‘Backlog of over 1,500 applications’: Issue of felling and forestry licences raised

The backlog in the approval of forestry felling licences was raised as a key concern by Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture Seán Sherlock, who has called for a new system for felling and afforestation licences.

“The backlog of allocating licences is severe and having a real impact on those awaiting their licences,” said deputy Sherlock.

“There is a backlog of over 1,500 applications awaiting approval and the run-rate of licences being issued is about a quarter of what the sector needs.

It is absolutely essential that the department finds a way to quickly deal with the backlog and dramatically increase the supply of licences. The licensing system needs reform and must be capable of delivering licences within 120 days of application – this is the core industry requirement.

Deputy Sherlock submitted a parliamentary question on the matter to the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dara Calleary.

In his response, Minister Calleary said: “There are currently delays to issuing decisions on forestry licence applications, which are as a result of the changes made to internal Appropriate Assessment Procedures [AAP].

“These were introduced in response to important Court of Justice of the European Union [CJEU] decisions and their subsequent interpretation by the FAC and others. These findings meant that in order to grant licences which fully meet environmental requirements, fundamental changes to the licensing system were unavoidable.

My department has a detailed project plan in place for dealing with the current backlog and new applications, which includes significant investment in extra resources required to deliver the plan.

“These resources are a combination of additional ecologists, forestry inspectors and administrative staff where required.”

Continuing, the minister explained that one aspect of this plan is prioritising applications where the applicant has submitted a Natura Impact Statement (NIS).

It is open to a person to submit an NIS, which must be prepared by a suitably qualified person, at their own expense, he added.

If the applicant decides to provide an NIS, my department will issue guidance, which will indicate on what areas the NIS must focus.

Responding, deputy Sherlock said: “A crisis in bureaucracy cannot be solved by even more bureaucracy.

“We must be innovative when addressing these matters because it is the difference between sustainable forestry or the sector completely collapsing. It is that stark,” deputy Sherlock concluded.