Independent TD for Laois-Offaly Carol Nolan has said that a lack of decisive action by various Government Departments has led to a crisis of systemic and overwhelming proportions for the horticulture sector.
Deputy Nolan was speaking after the Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee heard from representatives of Growing Media Ireland on the sector.
The group say that 17,000 jobs – including those in Laois – are at risk based on restrictions on peat harvesting.
Citing an “imminent crisis”, the group told 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 was 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.
Deputy Nolan said: “It simply beggars’ belief that despite 15 months of clear unambiguous warnings from horticulture representatives, we are still approaching a situation that involves government moving the sector toward the precipice.
“The issues all have all been flagged and solutions have been offered. Workable and constructive solutions I might add.
“This has now placed 17,000 jobs at real and imminent risk in Offaly, Laois, the midlands, the west and beyond.
“It is like some ideological parasite has latched on to the sector and it will not let go until the sector as we know it is destroyed. We see the same approach being replicated in forestry.
“I also find it absolutely bizarre that reports are now being made indicating that officials from the Department of Housing, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Climate Change and Environment have refused an invitation to appear in front of the Committee.
“This stands in stark contrast to the Parliamentary Question reply I received in January from the Minister for Agriculture which clearly stated that once the inter-agency report on the review of the use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry was published, the Working Group established on foot of that report would commit itself to ‘address the key issues raised in the report itself’.
“This lack of engagement is hardly what addressing the issues should look like.
“We must protect, create and retain jobs with the horticulture sector, not destroy them, either purposely or for some vague and counterproductive climate agenda.
“Government must wake up and listen to the sector before there is no viable sector worth talking about.”
Meanwhile, local Senator Pippa Hackett says has commissioned a major report on the horticulture industry in Ireland – with results due in 2022.