I met with representatives from the Horticulture sector today.
Horticulture is a sector I am very keen both to support and to develop. I have recently commissioned a report to identify opportunities in it and I also secured a 50% increase in funding for it from €6 to €9 million in the last budget.
I appreciate the concerns which growers protesting today have, about supply. However I understand that a stock of Irish peat which will alleviate the immediate issue may have been secured.
There are two quite separate issues in relation to peat.
One is the need for smaller suppliers to achieve compliance with current legislation; the other is the availability of peat for the amenity horticulture sector.
Peat is a finite resource, and I know the sector understands the need for transitional phasing out of the use of it. So I welcome the moves already being made towards reducing peat usage within the Sector, with most growers now using Peat blends with material such as bark fibre or coir.
Through my department I am supporting Research and Development programmes on sustainable peat alternatives. I will also continue to be supportive of exploring all options, including small-scale extraction for the domestic commercial horticultural sector only, while they are transitioning to a peat free future, provided such extraction is legally compliant.
I will certainly ask my colleague Eamon Ryan to request Bord na Mona to help, as appropriate, with any technical help they may be in a position to offer in this regard.
Our bogs are among our most precious natural resources. They are part of our precious national heritage and I want to make it clear that I believe peat extraction must stop.