The issues in the forestry sector and the attempts to deal with them have been slammed by one TD, who has labelled it a “national scandal”.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said it was “mind-boggling” that mills in Ireland were forced to import timber from abroad “in order to keep the show on the road”, given the amount of timber that is fit to cut in Ireland.
“There are thousands of licences currently submitted to the Forestry Service of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine – cross clear felling, thinning, roads and afforestation – with applicants yet to receive a decision,” Fitzmaurice highlighted.
In the first three full weeks of this month, only 86 licences have been processed. Coillte felling licences amounted to 19, private felling licences up to 37, road licences reached 18 and afforestation licences equalled a paltry 12.
“This is despite senior representatives within the Forest Service previously citing a target of processing 100 licences a week in order to reach their annual goal of 4,500,” the Roscommon-Galway TD said.
He claimed that, if results such as these were seen in the private sector, there would be “serious reforms and people would lose their jobs over it”.
“Mills are struggling to source timber and foresters with big outlays on machinery are struggling to secure work in order to keep repayments paid and wages in their employees’ pockets. Yet the Forest Service seems to be pondering along at the same pace which has led us to this crisis situation in the first place,” Fitzmaurice argued.
He asserted that success in the sector had to be measured by the number of licences processed, adding that the clearing of the backlog, at the moment, “seems like a pipedream”.
“We are seven months into the year and only 2,722ha of afforestation has been licenced – which is a long way from the 8,000ha target that we have failed to meet continuously in recent years,” the TD continued.
“If this trickle of licences continues, it will place the final nail in the coffin and countless people will lose their jobs. Serious questions will have to be answered at the next meeting of the agriculture committee by Minister [of State] Pippa Hackett and senior representatives,” Fitzmaurice concluded.