The level of incompetency of those supposed to be dealing with the forestry licencing crisis amounts to a national scandal.
That is according to independent Roscommon-Galway TD, Michael Fitzmaurice.
He said there are thousands of licences currently submitted to the forestry service of the DAFM – across clear-felling, thinning, roads and afforestation – with applicants yet to receive a decision.
“The fact that mills around Ireland are being forced to import timber from abroad to keep the show on the road is mind-boggling, given the amount of timber which is fit to cut around this island.”
Forestry licencing crisis
He said in the first three full weeks of this month, only 86 licences have been processed.
Furthermore, Coillte felling licences amounted to 19; private felling added up to 37; road licences reached 18 and afforestation licences equalled a paltry 12.
“This is despite senior representatives within the forest service previously citing a target of processing 100 licences a week to reach their annual goal of 4,500.”
“Given the amount of jobs involved in the sector at stake, if these results were produced in the private sector, there would be serious reforms, and people would lose their jobs over it.”
He stressed that mills are struggling to source timber. Furthermore, foresters with big outlays on machinery are struggling to secure work to keep repayments paid and wages in their employees’ pockets.
“And yet the forest service seems to be pondering along at the same pace which has led us to this crisis in the first place.”
“Senior representatives and minister Pippa Hackett may point to hiring more ecologists and the establishment of Project Woodland, but where are the real results?”
“Success has to be measured by the number of licences processed and the clearing of the backlog. At the moment, it seems like a pipedream if radical action is not taken.”
“We are seven months into the year, and only 2,722ha of afforestation has been licenced.”
‘Final nail in the coffin’
Fitzmaurice stressed this is “a long way” from the 8,000ha target that Ireland has “failed to meet continuously” in recent years.
“The forestry has been on its knees for months, struggling to survive as they waited for the drip-feed of licences coming from the department.”
“But if this trickle of licences continues, it will place the final nail in the coffin. Countless people will lose their jobs.”
Concluding, he stressed that the minister and senior representatives will have to answer “serious” questions at the next meeting of the Agriculture Committee.