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Government to oppose bill that would allow for horticultural peat harvesting

Minister Noonan told the Seanad a solution can be found to the issue, but that the government will be opposing this bill

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2 December 2021 | 0

The government will oppose a bill that would allow temporary peat extraction for horticultural purposes, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Malcolm Noonan has said.

Under the bill, which was introduced to the Seanad last week, the extraction of Irish peat for horticultural use would be allowed.

The Horticultural Peat (Temporary Measures) Bill 2021, which was introduced by Fine Gael senator Regina Doherty and Fianna Fáil senator Robbie Gallagher as part of a Just Transition, in an effort to end the horticultural sector’s reliance on expensive imported peat as a means of growing produce.

The bill outlines specific provisions for peat extraction for a temporary period after no sufficient alternative to Irish peat could be found as a horticultural growing medium.

Speaking in the Seanad yesterday (01/12/21), Minister Noonan told the Seanad a solution can be found to the issue, but that the government will be opposing this bill.

“The concerns that people have for the horticulture industry are valid,” he said. “However, while I believe that this Bill is well intentioned, as others have identified, any proposals that we bring forward to address these concerns must be in compliance with Ireland’s obligations under the environmental impact assessment and habitats directives.

“Otherwise, we will find ourselves in breach of European law, and potentially back in a situation where the legislation would not withstand a challenge in the courts. That is not where any of us wish to be.

The minister said his department has “received initial legal advice on the bill from the Office of the Attorney General, which has indicated that there are serious legal issues with the Bill in terms of EU environmental law. We must take those concerns very seriously, but we also have to work together to find solutions for the domestic horticultural industry. That is what the government is working to achieve.”

Minister Noonan added that the publication of a highly anticipated report on peat alternatives in Ireland which is being put together by a working group on horticultural peat is expected to be published shortly.

The report is expected to identify possible alternatives to peat and to outline the research required to produce commercially effective alternatives for the horticulture sector. The report was initially scheduled to be published by the end of September.

“This report will be brought in a memorandum to the government very shortly – I understand it will be next week – accompanied by a series of additional proposals developed in a significant piece of cross-departmental work undertaken by the Departments of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Agriculture, Food and the Marine and my own Department, which have been working together to identify a series of steps that can be taken to assist the industry in addressing these challenges.”

Senator Regina Doherty told the Seanad that since the introduction of the bill, “the people who are against it have sought to make it something completely other than what it is.”

“It is not about exporting peat, nor is it about using peat for anything other than horticultural practices. This is not about exports for reasons other than horticulture… “Despite the argument that seems to have been created over the past week, this is not about fuel or exporting. It is about taking a very small amount of the peat that could be produced in this country to provide for an Irish market that produces food for Irish consumers.”

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