The chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has voiced “major concerns” about the “huge threat” posed by the great spruce bark beetle to Irish forestry.

Jackie Cahill said that the insect is spreading through Britain and “doing enormous damage to forestry there”.

The Fianna Fáil TD said the potential impact of the beetle on Irish forests “is not something we should take lightly”.

“Unfortunately, we have experienced diseases to trees in this country already. From the elm tree in the past, to the financial hit that has been inflicted on many more recently with ash dieback.

“All possible precautions must be taken in order to avoid further damage to our forestry here in Ireland.

“Bark beetle has the potential to do catastrophic damage to the forestry industry here,” Cahill said.

Bark beetle

The bark beetle tunnels into the bark of living trees to lay eggs and the larvae then feed on the living woody material. This forms cavities which can weaken the tree and eventually kill it.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) is calling for a temporary suspension on the importation of timber from Scotland until a full review of the biosecurity measures for the great spruce bark beetle is undertaken.

However, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has said that imports of roundwood logs from a pest free area (PFA) in Scotland are subject to an inspection regime.

It said that all coniferous roundwood timber imports into Ireland must be compliant with the EU Plant Health Regulation, while importers must be registered as professional operators

“The only area internationally where imports into Ireland of coniferous roundwood with bark is permitted is from a specific UK Government authority assigned ‘pest free area’ in the west of Scotland,” a DAFM spokesperson previously told Agriland.

Deputy Jackie Cahill said that “biosecurity measures must be of the highest standard at our posts”.

The Tipperary TD has sought clarity from Minister of State at DAFM Pippa Hackett about the “current precautions and examinations of imports at our ports”.

“If we do not have the appropriate safety mechanisms in place to protect our forests from the bark beetle, then a ban on timber imports from the affected regions is the only option in my view,” Cahill said.