Restrictions on harvesting horticultural peat have been branded a “fiasco” by independent TD, Sean Canney, as he highlighted the negative environmental impact of increased peat imports to the country.

“The reality of restricting the harvesting of horticultural peat in Ireland before a viable alternative was in place has raised issues around the difficult situation this policy raises for the horticulture industry and the lack of planning in implementing government’s climate action policies,” he said.

The restrictions have led to the recent importation of a shipment of 3,600t of horticultural peat to meet the demand of Irish horticultural growers in the absence of any viable alternative, the TD said.

“It is extremely unfortunate that Ireland is now dependent on imported horticultural peat. While the 3,600t imported last week was one of the first to come into a port south of the border, six such shipments for the Irish market have been brought onto the island in the last seven weeks – and this is low-demand season,” he said.

In highlighting the environmental toll of such imports, he explained that each shipment requires 200 trucks to deliver peat to the port for loading, each ship travels 3,000km and, once in Ireland, a further 200 trucks are required to unload each shipment.

“The negative environmental consequences of importing horticultural peat are obvious to all but a few. Yet just 0.12% of total Irish peatlands were used for horticultural peat.

“It is typical of a decision being made to end production of a product badly need in our country without an alternative plan to supply the market being put in place,” he said.

“As it is now an accepted fact that no viable alternatives will be available for a decade to meet the demand of the Irish horticultural sector such shipments are likely to be a fortnightly and perhaps weekly reality for years to come.

“The additional cost of importing horticultural peat will also have a direct impact on the price horticultural growers will have to pay for this vital ingredient and the cost the consumer will have to pay for Irish fruit and vegetables grown in imported horticultural peat.

He added that introducing a fair and workable licensing system to allow for the phasing out of horticultural peat harvesting over a transition period to 2030 is essential.

This would allow for alternatives to be developed and would ensure that there is a secure supply of growing media during that period.

Calls to publish report

Meanwhile, calls persist for Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan, to publish a report into this issue.

The report was completed by a working group set up my Minister Noonan to “assist in addressing the important issues around horticultural peat for domestic purposes”.

It was submitted to the minister at the end of October and has yet to be made public.