Calls are being made for a “qualified independent chairperson” to be appointed to deal with the problems in the forestry licencing system.

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice called for the appointment of such a person to oversee the overhaul of the system who, he said, must have “an ecological qualification and expertise”.

Addressing Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in the Dáil today, (Thursday, September 17), Fitzmaurice said that this chairperson must chair a group of representatives from various stakeholders in the sector.

I welcome the news that Minister [for Agriculture, Food and the Marine] Charlie McConalogue’s request to waive the requirement for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed today by the Dáil Business Committee.

The Dáil Business Committee earlier today (Thursday, September 17) approved the fast tracking of the Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2020 to deal with the backlog in appeals of forestry applications.

“However, we can bring in all the legislation in the world, but it won’t solve the primary problem. We need to change the entire mechanism within the department, as it is in turmoil,” Fitzmaurice stressed.

He urged: “An independent chairperson, with an ecological qualification and expertise, must be appointed to oversee a complete overhaul. The chairperson needs to examine what has gone on over the last four years and if people haven’t been doing their jobs then they need to be held accountable.

Personnel within the forestry service need to be able to screen applications in or out, otherwise it will lead to a backlog when it comes to environmental impact assessments – as is the case we find ourselves in at the moment.

Fitzmaurice noted that Ireland is “just a little over halfway” towards a goal of 37,000ha when it comes to forestry targets from 2016 to 2020.

“The approval of felling licences has fallen massively in 2020 and now contractors are struggling to survive. A total of 12,000 jobs are at risk if immediate action isn’t taken,” he concluded.