Environmental lobby group: ‘Democracy is undermined’ by fee for forestry objections

An environmental lobby group has argued that the proposed amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act 2001 to align forestry licencing and appeals processes will have “dire consequences”.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett recently opened a consultation for the amendment. Comments were welcomed before the draft bill is presented to the Oireachtas after the summer recess and the deadline for submissions on the draft of the amendment was Friday (August 28).

In its submission, Friends of the Irish Environment criticised the proposed fee for objection to forestry applications and appeals:

“Democracy is being undermined by the increasing restrictions on public participation in Irish civil society.

“Bridges have not been built between communities seeking their rights and our local and national authorities.

In fact, the opposite has happened: Walls are being incrementally erected by administrators to keep out citizens unless they comply with multiplying and onerous conditions.

“It is now understood that full and unhindered participation is the only way that governments can bring their citizens with them to support the increasing hard decision required as the impacts of climate change undermine our infrastructure and threaten human well-being.”

‘To have the power of the Mayor of Shanghai’

In its submission, the group also cited Bertie Ahern’s quote from 2005, that he would “like to have the power of the Mayor of Shanghai”.

The group says the ex-Taoiseach highlighted this “view of a world without objectors” when he stated:

“I would like to have the power of the Mayor [of Shanghai] when he decides if he wants to do a highway; if he wants to bypass an area he just goes straight up and over. I know that is not going to happen at home. I would just like that, when I am trying to put it on the ground, that we get through the consultation process as quick as possible.”

The group argues that the precedent, the €20 fee to participate in the planning process introduced in 2000, would “itself, no longer be acceptable in view of legal developments over the last 20 years”.

As part of its submission, the group also cited: the 2003 EU Directive on public participation “which says that participation should be fostered”; the Aarhus Convention ratified by Ireland in 2012; and the 2013 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

Friend of the Irish Environment’s Tony Lowes said that “heavily subsidised tax-free commercial conifer plantations have destroyed vast areas of critical importance to our ecosystems and have had enormous adverse social impact”.

“The case for a fee is only ‘unarguable’ if, like Bertie Ahern, you wish for a world where government believes the people are to be scorned and disenfranchised and the rulers live in an untouchable privileged world of their own.”