The Government has been advised in a new report that it should legislate to remove a ban on commercial peat harvesting, potentially for the next 14 years.
The final report of the Working Group to review the use of peat moss in horticulture, commissioned by Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan, makes a number of recommendations aimed at supporting jobs in the industry, which is worth €477 million a year.
The working group was chaired by consultant Munoo Prasad, who is a former chief scientist at Bord Na Móna. The report was delivered to Mr Noonan in October but has yet to be published.
Commercial peat harvesting was effectively banned by the High Court in 2019, which found large-scale harvesting required planning permission as well as a licence from the EPA, and detailed environmental impact assessments, required under EU law.
The group said it was concerned at risks to jobs in a transition period while alternatives to peat were sourced – particularly for the mushroom industry which has warned it is dependent on supplies.
The report recommends 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”.
It also recommends 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”. It called for amendments to the current legislative provisions for large scale peat extraction.
“ For the professional horticulture sector, this is absolutely critical for the 2022 season” it said.
In a statement Mr Noonan said the “ potential of alternatives to the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry was examined extensively by the group”. He said the report is “being considered and will be brought to Cabinet in due course.”
The Minister is known to be opposed to large scale harvesting and has previously said reopening harvesting was not on the Green Agenda or Government policy.
Last weeked, he told RTÉ there needs to be an alternative product to peat, but the State should phase out commercial harvesting “completely”
On Tuesday Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty introduced a Bill in the Seanad to “end Irish horticultural growers’ reliance on expensive imported peat as a growing medium for their produce by allowing them to extract Irish peat as part of a just transition”.
She said her Horticultural Peat (Temporary Measures) Bill 2021, was necessary as producers have no option but to import peat from places such as Latvia. “We have acres of peatland right here, with only 0.12 per cent of total Irish peatland required for the purposes of horticulture.”
But Friends of the Irish Environment, which has taken a number of cases to the courts against harvesting, said that figures released by the Central Statistics Office show that exports of peat for 2021 are now at more than 500,000 tons. with 70,725 tons added in August and September.
“The industry’s claim that exports are a matter of the past is not born out by the newly released figures,” spokesman Tony Lowes said.