The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is “moving the goal posts” on ecology reviews for tree felling applications, according to the agriculture spokesperson for the Labour Party.

This is because, Seán Sherlock said, the department is “insisting” that a Natura Impact Assessment (NIS) is required in order to prioritise tree felling applications.

“An NIS is a further cost to the applicant, after the fact of submitting an application,” the Cork East TD argued.

There are 1,890 applications still on file to be assessed [by ecologists]. The department is prioritising files where the applicant has provided an NIS.

“This still places further burdens on the applicant when the original application did not require such an extra cost,” he remarked.

Sherlock’s comments come after he received a response to a written parliamentary question from Minister Charlie McConalogue, who said that, when an NIS is received, it is assigned to an ecologist and normally processed “within two to three months of receipt”.

The minister confirmed the figure of 1,890 applications referred to the ecology team, and added that most files referred to ecologists will require an appropriate assessment.

Of those 1,890 applications, 1,123 are for tree felling licences from private landowners.

Of those 1,123 tree felling applications, Co. Cork has 130, the most of any county. This is followed by Co. Tipperary, with 111; and counties Clare and Kerry, with 100 each.

Appropriate Assessment Determination

The minister also told Sherlock that, where applications required an appropriate assessment, the department will carry out an Appropriate Assessment Determination (AAD).

“This can be done by the department itself carrying out an Appropriate Assessment Report to inform the AAD, or by the applicant providing a NIS to inform the AAD. The department prioritises files where the applicant has provided a NIS,” Minister McConalogue said.

He added that there are currently 39 felling applications assigned to ecologists for which a NIS has been received, which are being processed.