Part-time Clare farmer convicted of felling trees without licence

A Burren farmer committed “a heinously illegal act” when felling trees on his lands without a licence.

That is according to Judge Patrick Durcan who fined David McMahon €600 after convicting the father-of-two for removing trees without a licence at Conga, Ruan, Co. Clare between September 1, 2018 and November 30, 2018.

Counsel for the Minister for Agriculture, Thomas Wallace O’Donnell told the court that the department’s own estimate is that 40,000 trees were felled.

O’Donnell told the court: “The department views this case as very serious.”

Forestry Act 2014

It is understood that the case is the first such conviction under the Forestry Act 2014.

However, counsel for McMahon of Ballincorra, Kilfenora, Co. Clare, Donal Cronin stated that the 40,000 estimate “totally overstates what took place”.

McMahon’s barrister stated that what took place “is not offending in that order at all whatsoever”.

“Mr McMahon entered a plea at an early stage and accepts that there has been wrong-doing but he wasn’t aware of the extent of his wrong doing at the time,” Donal Cronin stated.

The agricultural activity he engaged in was the removal of scrub from his land.

“The amount of actual physical trees that may have been discommoded is uncertain, but it is far less than the figure of 40,000,” the defence barrister added.

Mr. Cronin stated that the figure of 40,000 “only comes into play by an estimate by the state and what I might say is the broadest possible definition of the concept of a tree”.

McMahon’s barrister told the court that his client has been farming the land in the Burren for generations “and would consider some growth to be scrub as opposed to a tree. It is an issue that could have taken up a lot of court time if the matter was contested”.

What my client engaged in was normal routine agricultural practice in the area that was incentivised and facilitated by the department over the years.

The barrister added “in the strongest possible terms” that McMahon didn’t realise that what he was doing was wrong.

McMahon was described in court as “a good character” and a part-time farmer by necessity.

His barrister stated that McMahon’s means “are limited and small. He is a man of modest means and very embarrassed about being the courts”.

Loss of earnings

Donal Cronin stated: “As a result of what has happened and as a result of the planting order that is in being now, my client will face – conservatively – a loss of earnings of direct subvention from the state of a minimum of €10,000 per annum.

That arises from just one narrow condition that the minister seeks to impose on him – the exclusion of animals from the area completely for 11 years. That means to all intents and purposes that this land is no longer agricultural land.

Judge Durcan stated that the breach committed by McMahon is in the context whereby “the forestry industry is in crisis at this present time”.

“One of the shocking scandals at this present time is the way that our forestry industry has been so neglected and so little leadership has been shown by those who should show leadership,” the judge stated.