A total of 14 people have opted into the Ash dieback scheme to date, according to latest figures from an industry group.

The Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA) has claimed that the Ash Dieback Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) has attracted just 14 people – despite it said “Ash dying, dead and rotten all over the country”.

SEEFA has now accused the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of refusing to give farm families “the support they need to remove seriously decayed trees from the Irish landscape before serious injuries occur”.

According to the industry group latest data shows that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has issued just 5 afforestation licences this year to date.

SEEFA has said it believes Minister Charlie McConalogue is “sleeping at the wheel” in relation to the forestry sector.

Forestry Weekly Dashboard Week 2 May 2023 Source: DAFM

Minister McConalogue has previously outlined that an interim ash dieback reconstitution programme is in place under an interim afforestation scheme.

He told the Dáil that DAFM was continuing to to issue and accept felling licence applications.

“It is actively working with applicants to finalise any outstanding information required to allow decisions to be made on their applications and I intend to publish a new forestry licensing plan once state aid for the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027 has been approved by the European Commission”.

However the Independent TD for Laois Offaly, Carol Nolan, has now written to the minister to ask him if he believes that the Ash dieback scheme is fit for purpose.

“Organisations like SEEFA feel, just the like the rest of us, that they are shouting into the void when it comes to addressing the chronic and persistent levels of departmental and ministerial underachievement when it comes to Irish forestry,” said Deputy Nolan.

She said the lack of numbers applying to the Ash dieback scheme show it ” is simply not appealing to forest owners in any meaningful way”.

“I am reiterating my call for a full review of the current approach which ensures that farmers cannot engage in clearing and felling of dead and dying trees without a licence,” Deputy Nolan added.

The leader of the Social Democrats, Deputy Holly Cairns, has also challenged Minister McConalogue on why DAFM “has not accepted any afforestation, ash dieback or forest road applications since January 1, 2023 from private individuals and companies”.

Minister McConalogue told Deputy Cairns that the government is still awaiting formal approval from the European Commission to the Programme for the €1.3 billion programme.

“Once EU Commission approval has been received, we will be in a position to launch the new Programme, subject to finalisation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Forestry Weekly Dashboard Week 2 May 2023 Source: DAFM

“It is important to note however, that no new approvals can issue under these or any other schemes until the appropriate environmental processes have been concluded,” the minister added.

However he also highlighted that while DAFM cannot issue licences for grant-aided afforestation, roads or forestry support schemes until the new programme is in place, felling licences have continued to issue.