Minister of State with responsibility for Horticulture Pippa Hackett faced intense criticism today (Wednesday, November 9), during a meeting of an Oireachtas committee which discussed issues around horticultural peat harvesting and supplies.

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine expressed their disappointment and frustration at the lack of progress on the issue, with Senator Regina Doherty labelling the minister’s contributions “a masterclass in procrastination”.

A lack of peat harvesting in Ireland has left supplies extremely low, which is putting many operators in the industry at risk of going out of business.

Following a High Court ruling in 2019, harvesting horticultural peat from bogs greater than 30ha requires a complex, multi-stage licensing and planning regime, unlike the single-stage systems in EU states.

At the outset of the meeting, the minister presented a report by Seamus Boland of Irish Rural Link, which outlines how the horticultural sector can be supported in dealing with this issue.

It cites a lack of engagement by those in the sector with the planning process, however, members present stated that why that is must be looked at.

Senator Doherty called for a change to the system, stating that that “this process is so complex that nobody can get through it”.

“We’re killing the single most climate friendly industry in this country by our inaction and that’s on our watch,” she stated.

She asked the minister if she has requested that her colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLH), and the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), who share the responsibility for this problem, consider changing the legislation to a single-consent mechanism.

Minister Hackett did not confirm if she has done so, but said that “flicking the switch and changing the law is not the answer to this problem” and that believing it is is “very simplistic”.

“There is a legal process in place, peat extraction has not been banned, there is no need to change the legislation.

“Most of the extractors have not engaged with the process, nobody said that you can’t do it,” she added.

The committee’s chair Deputy Jackie Cahill also expressed his frustration during the meeting and stated:

“Minister, you are not listening, the industry is telling us that they cannot get licenses. They have engaged and they can’t get licenses through the system.

“You are presiding over an industry that is going to go out of business because we are failing to get licenses out,” he said.

Deputy Cahill closed the meeting by stating that the committee will be inviting Boland, who authored the report to attend a meeting, and encouraged Minister Hackett to communicate with her colleagues in the other departments involved on the issue.