‘Forestry is a key sector and an important employer’ – Minister for Agriculture

“It’s crucial and it’s a top priority for both myself and Minister Hackett.”

That’s the response from newly appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue when questioned by AgriLand about the current crisis in the forestry sector.

In a sit-down interview with AgriLand news editor Stella Meehan and journalist Sylvester Phelan, Minister McConalogue acknowledged that forestry is a “key, very important sector and an important employer – and I know Minister [Pippa] Hackett has been working with the sector”.

One of the three “super junior” ministers at cabinet, Minister Hackett is Minister of State for Agriculture with responsibility for land use and biodiversity.

Proposed new legislation for forestry

Minister McConalogue says the department is working on framing a bill which it’s hoped will be brought before the Oireachtas “ASAP over the next couple of weeks”.

Minister McConalogue added:

“We are very much aware of the difficulties at the moment in terms of throughput of produce and not only the knock-on effect it is having on those who are in forestry, but also particularly in industry.

It’s an immediate priority and one we’re seeking to try and resolve.

Concerns about resources

When questioned about concerns regarding a lack of resources within the department to deal with the backlog of forestry felling licence applications and appeals, Minister McConalogue said:

“We will be certainly and absolutely looking at what additional resources are required to support that work. I think the key thing though is structural. It’s about bringing about some reforms to try to ensure that the process is more fit for the experience it has had in recent times.

The number of ecologists has increased to 12 and that has been an important resource in relation to having that capacity to ensure that that capacity is there.

“But I think in terms of the structural workings now of the process and the appeals system to try and ensure while there is certainly a robust system in place, it’s one that doesn’t become log-jammed with the high number of appeals and they can actually process them in a timely manner,” added the minister.

Potential job losses

Trade union SIPTU has said that up to 13,000 jobs could be lost in the sector, including in sawmills and nurseries if the problems in the regulatory and licencing system for tree felling are not resolved.

The union said that the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) operated by the Department of Agriculture is processing appeals at a rate of around 20 per month, while hundreds of appeals remain outstanding.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said farmers have “disengaged from forestry as a viable land use option due to the excessive bureaucracy”.

The IFA Farm Forestry Committee chair Vincent Nally says farmers are “facing delays of up to two years and, in some instances, significantly longer to get licences to plant, build a forest road or thin their forest”.