Leitrim as ‘sacrifice zone for sitka spruce’ raised in Dáil

An independent TD has described Co. Leitrim as a “national sacrifice zone for sitka spruce” during a speech on forestry development in the Dáil.

Marian Harkin was repeating the statement which was first made by a senior EU official.

She told Minister of State with responsibility for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett that there was state aid, grant aid and tax incentives.

However, she said: “We follow the money, not the policy, because we do not have a policy.”

Policy on tree planting

The Sligo-Leitrim deputy slammed a “so-called policy” that called for more tree planting.

She said: “As if this would solve a problem without any consideration for the settlement pattern in the country.”

Referring to the difference in afforestation in Scotland and France, deputy Harkin pointed out that it existed in large swathes of uninhabited areas and not, as in Ireland, where land for planting was competing with space for people to live.

While thousands of hectares of trees are being planted, it is worth noting that in 2019 just two planning permissions were granted for one-off houses in the open countryside in Co. Leitrim.

Deputy Harkin called for a forestry policy which catered for the needs of all of the parties involved.

“There were those totally opposed to planting and those who fully supported it, but there needed to be a middle ground approach,” she said.

The deputy said that the absence of a forestry policy was no longer sustainable as it prevented the middle ground position needed to accommodate the needs of those wishing to live in the countryside and those processing timber in companies like Masonite in Co. Leitrim.

Agroforestry under CAP

“Equally we need to involve farmers and to promote agro-forestry especially under Pillar II of the upcoming Common Agricultural Policy [CAP],” she added

Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland.

Supporting the forestry bill proposed by Deputy Martin Kenny, Marian Harkin said that there was a need to build a forestry model that was more “sustainable”; which attracted farmers; supported processors; was good for the environment and biodiversity;  and good for local rural communities.