Following a protest by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) today (Wednesday, July 14) on the issue of the backlog in the forestry licencing systems, the ministers responsible have issued a joint statement in response.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Pippa Hackett met with the IFA members today, where they argued that improvements to the system have been made, though the ministers accepted that “there are issues”.

However, they said that these are “being addressed robustly with [the IFA’s] help and cooperation through Project Woodland”.

Ministers McConalogue and Hackett noted that 411 licences had been issued last month, 80% of which were for private licences – the highest figure for five years.

They also provided IFA representatives – led by the association’s president Tim Cullinan – with updates on staffing increases in terms of ecologists, inspectors and administrators.

“However, we also focused on the wider issue which is to devise a vision for Irish forestry for the next 100 years. We need, as a country, to agree on what we want from our trees, so that our woodlands and forests work for our communities, for our industry and for biodiversity,” the ministers said.

“With the help of the farmers protesting today and other stakeholders, Project Woodland is both fixing the current issues and working on the longer-term vision.

“It involves representation from all stakeholders, coming together in working groups, along with officials and outside expertise, to fix the backlog; reform the process; make organisational structures fit for purpose; and devise the new strategy,” they said.

Their comments come after the IFA’s demonstration in which Tim Cullinan said that farmers had “planted their land with the legitimate expectation that they would be able to thin and realise an income during its rotation, but the delays mean that this is no longer a reality for many”.

“There are nearly 6,000 forest licences – afforestation, road and felling licences – caught up in the backlog. This is jeopardising the entire industry, from nurseries to sawmilling, with hundreds of jobs already lost,” the IFA president stressed.