Agriculture committee to scrutinise blanket ban on peat production

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine is to spend the next two weeks scrutinising the Bord na Móna decision to impose a blanket ban on the production of peat in Ireland.

Committee chairman, deputy Jackie Cahill, confirmed that the committee will call stakeholders affected by this decision over the coming weeks, including Bord na Móna, to appear in front of the committee.

Discussions will focus on the impact of the cessation of peat production on the horticulture, mushroom growing and nursery industries, among others.

Deputy Cahill said he fully recognises the need to move away from peat production – but questions the economic and environmental efficiency of importing the same raw product from the other side of Europe in its place.

The TD also highlighted the concerns of landowners with lands adjacent to bogs that are set to be rewet and will be seeking a guarantee than any such rewetting will not have an adverse effect on adjacent lands.

Deputy Cahill said: “As chairperson of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee, we have decided that the next two meetings will be dedicated to peat and problems emanating from Bord na Móna’s decision to impose a blanket ban on the production of peat in this country.

He described a “ludicrous situation developing where we have to import peat as a raw material for native industries like horticulture, mushroom growing, nurseries, etc. from the far side of the continent”, as a result of a decision to cease all peat production here in Ireland.

Highlighting that he’d heard of “fuel merchants importing peat and briquettes from Germany”, the TD said that, if this is the case, “common sense has completely and utterly gone out the window here.”

If we continued to harvest peat on just 1.75% of all Irish bogs, we would give be able to produce enough raw materials to meet the necessary domestic demand for the horticulture, mushroom growing and nursery industries.

“Surely, to keep those industries cost competitive is a priority and importing peat from Estonia is both economically and environmentally harmful.

“It appears to be a lose-lose situation in terms of the environmental footprint and the economic inefficiency,” he contended.

“While we fully accept that we have to move away from fossil fuel production and the cutting of bogs in the battle against climate change, surely we need a transitional arrangement to ensure that these environmentally-friendly industries are protected.

We might just be moving too fast here and doing more harm than good in the process.

The chairman claimed that, according to environmental scientists, cutting bogs to a certain depth “has no impact on the ability of a bog to sequester carbon”.

“Burning of fossil fuels has to come to an end as a priority – but we have stakeholders from these industries asking legitimate questions about how other parts of Europe continue the production of peat for these specific purposes and yet Ireland has ceased,” he noted.

“These questions will be asked at committee and I will ensure that we push for clear, credible answers on this very important topic.

We, as an Oireachtas Committee with legislative oversight, will then go to the minister and the department with recommendations in the hopes that common sense prevails.”

Reverting the topic of rewetting of bogs and landowner worries, he said:

Landowners with lands adjacent to bogs that are set to be rewet are concerned about such a move having a negative impact on their own land. We understand the environmental benefits of this practice, but these landowners need guarantees that this will not impact their lands.

“Bord na Móna must be asked to guarantee that rewetting bogs as planned will not have adverse consequences for neighbouring lands,” deputy Cahill concluded.