Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Climate Action Plan and its Implications for the Agriculture Sector: Discussion (Resumed)

Mr. Ian Lumley:

One of the major messages of the coalition document is that we need to see a lot more horticulture and import substitution at commercial level, and right down to domestic and individual garden level. I am very pleased that a major initiative we have for the months ahead, as we come out of Covid, is a community awareness scheme to get people outdoors, preferably walking and cycling, to appreciate nature and bring nature home. Ireland has a very high proportion of people with gardens, both in urban and rural areas, and balconies, where there is also potential to grow more food crops. That is a major initiative we will promote in the summer.

The peat issue is hugely complex. I am one of the non-governmental organisation representatives on the working group on this matter that was set up by the Department with the industry. We have had four half-day intensive sessions and a document is going to the Minister today with recommendations. Interestingly, mushroom compost or substrate is only part of the much larger picture of peat. A major use of peat is in garden plants and compost, rather than the food side. This presents an enormous opportunity. Senator Lynn Boylan would have experience of that in the promotion of Ballymun composting scheme to substitute the current use of peat compost, whether it is in potted plants or bags in garden centres, for other composting sources. Cré, the representative body for organic composting, has advanced a submission on this issue. I read it this morning and it will go to the Minister. We very much want to play our part in the solution in moving away from peat horticulture. It is a recognition of a transition. In certain categories, a lot more research will be needed before an alternative can be found, whereas in other categories of peat use, substitution is much more easily achieved, particularly at the domestic garden level. We are working very actively in that area, which Senator Boylan will be pleased to hear.

On the education unit, one of the things that is being promoted is school gardens but they are only possible in some locations. We are really interested in moving way beyond schools into wider community engagement. This will involve community gardens and promoting more interaction and engagement at community level. We did a pilot project in west Limerick through the Living Limerick initiative in which we engaged with Tidy Towns groups and community associations on issues such as enhancing towns and villages by being more nature-friendly. That means having less mown grass and more areas devoted to wildflower meadows that would attract pollinators, which are so important for sustaining natural systems.

I agree with Senator Boyhan that An Taisce is associated with legal cases and complaints. That is because, in our advocacy role, we need to look in both directions. There is public engagement but we have national and European legal obligations that are not being met or enforced in Ireland. We do not want to be involved but, inevitably, in cases where greenhouse gases, ammonia or water quality have not been properly addressed, we get involved in submissions or legal actions. It is not just us, however. There has just been a major judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany, following one in the Netherlands, which will have major implications for the agricultural sector in Germany, both on climate and water. There are growing legal actions across Europe, including potentially in Ireland, on air quality and citizens' rights to clean air and clean water. All sectors - agriculture, transport and everybody else - need to face up to the fact that we have signed up to international commitments. If they are not enforced and if the sectors do not co-operate in achieving those ambitions, there will be legal actions. We would prefer if that were not the case.