By Dominic McGrath, PA
The continued importation of peat to Ireland does not make “environmental, economic or ethical sense”, an independent report has warned the Government.
The yet-to-published report, seen by the PA news agency, recommends that the Irish Government ends the importation of peat and indicates that peat production could be partially revived in a bid to address the challenges facing the horticulture sector.
That conclusion is contained in the final report of a working group charged with examining the problems caused by Ireland’s sudden decision to end peat production.
That decision has been criticised in particular by the horticulture and mushroom industry, which has repeatedly queried the logic of Ireland now having to import peat.
The report from the working group, which was chaired by Dr Munoo Prasad, was submitted to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on October 20th.
The report has not yet been officially published.
It warns the Department: “A continued supply of Irish Peat to the professional horticulture sector in Ireland is essential at least in the short term and preferably from Irish bogs in order to allow adequate time to research alternative growing media.”
A spokesperson for the department said: “The report was recently submitted to Minister [Malcolm] Noonan.”
“He is considering the report carefully, and expresses his sincere appreciation to Dr Prasad, the members of the working group and all who contributed to the report.
“The department will not be commenting on the contents of the report as it has not yet been published.”
The decision to import peat was sharply criticised by the working group and the report notes that imports should only be used “under special circumstances”.
One example given is in the case of shortfalls.
“To date, six ship loads of peat have already arrived into the island of Ireland and there is conjecture that two shiploads of peat would be needed every month on an annual basis from next year,” the 42-page report notes.
It also suggests that the environmental impact of peat use in the horticultural sector might be limited.
“It should also be remembered that the peat used in the professional horticultural industry would be used to grow plants which capture CO2 from the air,” the members of the working group write in the report.
“In addition, it would end its life going back to the soil where it would retain the carbon in the soil.”
Horticulture and retail
The report says that the use of peat in horticulture should be “phased out by 2030 or by the very latest by 2035 providing alternative materials were available”.
Peat use in the retail sector has been given an end date of 2025, according to the report.
The report goes on to recommend: “Irish peat should be available over the short term in sufficient quantities from existing ‘ecologically destroyed’ bogs that were prepared for harvesting for the last few years and are lying fallow.”
The working group suggests that changes to the law will be required to bring this about and stresses that new legislation should be brought before the Oireachtas “as a priority”.
The report also calls for increased investment in research looking at the use of alternatives to peat in the horticulture industry, with the hope being that alternatives may start being used widely in the next five to 10 years.
Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill said he welcomed the findings of the report.
“I’m glad that common sense is prevailing and that the economic and environmental madness will now cease,” he said.
He said that the current situation was “increasing the cost of production very significantly” for the horticulture industry.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said the conclusions from the working group need to be listened to.
“There is an urgency to this matter and the Minister can’t ignore it,” he said.
“Important indigenous sectors rely on horticultural peat which, it is now accepted, there is no viable alternative to in the short term.”
“Many would argue we didn’t need this working group to be established in the first place,” he said.
He called on Mr Noonan, who has had the report since mid-October, to take urgent action.
“This should be measured in days, rather than weeks, and certainly not months.”