Agriculture minister urged to appoint chair to implement forestry report

The Labour party spokesperson on agriculture Seán Sherlock has called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue to appoint a chairperson to implement the findings of a report related to forestry.

The Mackinnon Report carried out by Jim Mackinnon – former chief planner with the Scottish government – reviewed the forestry approval process and related issues in Ireland.

This was similar to an exercise which Mackinnon had previously conducted for the Scottish authorities.

It was published at the end of last year and presented to the Forestry Programme Implementation Group in January 2020.

Its implementation is one of the commitments which the government made for forestry in the Programme for Government.

Input into forestry report

The report was informed by discussions with a range of stakeholders including the forestry sector; farming organisations; the environmental pillar; state bodies; Teagasc; and the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC).

In addition, written submissions were received as part of the process.

The report includes ’22 Ways Forward’ or recommendations across a range of issues.

In response to a parliamentary question by deputy Seán Sherlock, Minister McConalogue said:

“I am pleased to say that many of these recommendations have already been taken on board by the department and acted upon.

We have, for instance, in line with Mackinnon, introduced an amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act and have issued guidance on Natura Impact Statements. We have also introduced a single consent system for forestry road planning.

“I recognise, of course, that it is very important that the report is fully implemented and that is why I am currently examining the appointment of an independent chair to oversee the process.

“The intention is that this person will report on the feasibility of implementing the Mackinnon recommendations for us to consider further,” the minister added.

A review of the Forestry Programme Implementation Group is currently underway to enhance representation so that the membership on the group is best selected to help advise on the implementation of the national programme.

The minister added that there is a huge amount of activity in forestry at the moment, particularly on the reform of the planning and appeals processes and the commencement of the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020.

“Nonetheless, I am well aware that implementation of the Mackinnon [report] is also a priority and I expect to be making further announcements on this issue in the near future,” Minister McConalogue concluded.