‘Sawmills have run out of timber and people are being laid off’

The forestry industry is “in a state of emergency and people are being laid off all around the sector”, according to Forest Industries Ireland (FII), which has criticised the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for its delay in implementing the new Forestry Act.

In a statement today, the Irish forestry stakeholders’ representative group said: “Following the Forestry Act, the expectation of the forestry and timber industries was for rapid implementation of the reforms to the FAC [Forestry Appeals Committee] enabled by the legislation and inroads being made into the backlog of appeals.

“The legislation has not been implemented on the ground and the industry is in chaos; there is widespread dismay in the industry as the department has been given the tools but are not moving and are missing all their targets,” the group said.

The sawmills have run out of timber and the forestry sector has little or no planting programme ahead of it for the winter.

“People are being laid off all around the sector. The industry is in a state of emergency. The legislation is passed but the implementation is non-existent.”

FII said that a number of commitments were made to the industry, adding that “these have so far failed to materialise”.

The sector representative body listed these commitments:
  • The FAC was to immediately split into ‘divisions’ so that multiple appeals could be dealt with simultaneously;
  • Hearings were to be dealt with more efficiently by using a desk-based assessment;
  • The current indication is for about 20 appeals being heard per month;
  • Additional resources immediately appointed to increase the capacity of the FAC;
  • Rapid acceleration in the rate of appeals being processed.

Noting that the department has suggested that the appeals backlog will be dealt with by the end of January, FII claims that there is “zero evidence of this being achievable”.

“It will be another target missed by the department just like all the targets it has set for the processing of forestry applications,” the industry body said.

“This has always been, and continues to be, a crisis much of the department’s own making and one that was always within the power of the department to resolve,” FII claimed.

FII called for the following changes to be made “immediately as per the legislation”:
  • The FAC “should split into multiple divisions with two members constituting a quorum”;
  • Deputy chairpersons can be appointed as required;
  • The FAC “should set itself a target of dealing with at least 30 appeals per week, to clear the backlog by the end of January”;
  • The “department itself needs to dramatically improve its performance and start hitting much higher licensing figures”.

“The initial damage has been left to fester and has grown into a full-scale emergency for an industry, its employees and farmers across the country,” the industry body concluded.