I propose to take Questions Nos. 334 and 340 together.
Action 5 of the National Peatlands Strategy provides for a review of the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry. To undertake the review, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht established an inter-agency working group. A report on the Review of the use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry was prepared by the working group on the basis of the submissions received in response to an issues paper on the matter. This report was published by me on 7 September 2020.
I am in the process of establishing a working group, to include representatives from relevant Government Departments and State Agencies, Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations and Industry Stakeholders under an independent chairperson, to examine the issues identified during the review, and, in particular:
- Reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of peat moss in the amateur gardening sector in order to leave what remains in use for the industry sector to buy time to develop alternatives, enabling food security and to provide industry surety.
- Graduating the elimination of the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry over an agreed period of years with an agreed end date.
- Finance and support for those workers whose skills cannot be accommodated in proposed alternative industries.
- Investment in further research into the development, education and use of alternatives to peat moss, such as bark, wood fibre, coir, biosolids, bracken and green compost, perlite, vermiculite, rockwool, and horticultural clay and in new methods of farming such as paludiculture and sphagnum farming.
- Up-skilling the existing workforce to regenerate the existing bogs for use in paludiculture, eco-tourism, carbon farming, and tree farming as appropriate to optimise environmental outcomes.
- Quantifying the value of the existing viable peat lands as carbon sinks and then determine a carbon market to incentivise owners and operators of peat lands to preserve, rewet or restore their assets.
- Educating the public to the benefits of what would be proposed to include the climate and environmental benefits, the economic, social, cultural and public health benefits.
I hope to be in a position to appoint a chairperson to the working group shortly. Thereafter, invitations to nominate representatives to the working group will issue from my Department.