From the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I welcome Mr. Barry Delany, chief plant health officer, and Mr. Declan Harty, agricultural inspector. From the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications I welcome Mr. Philip Nugent, assistant secretary, and Ms Leslie Carberry, principal officer. I also welcome Mr. Brian Lucas from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. All the witnesses are joining the meeting remotely. They are very welcome. We have received their opening statements, which have been circulated to members. We are limited in our time due to Covid-19 restrictions so we will take the opening statements as read and will use the full session for questions and answers. The opening statements will be published on the Oireachtas website and will be publicly available. As with all meetings, members may not participate from outside the parliamentary precincts.
Before we begin, I will read an important notice on 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. Those participating in the meeting from a location 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, their participation is covered by absolute privilege of a statutory nature.
I thank the witnesses for coming in. To say there is huge frustration among the horticulture and nursery industries would be an understatement. Representatives from those industries have made representations to us and we had a briefing from them a few weeks ago. They are facing huge financial difficulties as they find themselves facing importation of peat for their industries. In my view, and I do not think anyone on the committee would argue with me, that is both environmental and economic madness. Organic industries in this country, both horticulture and nursery, including our mushroom industry, which is financially competitive, could be forced out of business. Some of them are even considering relocating. There will be robust questions for the witnesses. As a committee we want a solution to this impasse. We feel it is nonsensical. Hopefully the witnesses will enlighten us as to when we will get over this impasse at which we find ourselves. Until there is a viable economic alternative to peat we cannot see the logic of why we cannot have a licensing system for the limited amount of peat that would be needed for these organic industries.
I call Deputy Fitzmaurice.