Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Pippa Hackett told members of the Seanad this week that this year she would be asking the Irish people to “think about, and talk about” trees.

While acknowledging that the year was beginning on a note of optimism, the junior minister said there was still a climate and biodiversity crisis to be addressed.

“Trees matter. When it comes to climate, they sequester carbon, they store carbon, and apart altogether from providing us with beautiful surroundings, they provide a whole range of biodiversity, water, and ecological benefits,” she said.

Future for trees

Hackett told senators that, with a new forestry programme to be agreed this year, she wanted to make sure people had the opportunity to engage with all the issues and options, and to give their opinion on how best to address them.

“We have a much lower level of forestry cover than almost every other European country and our level of native woodland is particularly low,” she said.

“But as we attempt to up that level, we want to involve everyone in a conversation about what we, as a nation, want from our trees.”

Minister Hackett said that the conversation had already begun with a Behaviour and Attitudes poll before Christmas, which found that as a nation, we value trees, we love to walk in woodland, and that we want, and like, a mix of both conifer and native woodland.  

However she added: “The poll also showed we are much less aware than certainly I would like, of the benefits of timber for construction, and we haven’t really noticed much talk about trees in the media, about their benefits.”

The minister of state said that she really wanted to change that situation, and would start with a meeting of young people last evening (January 25), to be followed next month by a Deliberative Dialogue with 99 members of the public, followed by a subsequent online public engagement.

Minister Hackett highlighted her own love for her local woodlands at Emo Court and Charleville Castle, and closed her Seanad speech by referencing the recent words of the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), Marie Donnelly: “We are in a serious hole in terms of our afforestation rate in this country, and it is an immediate and urgent challenge to get the policies right, so as to reverse that.” 

Minister Hackett said she hoped that her national conversation would play a big part in devising such policies.