Lack of local input ‘raises question marks’ over Leitrim forestry study

Question marks have been raised regarding the terms of reference of the study into the effects of forestry in Co. Leitrim by the county’s Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) chairman James Gallagher.

Gallagher noted that the issue was first brought to light by Leitrim IFA to the organisation’s national leadership last August, when the president, deputy president and director general were invited to the county to see for themselves the effects of over-afforestation in the area.

At a county executive meeting held in Drumshanbo, a study into the social, economic and environmental impacts of afforestation was called for and terms of reference drawn up, the chairman said.

At a subsequent IFA national council meeting held on September 4, the issue was highlighted and the leadership agreed to go to the minister and seek a meeting.

This proceeded and there was no feedback on the matter until January 29 when, at the IFA’s AGM, Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Andrew Doyle announced that a study would take place, on the eve of a planned protest on the matter, spearheaded by the Save Leitrim group.

Following on from this announcement, at Leitrim IFA’s next county executive meeting on February 11, IFA National Forestry Committee chairman Vincent Nally was present, at which three resolutions were sought to be included in the upcoming study.

The first resolution sought was a number of measures they wanted included in the terms of reference that was important to Leitrim.

“That was to get up the line to the top of the IFA but the minister didn’t take it on board and they went with their own terms of reference which do not cover necessarily the main issues affecting Leitrim,” Gallagher said.

“We’re very disappointed about that; it was a great pity that we were not included.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the outcome of the study is going to be – but if they stick with the terms of reference they have out there it won’t be complete enough for the effects of the county,” the chairman added.

The key objectives that Leitrim IFA wanted to be considered under terms of reference include:
  • An expert in health impact assessment (HIA) should contribute and be central to the study so that the four goals that link HIA to the policy environment are considered. These include democracy, equity, sustainable development and ethical use of evidence;
  • An expert in soil organic carbon stocks and sequestration should contribute to the study so that sustainable land management can be fully understood in the Leitrim environment;
  • Local democratic accountability needs to be brought into the forestry planning process so that the objectives and concerns expressed in our county development plan can be effective in regulating the forestry sector within our county boundary;
  • Leitrim farming families and their activities are important economically, culturally, socially and environmentally. Forestry land use policy and climate action initiatives need to be rooted in equitable policy that considers people, the public health of our community and our rights to environmental protection that is consistent with human dignity and well-being;
  • Leitrim people need to be able to participate in a plan for our county that will protect the right of future rural generations to continue to survive and thrive in rural Leitrim with their culture and heritage intact.

The second resolution sought by the county’s IFA branch was that a draft copy of the terms of reference of the study would be shown to the county executive before being published.

“That didn’t happen and that’s a great disappointment to the Leitrim county executive that that didn’t take place; that the minister went ahead and announced them without taking ours on board,” Gallagher told AgriLand.

Finally, the third resolution called for by the IFA was that Gallagher, as county chairman, would be involved in the process, but he was not contacted about it at all.

“The first I heard of the terms of reference was I heard it in the media and I read them on AgriLand last Friday.

That was the first I saw of it. So that was a very big disappointment to us that that didn’t happen.

Concluding, Gallagher stressed that he does not wish to knock the study – however, he said, the actions to date nonetheless raise question marks over the study.

“It’s putting a question mark over the study, the fact that the terms of reference are not included that are relevant to Leitrim. The study is supposed to be based in Leitrim,” Gallagher concluded.