‘Massive problems’ in Ireland’s Forest Service – Fitzmaurice

The Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is beset with “massive problems”, according to one independent TD, who has called for Minister Michael Creed to “start cracking the whip” in the service.

Michael Fitzmaurice, a TD for Roscommon-Galway, claimed that “chaos is imminent in the forestry sector” if steps are not taken to resolve the situation, which has seen afforestation and tree felling licences being stalled.

“Over the last eight to 10 months we have seen a situation develop where afforestation and felling licences have almost ground to a standstill because of EU law being tightly enforced in Ireland, as well as environmental lobby groups forcing the issue,” Fitzmaurice commented.

The Government and the department are well aware of this situation. Within the Forest Service of the department there seems to be massive problems, with files not being dealt with and with no apparent willingness among senior officials to resolve the issues facing the sector.

“This Government has indicated how it intends to move to planting 8,000ha of forestry per year. At the moment, it looks as if they are not able to cater for 1ha with the chaos that is going on,” the TD remarked.

Fitzmaurice also pointed out the financial impact that this situation could soon have on operators and businesses in the forestry sector.

“Much of the forestry machinery in the country – be it lorries, cutting equipment or forwarders – is on the brink of being parked up. Large repayments outstanding on these machines will mean owners and operators will be put in a situation where, unless they find felling work in other countries, they will go out of business,” he highlighted.

The mills around this country are in danger of closure as well; or else they will have to look at significantly increasing the level of timber imported into this country.

“It would be rather ironic to see timber coming in through one port and departing through another after being processed here, while mature plantations are left in limbo here due to red tap,” the TD noted.

Environmental lobby

Fitzmaurice expressed his opinion that environmental lobby groups had an undue level of influence in European regulation, which is increasing the number of ecology-related jobs and rules, thereby adding to the problem.

“In my opinion, environmental lobby groups are getting too much airplay and too much credence is paid to what they are saying. The minister, in my view, has problems within his department. Leadership has to be shown and senior officials within his department need to take the reins and rapidly address the issues facing the sector,” he argued.

There are allegedly hundreds of files in front of people in the department at the moment and nothing is being dealt with; this is a chaotic situation which has been allowed to get out of control.

“It is time that both the senior and junior minister in the department [Michael Creed and Andrew Doyle] go over to Europe and explain the situation. They need to show some authority and demand changes which allow the forestry sector in this country to get back on track – otherwise job losses are imminent,” the TD insisted.

“Forestry targets previously stated by this Government will not be met, simple as that, if the system is allowed to continue as it currently stands. Bluffing at this stage is not the answer,” he added.