For over two years ministers across a number of departments have essentially dodged responsibility for what has become a very real and existential crisis in the Irish mushroom sector, Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture Matt Carthy has said.
The Sinn Féin politician has called on the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to immediately intervene to address the imminent crisis facing the mushroom industry and the wider horticulture sector.
Carthy said that it is imperative that the Minister for Agriculture takes a leadership role to ensure that the report is published and that government outline its proposals to address the peat shortage.
Carthy said: “In November, the leader of the Seanad, Senator Regina Doherty stated that the report from the chair of the Government’s own working group on the future of horticulture peat was be brought to cabinet on 7 December – a full month later and we have seen zero progress on the publication of this report.
These are farmers and communities who needed a minister, any minister, to stand up for them
“On the same day, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil senators made a farce of parliamentary procedure by bringing forward their own Private Members Bill which bizarrely failed to progress due to a lack of support from their own Government.
“These are farmers and communities who needed a minister, any minister, to stand up for them.”
Carthy has said that the inaction and indifference by Government means that the mushroom sector, and those who work in it and the communities that depend on it, is facing an existential threat due to the shortage of horticultural peat.
Unconcerned and disinterested
Carthy also commented that Minister of State Malcolm Noonan appears unconcerned while McConalogue seemed to be entirely disinterested in an issue that will close farms.
“The reason why mushroom farms are so prevalent in counties like Monaghan is because holdings are small. They were unprofitable.
“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,” he said.
At present, there is no sustainable alternative to peat
“The Government set up a working group, it commissioned a report, it granted an extension to that report, it has now considered that report – it must publish that report immediately.
“At present, there is no sustainable alternative to peat. I expect it will come and Government and the sector must intensify efforts to find it. But the Government cannot wish alternatives into existence.”
Carthy said that a realistic approach is needed from government that will support the sector while ensuring the highest global standards in environmental protection.
“Otherwise, we will see the further importation of huge shipments of peat from the far side of Europe.”
He said there is no justification for that situation just as there was no justification for the previous exportation of peat from Ireland by a state-owned company Bord na Móna.
“As a matter of priority, the Minister for Agriculture needs to show leadership on this issue.
“He must force his Government colleagues to take action, publish the report of the working group and bring forward proposals to avert this crisis,” he concluded.