Deputy Carthy is attending a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts and will join this meeting at 10 a.m.
Before we begin, I remind members that, in the context of the current Covid-19 restrictions, only the Chairman and staff are present in the committee room. All members must join remotely from elsewhere in the parliamentary precincts. The secretariat can issue invitations to join the meeting on MS Teams. Members may not participate in the meeting from outside of the parliamentary precincts. I ask members to mute their microphone when not making a contribution and please use the raise hand function to indicate. Please note that messages sent to the meeting chat are visible to all participants. Speaking slots are prioritised for members of the committee.
The topic for this meeting with representatives from Growing Media Ireland, GMI, is the impact of peat shortages on the horticulture industry. I welcome Mr. John Neenan, chair of GMI, Mr. Kieran Dunne, Kildare Growers Group, Mr. Mel O'Rourke, Commercial Mushroom Producers, and Ms Anna Kavanagh, independent horticulture consultant, who are all appearing remotely. We have received their opening statement, which has been circulated to members. As we are limited in time due to Covid-19 safety restrictions, the committee has agreed that the opening statement will be taken as read so that we can use the full session for questions and answers. All opening statements are published on the Oireachtas website and are publicly available.
I must give an important notice regarding parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence relating to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Participants in the committee meeting who are in locations outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that the constitutional protections afforded to those participating from within the parliamentary precincts do not extend to them. No clear guidance can be given on whether or the extent to which participation is covered by the absolute privilege of a statutory nature.
This is a very important topic. We discussed it earlier in the year and had a committee meeting on it. We were given assurances at that meeting that there would be an interim report which would be provided to us in early April. The indication was that it would allow home-grown peat to be harvested for the horticulture industry. That has not happened. Members of the committee fully understand the witnesses' anxiety and the financial pressure they must be experiencing. I and the members of the committee are very interested to hear what they have to say this morning. The idea of importing peat into this country is not only financial madness but also environmental madness. Banning peat cutting in this country makes a nonsense of what we are trying to achieve. The witnesses will have the opportunity this morning to make their presentation and answer questions from members. Then the committee will decide what political pressure it can apply to try to help their industry.
I will open the meeting to the floor. Senators Paul Daly and Boyhan have indicated that they wish to speak. Senator Boyhan has a particular interest in horticulture, so I will call him first.