The Horticultural Peat (Temporary Measures) Bill 2021 is being put before Seanad Éireann by Fine Gael senator Regina Doherty, and Fianna Fáil senator Robbie Gallagher.
According to the Oireachtas website, the bill “makes exceptional provisions for peat extraction for the purpose of horticulture for a temporary period in the public interest in order to mitigate the adverse consequences resulting from an interruption to supply.” The bill would roll back restrictions that were placed upon the industry in 2019, that required planning permission, in addition to EPA licensing, in order to conduct peat extraction.
In a statement on her website, Regina Doherty gave her reasons for putting forward the bill: “Because of [current restrictions], producers have no option but to import peat from places such as Latvia. As it stands, there are no alternatives to peat as a growing media that are available, affordable and sustainable.”
Indeed, Fine Gael party leader, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has also appeared to have softened his stance on peat production in recent weeks. In 2018, Varadkar’s promises to make Ireland a global leader in protecting the planet, backed by a €22bn government plan for climate action, called for a total move away from coal and peat reliance by the middle of the next decade. However, in the wake of COP26, Varadkar appeared to acknowledge that no suitable growing media had been found to replace peat. This statement was welcomed by many in the farming industry, but has – when combined with the Temporary Measures Bill – been seen as a dangerous step backwards by environmental groups.
The Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) has called on the Seanad to reject the bill, arguing that it “would seriously hinder Ireland’s efforts in combating biodiversity loss and climate change mitigation”. Referring to recent findings by thejounal.ie, the IPCC further argue that “reports from the industry that it had to import peat made no mention of the fact that Ireland has exported 11.5 times [the imported] amount this year alone.”
In their own statement, Friends Of The Irish Environment quoted recent Central Statistics Office figures, “which show that exports of peat for 2021 are now over 500,000 tons with 70,725 tons added in August and September alone.” The statement continues: “The Value of Peat Exports in 2021 now exceeds 2020 by more than €18 million for a total January to September of €94 million.”
In recent reporting by thejournal.ie, the bill was dubbed “an outrageous proposal” by Attracta Uí Bhroin, environmental law officer at the Irish Environmental Network. “The bill appears, at face value, to seek to reward unlawful operators and circumvent the environmental protection objectives of key EU Directives,” she continued.
However, speaking to the Independent, IFA Hardy Nursery Chairman Val Farrell said, “Importing peat will have lasting consequences for the sector. Already, it has resulted in hugely increased costs. This in turn will have a real impact on the competitiveness of Ireland’s sustainable horticulture sector.”
For more in-depth reporting on The Horticultural Peat (Temporary Measures) Bill 2021 visit thejournal.ie here. For Horticulture Connected’s most recent article on bog-lands and peat production, read Noeleen Smyth’s The Hole In The Bog here.