‘What do we tell someone waiting 900 days for a tree felling licence?’ – Sherlock

Deputy Seán Sherlock has questioned Minister Pippa Hackett on whether more full-time staff will be brought in to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal with the 5,000 tree felling licence applications log-jammed in the sector.

“What hope can the minister give my constituent, and every other constituent, who has been waiting over 900 days for a licence?” asked the Labour Party TD, during a debate on the matter on Tuesday evening (December 8).

Notwithstanding the fact that she states that there are full-time equivalents now appointed as ecologists and, notwithstanding the fact that there are 10 new forestry inspectors, to wait over 900 days for an application is too long.

“And for that person then to be told to expend considerable resources, their own resources, for a Natura Impact Statement so that it ‘might’ quicken the process.

“The minister says that she intends to recruit more ecologists. Can I ask the minister if that will be on a full-time equivalent basis as well?

Will there be permanent staff, as opposed to staff brought in on an outside contractual basis?

“Will the minister give assurances that all staff hired would be on a full-time equivalent basis, so that we can ensure that staff are retained within the service to get through each one of the felling licence applications and so that applications are expedited more quickly?”

‘We continue to recruit ecologists’

Responding to deputy Sherlock’s question, minister of state with responsibility for land use Pippa Hackett said:

“We now have 16 full-time equivalent ecologists working on forestry licencing. We continue to recruit ecologists and will be adding to this team very soon.

We have increased the number on the forestry inspectorate team dealing with licences. We recruited 10 new permanent forestry inspectors and they will join the department’s team very shortly, with four of them starting this week.

“They have been supplemented by four temporary forestry inspectors and all are immediately allocated to working on licencing.”

She added that additional administration staff have been assigned to licencing to help and that she is keeping all of these resources under review.

A ‘significantly improved output’

Deputy Hackett said that investment is “already resulting in significantly improved output”.

“October and November were the highest months this year for licence output, with almost 600 new licences issued in those months,” she continued.

“Licencing for felling with a volume of some 1.4 million tonnes was issued in that time. This is almost as much as the previous five months combined. I anticipate these positive trends to continue into December and beyond.”