Ministers declare hope amid despair from rural workforce
As the licencing scandal and crisis continues across Ireland, affecting employment and peoples livelihoods, a protest was held in dublin yesterday by harvesting contractores and foresters to force action to be taken.
While ministers McConalogue and Hackett did engage, there was a sense of frustration in those attending whch has spread across the industry - adding to the very high levels of frustration already in existence.
A press release was issues by the minsters: We met today with members of the IFA who were protesting at the rate at which forestry licenses are being issued to individual farmers by our department.
We gave them good news on recent improvements, and also told them that while we accept there are issues, we believe we are addressing them robustly, indeed with their help and co-operation, through Project Woodland.
In terms of figures, we explained that in June of this year 411 licenses were issued. 80% of those were private, the highest number of private licenses issued in one month in five years. We also updated them on staffing increases, in terms of ecologists, inspectors and administrators.
However we also focussed 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 industry and for biodiversity.
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 representatives 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 also devise that new strategy.
It is a process which is giving a genuine voice to all involved and it is working well.
One of the early asks from one of the groups was that Minister Hackett would undertake a fundamental regulatory review of the licensing system, as well as of the processes pursued by other Member States. Such a review had also been called for by the Oireachtas Committee and stakeholders. And Minister Hackett has asked the Project Board to progress that immediately.
And in the Irish Times today, an article was printed from Barry O'Halloran (copied in full, all credit to Barry O'Halloran of the Irish Times)
Family farm forest owners say they cannot get licences and income IFA-led protest outside the Dáil highlights backlog of permissions for forest activity Wed, Jul 14, 2021, 14:39 Barry O'Halloran
Delays in processing forestry applications have resulted in farmers not being able to access and thin forests they planted and so not achieve an income from the process.
That is according to farmers who on Wednesday protested outside the Convention Centre in Dublin to highlight what they say is the “no win” position of farmers who followed Government policy in buying into the forestry scheme.
“Farmers 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,” IFA president Tim Cullinan said.
Mr Cullinan said there were nearly 6,000 applications for forest licences covering 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”, he said.
Mr Cullinan said those who had bought into forestry were seeing “the value of their timber crop decrease by over €10,000 per hectare, if they cannot get a licence to thin.”
He said the crisis was undermining confidence in forestry as a land use option, “at a time when we need more farmers to plant if we are to meet our climate objectives”.
Following a meeting with the protesters, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett issued a statement saying the “good news” was that 411 licenses were issued in June of this year.
About 80 percent of those licences were private, the highest number of private licenses issued in one month in five years. “We also updated them on staffing increases, in terms of ecologists, inspectors and administrators” the statement said.
However both ministers said they also focussed “on the wider issue” which was to devise a vision for Irish forestry for the next 100 years.
“ Project Woodland is both fixing the current issues and working on the longer term vision. It involves representatives 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 also devise that new strategy” the statement said.
Ms Hackett also undertook to complete “a fundamental regulatory review of the licensing system”, as well as a review of the processes pursued by other EU states.
Forestry accounts for 11 per cent or 770,020 hectares, of the total land area of Ireland, with 49percent in private ownership. The value of the industry to the national economy is €2.3 billion.
On Tuesday Mr Cullinan also took part in a protest at the Convention Centre, this time in support of horticultural workers who built a display of peat products. The protest was aimed at highlighting what they said was the Government’s inaction over the decline of their industry.
Larry Doran spokesman for the Kildare Growers said politicians who allowed a ban have “ignored and let down” some 17,000 people employed in mainly rural areas.
Mr Doran said operators are at “the end of their tether since the ban on harvesting of peat” on bogs of over 30 hectares in size.
Mr Doran said if no solution is found immediately, “businesses will be forced to close and there will be a loss of native biodiversity and biosecurity”.