‘Legal limbo’ over harvesting of peat moss for horticulture – Cahill

Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill has said stakeholders have been left in ‘legal limbo’ in relation to the harvesting of peat moss for the horticulture industry.

6,600 people are directly employed by the horticulture harvesting of peat moss industry with a further 11,000 employed indirectly.

Deputy Cahill told the Dáil that many of the jobs are based in the midlands which has been hit by industry closures and increasing unemployment.

He said: “In 2018, the Irish horticulture industry had a farmgate value of €437 million; it had exports of €239 million; its employment value was just shy of €500 million at €497 million.

“Sectors supported by this include mushroom growing, vegetables, fruits, nursery stock and tree saplings.

Its cost base will be greatly impacted by the proposed changes and would put all these businesses under significant pressure.

“The work this industry does has very little environmental impact in the grand scheme of things. Only 0.4% of total Irish peatlands are used for horticulture peat harvesting,” Cahill added.

Current legislation prohibits all peatland owners including Bord na Móna from carrying out any work on bogs until planning permission is granted and a valid licence is secured.

All peat harvesting ceased in June 2020.

The Tipperary deputy said: “As a result of this, GMI [Growing Media Ireland] and the industry are now in complete legal limbo as to whether they can harvest peat moss for the industry and failure to do so will result in this industry collapsing in the very near future.”

Cahill told the minister that if the issue is not addressed, Ireland will run out of a peat moss supply by July 2021 and called for a “common sense'” approach.

It’s laughable in the extreme to say that we would import peat into Ireland.

In response, Minister of State for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett said her colleague Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government Malcolm Noonan would set up an independent working group to assess the impacts on the sector.

She said the role of chairperson of the working group has been advertised and the deadline for applications for the job is November 23.

Minister Hackett said: “The bottom line is the sector is going to have to transition away from peat. We will not have an endless supply of peat even if we wanted to continue with extraction.

“My own department is actively looking at alternatives to peat and while there are, not yet, any suitable or viable alternatives for mushroom casing, my department is currently funding two research projects that have been commissioned by Ireland’s mushroom producer organisation, CMP.

“I do look forward to a healthy and vibrant horticulture sector going forward,” the minister concluded.