Horticulture could lose 17,000-plus jobs, Oireachtas committee to hear

‘Imminent crisis’ looms due to stalled peat harvesting unless emergency laws passed

Some 6,600 people are directly employed in the horticulture sector, with another 11,000 employed in value-added and downstream businesses.

Some 6,600 people are directly employed in the horticulture sector, with another 11,000 employed in value-added and downstream businesses.

 

More than 17,000 jobs across Ireland’s horticulture sector are at risk of disappearing in a matter of months, an Oireachtas committee will hear on Tuesday.

Growing Media Ireland (GMI), the representative group of the majority of horticultural peat and growing media producers, will make the claim based on restrictions on peat harvesting.

Citing an “imminent crisis”, it is to tell the agriculture committee that emergency legislation to enable an immediate resumption of harvesting this year is urgently required.

Peat reserves are now set to run out by September, following a 2019 High Court case that has left activity “all but ceasing”, the committee will be told.

Growing media are organic and inorganic materials, or composts, used to nurture plants and vegetation. The peat reserves in question are used for industrial produce such as mushroom horticulture.

“The entire sector has experienced extreme challenges over the past 18 months, following a September 2019 High Court ruling that means harvesting of peat from Irish bogs greater than 30 hectares requires navigating a complex licensing and planning regime,” its submission to the committee, seen by The Irish Times, sets out.

Peat importation

“The sector will be forced to import peat into Ireland at a higher cost both financially and environmentally.”

The committee is continuing to examine the impact of peat shortages on the horticulture sector.

“Unless there is immediate Government intervention and peat harvesting resumes, thousands of jobs in the midlands and west of Ireland across our sector will be lost,” GMI chairman John Neenan said ahead of his appearance at the committee.

GMI argues that horticultural peat is a universal ingredient in almost all plant species, with the mushroom and vegetable industries particularly reliant upon it.

Its submission notes that 6,600 people are directly employed in the horticulture sector on a full-time basis, with another 11,000 indirectly employed in value-added and downstream businesses. Jobs are highly concentrated in areas of the midlands and west.

Growth media

GMI will argue for the immediate lifting of restrictions, the introduction of a fair and workable licensing system, and the phasing-out of horticultural peat harvesting by 2030, on the proviso that a secure supply of growing media can be secured during that period.

In his September 2019 judgment, Mr Justice Garrett Simons held that proceedings brought by environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) challenging regulations should be allowed on certain grounds.

The regulations in question exempted industrial peat extraction from requiring planning permission with activities instead required to obtain a licence from the Environmental Protection Agency.

FIE had argued that the gradual implementation of the new regulations would pave the way for unauthorised and unregulated industrial extraction to continue for years.

The court found that legal aspects of the regulations were inconsistent with European directives on environmental impact assessments and the habitats directive.