The Rural Independent Group has accused the government of showing an “utter disregard” for Ireland’s forestry sector.
The TDs said the government’s inaction now endangers 12,000 jobs and “jeopardises” the entire forestry sector.
They believe the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the government have “failed miserably” to address this crisis over the past eighteen months.
They warned the sector is “at breaking point”, because of “catastrophic” backlogs to the DAFM’s granting of afforestation and felling licenses.
Ireland’s forestry sector
Group leader, Mattie McGrath, said such delays are costing jobs and having “severe” social, economic, and environmental impacts on rural communities
“Under this government, the lowest ever rate of tree planting in Ireland has been recorded, while a massive carbon footprint has also been created through importing timber.”
“It’s not as if this issue has emerged overnight. The government have swiftly made demands of farmers under their Climate Action Plan.”
“However, it has been lifeless in showing any such action on this issue, thus, undermining the entire rural economy and tangible efforts to sequester up to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050 through forestry.”
The TDs said there are currently over 1,000 afforestation applications. Furthermore, approximately 4,500 felling and road licence applications are awaiting a determination by the DAFM.
2019 MacKinnon Report
The group pointed to the 2019 MacKinnon Report, which “cleared the way for “radical action”.
It noted that that Ireland had lower afforestation targets than Scotland, of 8,000 and 10,000ha/annum.
“It’s not as if this issue has emerged overnight. In fact, the 2019 Mackinnon Report, the DAFM commissioned identified all the key issues, clearing the way for radical action to be taken.”
“However, despite the lower targets here, Ireland will barely meet 50% of this target in 2021, as acknowledged by the minister himself. Meanwhile, Scotland is surpassing their targets every year.”
“In 2020, McGrath added, the DAFM approved only 2,300 hectares for planting here. Over the last five years alone, afforestation targets have been missed by over 15,000 hectares in total or the equivalent of 40 million trees.”
“Had this area been afforested, it had the potential to remove 5.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the lifetime of those forests. This illustrates the flawed approach of the Irish government.”
McGrath said the same report “alarmingly” highlighted a lack of political and administrative commitment to afforestation in Ireland when compared to Scotland’s policy pathway. This, he added, “indicates the overly bureaucratic administration system in operation here”.
“Despite these stark warnings from a government-commissioned report in 2019, and the further warning from the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture report earlier this year, the Minister sits back and does nothing.”
“Such ineptitude by Minister McConalogue and Minister for State, Pippa Hackett, is destroying a vibrant rural agricultural sector,” he claimed.”
“Unilaterally, both ministers allowed the Forest Service Inspectorate to classify forestry as an industrial operation, requiring an additional ‘appropriate assessment’ planning process to assess all forest projects, including planting, road-building and tree felling.”
“This rigid process, facilitated by the Fiánna Fail and the Green Minister, necessitates a 15 km zone around the forest site be scrutinised to determine any impact from the forest operation applied for.”
“The practical application of this means, if, say, we were going to plant a forest in St Stephen’s Green, it would essentially mean the area from Swords to Lucan and onto Bray would have to be examined.”
“This new requirement is beyond absurd. However, it appears the government are happy to hide behind this new bureaucratic rule. It is, truthfully, a sinister attempt to curtail conifer afforestation in Ireland.”
“The Minister for Agriculture and the government, through ineptitude, have stalled the sector, collapsed the afforestation process, starved sawmills of raw materials, deprived forest owners of income and the ability and right to manage their forest holdings, as well as depriving foresters, nurseries and contractors of business. This is forcing farmers to leave the industry,” concluded the deputy.