very few others.


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