Government accused of 'tokenism' and jeopardising mushroom sector

A local politician has accused the government of "tokenism" in its handling of the horticultural peat issue.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy, TD has called on Minister Charlie McConalogue to take a hands-on approach to, what he describes as "the imminent crisis" facing the mushroom industry and the wider horticulture sector.

Deputy Carthy was speaking following a hearing of the Oireachtas Agriculture committee, held to discuss the impact of peat shortages.

The Cavan-Monaghan TD accused the government of "tokenism", claiming it was putting the mushroom industry, which is significant in counties Cavan and Monaghan, into crisis.

Teachta Carthy described the approach of Green Party Ministers Eamon Ryan, Pippa Hackett and Malcolm Noonan, who each have a role in the matter, of collectively either "not understanding the sector, not appreciating the extent of the crisis or simply not caring".

“It is imperative that Minister Charlie McConalogue take a hands-on role on this matter," said Deputy Carthy. “The shortage of horticultural peat could be potentially devastating for the mushroom industry and the wider horticulture sector. These are farmers who need a Minister to stand up for them."

He explained that many mushroom farmers had entered the sector because they had heeded government advice for those on unprofitable small holdings and diversified.

“Farmers did as they were asked – they diversified – and they turned small, unprofitable holdings into an economic driver of an entire region.

“Their sector needs peat. The shortage is due to tokenism in the extreme.

“The stated solution, presented by Minister Eamon Ryan, is that Ireland should import peat from abroad.

"That is non-sensical lunacy. It makes no sense from an environmental point of view considering that domestic peat extraction can be monitored and strict conditions applied in a way that cannot be enforced on imported product.

“The peat required over coming decades represents about one tenth of 1% of the peat area of the state – the extraction of peat for horticultural use cannot be compared to that of energy production.

“It appears that there are some in government content to see net global emissions rise in order to inflate their own supposed achievements at home.

"This approach, as well as putting 17,000 jobs at immediate risk, is also environmentally damaging and does a great disservice to all of us committed to delivering climate action.

“At present, there is no sustainable alternative to peat. I expect and hope it will come. But, in the meantime, we need a realistic approach from government that will support the sector while ensuring the highest global standards in environmental protection.

“Above all we need a Minister for Agriculture that will advocate for those agri-businesses that are facing an imminent crisis. We need Minister McConalogue to show leadership on this issue.”