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FactCheck: Were 3,600 tonnes of peat imported into Ireland from Latvia?

The claim has been used to criticise the Green Party on social media.

Stock image of a cargo ship
Stock image of a cargo ship
Image: Shutterstock/Avigator Fortuner

For general Factchecks not about Covid

IT HAS BEEN claimed that thousands of tonnes of peat were imported into Ireland from Latvia earlier this year.

The claim has been reported in numerous Irish media outlets, and been the subject of debates in the Seanad and the Dáil because of its potential impact on jobs, industries and carbon emissions.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) decried news of the importation during a protest outside Leinster House at the end of October, with growers – who say they need Irish peat for vegetable production – questioning the move to import the fuel from elsewhere.

The IFA’s horticultural chair Paul Brophy was among those to criticise the move. He told The Farmers’ Journal: ”We stop harvesting peat here for food production because it’s the ‘green’ thing to do, and then we import 4,000 by tonnes the boatload.”

The Opposition has also use the claim to criticise the government, with Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokesperson Matt Carthy describing the importation of peat from abroad as “ludicrous”.

However, some people on social media expressed scepticism about whether the import from Latvia happened at all. Let’s take a closer look at the facts.

What are we checking?

It has been claimed that thousands of tonnes of peat were imported into Ireland in September.

On 27 October, the Irish Farmers’ Journal reported:

Last month, a shipment of 3,600t of horticultural peat from Latvia arrived in Drogheda, which was subsequently distributed across Ireland by a convoy of over 200 trucks.

The claim was previously reported by a number of Irish news outlets, including the Irish TimesThe IndependentThe Farmers JournalThe Westmeath IndependentThe Longford LeaderThe Limerick Leader and The Irish Daily Mail.

The source for the story appears to have been a press release from Growing Media Ireland, sent on 21 September.

GMI is a lobby group representing “the majority of horticultural peat and growing media producers in Ireland (excluding Bord Na Mona)” according to an Oireachtas submission early this year.

The press release said: “For the first time Ireland has imported a huge shipment of horticultural peat totalling almost 4,000 tonnes which arrived in Ireland on Saturday morning (18th).”

Screenshot 2021-11-23 at 15.44.55 GMI Press Release 21 September 2021 Source: GMI Ireland

It went on to say: “A convoy of over 200 trucks collected the freight of horticultural peat, which travelled over 3,000kms to Ireland from Latvia.”

GMI said this journey compared to “an average of 10kms when peat was harvested locally in a Westmeath factory, prior to its effective banning in Ireland”.

So the claim that’s being checked is whether 3,600 tonnes of horticultural peat were imported from Latvia into Ireland on 18 September.

Why are we checking this?

The claim originated from GMI, an organisation whose job is to advance the interests of a certain cohort of Irish peat producers, specifically producers of horticultural peat, which is used to improve soil to make it easier to grow items.

Horticultural producers say they were adversely affected by a 2019 High Court decision to ban peat extraction from bog areas larger than 30 hectares without planning permission.

Producers say this all but ended local commercial peat production, with one of the major players Bord Na Mona suspending peat harvesting after the ruling.

The company announced it would permanently cease harvesting to focus on renewable energy in 2021.

Growing Media Ireland told the Irish Times that without government intervention, “thousands of jobs in the midlands and west of Ireland across our sector will be lost”.

It also warned that a shortage of Irish peat would have a knock on effect on Ireland’s food producers if they couldn’t access the materials they needed to grow things. 

“Without a secure supply of indigenous growing media, horticultural businesses will be dependent on importing growing media, if available, at increased and fluctuating costs, risking jobs,” GMI Chairman John Neenan told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture.

The High Court case was brought by an environmental activism group, Friends of the Irish Environment, but the Greens were blamed for the foreign peat importation by some on Twitter:

Twta Source: Twitter

Twta Source: Twitter

Twta Source: Twitter

Given the ongoing tensions between environmental activists, peat-reliant industries and the focus of blame on the Green Party, we decided to double-check the claim.

The Evidence

We asked Drogheda Port’s Harbour Master, Captain Martin Donnelly, whether 3,600 tonnes of horticultural peat arrived into the Louth port in September.

He confirmed to The Journal that a ship delivered horticultural peat there on the weekend of the 18 September, the date mentioned in the original press release. He was unable, however, to confirm the amount of peat that had arrived on that date.

Klasmann-Deilmann Ireland, the growing material supply company behind the order, also told The Journal that they ordered nearly 4,000 tonnes of peat which arrived in Drogheda on that date.

We checked with the company after Growing Media Ireland’s Chairman John Neenan told us that he was alerted to the importation by Klassmann-Deilmann, who GMI represents alongside other peat producers.

“I can confirm that it was our company, Klasmann-Deilmann Ireland Limited, that was responsible for the import of the ship of peat from Latvia into the port of Drogheda during September, and that the vessel contained 3,600 tonnes of peat moss,” Klasmann-Deilmann Managing Director Kevin Mahon said.

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He also explained how the peat was transported: “200 trucks [are needed] to bring the peat to the port of Riga then 3,000km by ship to Drogheda and then 200 trucks to collect and offload the peat, travelling halfway across the country.”

We also asked the company for a copy of an invoice or other documentation showing how much peat had been delivered. However, this was not received by the time of publication. 

AIS Shipping data also confirmed that a commercial ship carrying agricultural commodities travelled from Riga to Drogheda close to the dates specified in September.

It should be clarified the Green Party was not involved in this importation.

The importation of peat from Latvia was done privately.

Similarly, the High Court ruling that banned peat extraction from bog areas of a certain size (without planning permission) was instead brought by an environmental group, Friends of the Irish Environment, and finished the year before the Greens entered Government.

The Verdict

We rated this: Mostly True

This means that the claim is close to accurate, but is missing significant details or context. Or, the best available evidence weighs in favour of the claim.

It is true that a significant import of Latvian peat was delivered into Ireland on 18 September.

Klasmann-Deilmann, the company responsible for importing the peat, confirmed to The Journal that it had delivered that amount of horticultural peat to Drogheda Port on 18 September. 

Drogheda’s Harbour Master also confirmed that there was a delivery of peat on that date.

However, whether 3,600 tonnes of peat were imported could not be verified. Despite asking the company and the Port Company for evidence, none was received by the time of publication.

Furthermore, the importation of the peat had nothing to do with the Green Party, as has been suggested.

The party did not bring a High Court case stopping horticultural peat extraction and was not in government at the time the ruling was made.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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