OFFICIALS have kicked the question of banning the use of peat compost for gardening and horticulture down the road again.
review by an inter-departmental working group has recommended the setting up of a wider working group to examine how a ban could be introduced and over what period of time.
They warned there would be negative and positive impacts of phasing out peat compost and change could not be rushed.
Five years have passed since the National Peatlands Strategy stated a phase-out needed to be explored but the issue has been controversial for much longer.
An Taisce, one of the groups who made submissions to the review, said the response was completely inadequate.
“We don’t need another working group. We need a rapid and total exit from the peat industry,” said advocacy officer, Ian Lumley.
The review was carried out by officials from three government departments and the Environmental Protection Agency who considered 34 submissions from industry and environmental groups.
They concluded that a working group that would include members representing those interests should be formed to consider a range of actions.
Among the actions is a ban on use of peat compost for amateur gardening while retaining it for commercial horticulture.
A gradual extension of the ban to the horticultural sector is also to be considered, in tandem with finance for retraining workers and research into alternatives to peat.
The review stressed: “There is a need for an understanding that the speed at which changes can take place needs to be balanced with the economic consequences for the industry, food security at a national and an international level and the economic and cultural impact on the local communities that would be affected.”
Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan said he would move to set up the working group as recommended.
“There are difficult choices to be made, from how we garden as individuals to the economic and cultural impacts arising from any significant changes,” he said.
Bord na Mona stressed in its submission that the horticulture industry employed 6,600 people directly and 11,000 indirectly, and that it depended on peat to grow half of its crops.
“There should be no cliff edge or sudden knee jerk reaction by policy makers,” it said.
The company has been asked for comment on the review’s findings.
Peat is a fossil fuel and the preservation and restoration of peatlands, part of the country's climate action strategy, is necessary to prevent the further release of carbon stored in them.
Peat-free composts are available, made from materials such as bark, wood fibre, bracken and grass cuttings, and the working group will be asked to examine to look at the potential of those and other possible alternatives.
It will also be asked to quantify the value of surviving peatlands as carbon sinks and “then determine a carbon market to incentivise owners and operators of peatlands to preserve, rewet or restore their assets”.
Mr Lumley, however, said there were already multiple reasons for stopping further peat extraction.
“It’s essentially open cast mining and it’s the loss of a carbon sink. There are climate, nature and water conservation reasons for stopping this,” he said.
Peat extraction in general is also at the centre of a protracted legal wrangle, with the legality of operations in doubt pending a High Court ruling later this year as to whether European environmental directives have been breached in the way the industry has been allowed operate.