An Oireachtas committee has heard strong condemnation of the practice of importing peat under measures designed to tackle climate change.

The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine is considering the impact of peat shortages on the horticulture industry.

Committee chair, Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, said that "[the] idea of importing peat into this country... financially it's madness, but it also environmental madness", adding that it "makes a nonsense" of the objectives of banning peat production.

John Neenan, Chair of Growing Media Ireland, said that his industry "is in a critical stage" with peat due to run out by September, potentially putting 17,000 people out of work.

The crisis is affecting "nurseries which have been in business for two and three generations" and will "be devastating in rural Ireland", he warned.

Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher warned that a "doomsday cliff edge" is just weeks away in his Monaghan constituency, where many families are "entirely dependent" on the mushroom industry.

Without urgent action to supply peat, the local economy will be "severely damaged", he said.

Independent Senator Victor Boyhan called for a ten year exemption on limits on peat production, and condemned the importation of peat as "grossly unfair and hypocrisy".

Fianna Fáil Senator Paul Daly said importing peat was "pure ridiculousness and stupidity", and threatened to turn people against taking action on climate change.

An an independent horticultural consultant expressed disbelief at the importation of peat.

"If we are talking about global climate action ... it is not helping in any way", said Anna Kavanagh, adding that the poorer quality imports "will decompose faster which will add to CO2 emissions."

Ms Kavanagh said that the working group has "been patient" and "worked hard" over six meetings for four months. "We really do need an answer for the industry at this stage. It is at crisis point".

Just Transition Commissioner Kieran Mulvey warned the Government over a year ago about his concerns over peat imports, which he has called "a nonsense".

He told RTÉ News today that "some priority needed to be given" to this issue, and that he would "take note of the deliberations of the working group".

Many of the committee members and witnesses expressed disappointment and frustration that there were no government officials present.

There was repeated criticism from across the political spectrum of the Government's lack of leadership on the
issue.

The committee chair noted that the meeting was called "at extremely short notice" at the request of the industry, and that government officials were not available.

Senator Daly said there were "numerous different departments, who are able to push the blame onto each other" and insisted that "somebody needs to step up to the plate and make some decisions."

Kieran Dunne of the Kildare Growers Group agreed that three government departments are "battling against each other" over "whose problem is it."

Mr Dunne said the industry has survived Brexit, temperatures of -18C, and Covid-19. "Talk about putting your shoulder to the wheel and putting on the green jersey. We can't be asked to do any more", he insisted.

"Whose going to support Bloom and Green City in the future?" he asked.

John Neenan noted that horticultural peat uses 0.12% of Irish peatlands, "just over one tenth of one per cent".

Fine Gael's Paul Kehoe said it was "a scandal" that the Government would stand by while one company was threatened with legal action for using peat stockpiles.

His party colleague, Michael Ring, said he was told to support the Climate Bill or get out of the party, something, which he said, may yet come to pass.