A local councillor in Mayo has raised concerns over the forestry industry in the west of Ireland, claiming that the region is being used as a “carbon sink” for the rest of the country. Councillor Gerry Murray made the comments at a public meeting in Claremorris, organised by Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus to discuss rural decline and regional imbalance. Murray also described forestry as a “racketeering” venture, stating that bogland produces poor quality timber. He called for a complete review of forestry policy and criticised the difficulties faced by young farmers in expanding their enterprises.
Murray said that the west of Ireland was being used as a dumping ground for forestry, wetland bogs, wind farms, solar farms and greenways. He claimed that farmers who had planted land in good faith 30 years ago were now finding that their timber was only fit for pulp. Some farmers at the meeting questioned who owned the carbon credits for forestry and bogland, to which Murray responded that a review of the entire forestry industry was needed to determine this.
Former CEO of Knock Airport and former chair of the Western Development Commission, Liam Scollan, who also spoke at the meeting, agreed with Murray that there was a “gold rush” in the forestry industry. Earlier this month, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, confirmed that €9.25 million in grants had been paid on ash dieback schemes over the last decade. Two schemes were launched in 2013 and 2020 to provide financial support to forest owners affected by the disease.
However, the schemes have been criticised by public representatives and forestry organisations such as the Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA). Following the meeting, MEP MacManus said that there was “huge frustration” among the community about successive governments’ failure to address rural decline and regional imbalance. He called for investment and positive discrimination in the region to ensure a sustainable future for the west of Ireland.
Councillor Murray’s comments reflect growing concerns about the impact of the forestry industry on rural communities in Ireland. While afforestation can provide economic benefits, such as job creation and increased timber production, there are also concerns about the environmental impact of large-scale forestry plantations. Critics argue that monoculture plantations can lead to soil degradation, water pollution and biodiversity loss, and that they do not provide the same ecological benefits as native woodlands.
There are also concerns about the ownership of carbon credits, which are generated by trees as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries can earn carbon credits by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions or by investing in carbon sequestration projects, such as forestry. However, the ownership of these credits is often unclear, particularly in cases where forests are owned by private companies or individuals.
The Irish government has set a target of planting 440 million trees by 2040 as part of its climate action plan. However, critics argue that this target is overly ambitious and that the focus should be on improving the quality of existing woodlands rather than planting new ones. They also argue that more needs to be done to support small-scale forestry enterprises and to ensure that the economic benefits of forestry are shared more equitably among rural communities.
In conclusion, the concerns raised by Councillor Murray and others highlight the need for a more balanced and sustainable approach to forestry in Ireland. While afforestation can provide economic benefits, it is important to ensure that it is carried out in a way that protects the environment and benefits local communities. A review of forestry policy, as called for by Councillor Murray, could help to address some of these concerns and ensure that forestry in Ireland is truly sustainable in the long term.