The Irish forest sector is facing a deepening crisis with at least 1,000 jobs immediately at risk in the forest contracting sector, according to Forest Industry Ireland (FII).

The contracting sector is responsible for the work at ground level, consisting of felling and planting of trees and transporting timber – and is most at risk due to the ongoing licensing issue, FII said in a hard-hitting statement, warning that the industry has “lost patience”.

For several months now the Department of Agriculture has been unable to provide the licences that the industry needs to carry out its daily operations of planting and felling trees, the Ibec forestry group noted.

The crisis has reached the point where major job losses are feared as companies simply do not have the licences they need to keep their people busy, the group warned.

Mark McAuley, director of FII, warned: “The sector is worth over €2 billion to the economy and employs 12,000 people throughout every county in Ireland.

“It also has a major role to play in combating climate change – but its ability to do that is completely undermined by the inability of the Department of Agriculture to provide the licensing platform it needs.

“We can’t get the trees planted and we can’t harvest the timber,” he said.

Licences are the lifeblood of the sector and without them we can do nothing. The department has been working on its new processes for months – but time has run out and the sector is on its knees as a result.

Continuing, McAuley said FII has “put huge pressure” on the department but “to little avail”, adding that the group wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week.

“There must be the political will and the money spent to get this problem solved. Minister Andrew Doyle is committed to the sector but his people are not able to produce a solution.

‘They have failed us’

“We warned them about this more than a year ago,” the director claimed.

“They have failed us and every time we speak to them there is no indication of when new licences will be provided.”

McAuley said: “The industry has lost patience. There is huge anger as people’s businesses are at risk.

“Farmers are also being damaged as they can’t sell their timber or get their forests thinned. They can’t even get a licence to plant new trees.

Serious, long-term damage is being done – and it will be long term if this is not resolved fast.

“People will leave the sector and not come back. The sawmills are already running far below capacity and could even run out of timber next year. These are big employers with huge capital investment.

“This sector has a bright future – it is vital to our rural communities and environmental goals so it is a tragedy that a short-term bureaucratic and regulatory failure is doing so much damage.

“The Department of Agriculture needs to get on top of this and fast,” McAuley concluded.