The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is currently processing forestry applications while awaiting state aid approval from the European Commission for its next forestry programme, according to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. The Irish government has submitted its proposed €1.3 billion forestry programme for 2023 to 2027 to the European Commission for approval. However, the programme is subject to state aid approval under the guidelines from the European Union Commission. The commission has requested further information about the programme from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), which is preparing an additional reply.
In the meantime, the new forestry programme is on hold until it receives the green light from the commission. Sinn Féin TD for Tipperary, Martin Browne, questioned Minister McConalogue on the measures being taken to address any backlog in afforestation licence applications resulting from the delayed forestry programme. The minister explained that DAFM is processing applications up to the point of certification and approval. The aim is to process as many grant aid applications as possible so that approvals can be issued promptly once allowed. Minister McConalogue reiterated his commitment to delivering a fully functioning licensing system that meets the needs of the sector and society.
Independent TD for Clare, Violet-Anne Wynne, raised concerns over the six-month delay in publishing the new forestry programme for 2024. Minister McConalogue highlighted that DAFM has been actively engaging with the commission to secure approval. However, Sinn Féin TD for Roscommon-Galway, Claire Kerrane, pointed out the need for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in relation to the forestry programme. The forest strategy implementation plan, which includes the forestry programme 2023-2027, was published for public consultation in October 2022. The commission is currently reviewing Ireland’s state aid notification and will decide whether the proposed aid is compatible with EU rules. Once state aid approval is granted, the SEA can be finalized, taking into account any relevant outcomes from the process.
Overall, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is actively processing forestry applications while awaiting state aid approval from the European Commission for the new forestry programme. The aim is to minimize any backlog in afforestation licence applications and ensure prompt processing once the programme receives approval. Minister McConalogue remains committed to delivering a fully functioning licensing system that aligns with the ambitions of the new forestry programme. The delay in publishing the programme for 2024 is being addressed, and the Strategic Environmental Assessment will be finalized once state aid approval is granted.