The Green Party is likely to find itself in conflict with its coalition partners for the second time in a week, this time over the phasing out of horticultural peat.
Within days of Green leader Eamon Ryan backing down over his stance on a proposed new road in Moyross, Limerick, the party has found itself at odds with its coalition colleagues over peat products that are used for gardening and for commercial horticultural use.
Bord na Móna’s decision to end all peat harvesting, in addition to onerous planning requirements for peat extraction, have resulted in a crisis in peat gardening products which might see stocks running out this year.
Government backbench TDs, including the chair of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee Jackie Cahill (Fianna Fáil) have claimed it could bring the multi-million horticulture and mushroom industries to their knees with the resultant loss of thousands of jobs. They have claimed that two Green Ministers, Mr Ryan and Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan, need to act urgently to avert the crisis but have yet to respond.
Mr Cahill said it made no environmental sense to replace peat with products that caused more environmental damage. “It’s just ridiculous. We were told there would be a transition period. We were also told there would be a home-produced substitute. That has not happened.”
The Roscommon-Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice agreed. “The end of peat means there are two shiploads of substitutes coming in every week. It’s crazy.”
Representatives from the horticulture and mushroom industries will tell the committee on Tuesday the crisis is imminent.
Growing Media Ireland, which represents peat producers, has claimed the “horticultural sector faces an almost immediate shutdown. Most Irish substrate manufacturers will exhaust existing stockpiles of peat by the middle of 2021, which will lead to a shutdown of the entire horticultural sector.”
It says planning laws need to be changed to allow extraction to take place, claiming it involves only 0.12 per cent of total Irish peatlands under production.
Representatives of commercial mushroom growers will tell the committee that 35 per cent of all fresh mushrooms sold in the UK market come from the island of Ireland and the industry was worth €125 million.
Irish mushrooms are completely dependent on a “peat casing” for growth.
The representatives will tell the committee that “despite extensive global research to date, no viable alternative to peat-based mushroom casing has been commercialised and without mushroom casing no mushrooms can be produced”.
Mr Noonan is setting up a cross-departmental group which will report in April on how the horticulture and mushroom industries will transition away from peat dependence.
His colleague, Limerick TD Brian Leddin, is a member of the Agriculture Committee and said Mr Noonan and the Greens were fully supportive of both industries and would work to find solutions for the transition and for long-term substitutes that would be sustainable and feasible for all. He said the industries would not be ignored but added that substitutes would be necessary for the long term.
“The reality is that, in the long term, we cannot have a situation where we are extracting peat and causing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mr Leddin.