The forestry sector in Ireland is facing a crisis due to the “clueless and out-of-touch mentality” of government ministers, according to Independent TD for Laois-Offaly, Carol Nolan. Nolan has accused the current Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, and the Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, of not understanding what is needed to help the sector survive its current crisis. Nolan’s comments come after she visited Laois Sawmills in her constituency, which she said confirmed her view about how ministers are dealing with current forestry issues. She warned that the forestry organisations “now feel they may as well be banging their heads against the wall”.
The most recent figures from the forest licensing dashboard show that so far this year, 52 applications for afforestation licenses have been received and a total of six have been issued. A further 207 applications were submitted for forestry road licenses and 25 were issued so far this year. It shows a total of 1,125 applications have been put forward for felling licenses and 1,316 have been issued. The number of licenses issued and the amount of afforestation is down in the first four months of this year compared to last year.
The Climate Action Plan has set out an afforestation target of 8,000 hectares per year, but Nolan has warned that there has been no progress made on any potential solutions that industry members have put forward to ministers. “Sooner rather than later we are going to arrive at the threshold of serious job losses and massive reputational damage worldwide,” she said.
Nolan also criticised the “borderline uselessness” of the ash dieback scheme and the “suggestions” from Minister Hackett that the industry move toward hard wood, which she said entails decades-long delays in returns. She described these as “symptoms of quite frankly dangerous levels of political incomprehension”.
There has been no further update on the government’s progress to secure European Commission approval for Ireland’s proposed new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme. Minister Pippa Hackett told the Dáil last week that the Irish government’s submission was in the “hands of the commission now”. “It will work internally. The submission will be sent to the Directorate-General for Competition and it will then engage internally with other directorates-general on it. While we have not heard anything from the commission yet, we expect to hear very shortly. We may still have queries to be addressed,” she added.
The forestry sector is crucial for Ireland’s economy, providing employment for over 12,000 people and generating €2.3 billion in annual exports. It is also vital for the country’s biodiversity, with forests covering around 11% of the land area. Therefore, it is important for the government to address the concerns of industry members and ensure the survival of the sector.