The Rural Independent Group of TDs has expressed serious concerns about Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, Pippa Hackett, accusing her of “inaction” and delaying Ireland’s Forestry Programme. The politicians claim that the delay in obtaining EU approval for the Forestry Programme for the period 2023 to 2027 has had a significant impact on the sector, particularly affecting farmers who are unable to apply for planting due to the absence of technical approval.
Deputy Mattie McGrath said: “Farmers [who] want to plant and take advantage of the new grants and premiums cannot currently submit an application and will continue to be excluded from planting until state aid approval has been granted. The programme, which was announced with great excitement over eight months ago, needs to be opened urgently.”
Last November, the Taoiseach, along with Ministers Charlie McConalogue and Hackett, unveiled the new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme for 2023 to 2027, with plans to open it in January 2023. Deputy Mattie McGrath said, “Many people in the sector now feel deceived regarding the proposed new forestry scheme. The delay, caused by not securing EU approval before the launch event, has led to this outrageous delay.”
In November 2022, €1.3 billion in funding was announced for the new Forestry Programme, which will offer grants and premiums for the planting of trees at significantly higher rates than before. The rates increased for all 12 categories of forests, with the grant payment for native forests increasing to €6,744/ha, the broadleaf payment increasing to €4,314/ha, and the agroforestry payment increasing to €8,555/ha. The premium payments also increased for these categories to €1,103/ha, €1,037/ha, and €975/ha respectively. In addition, the premium period has been extended from 15 years to 20 years for farmers under the programme.
The Rural Independents have said that the lack of urgency and commitment to the forestry sector by the minister responsible has left numerous farmers “frustrated” and excluded from the benefits offered by the new grants and premiums. Deputy McGrath added, “To make matters worse, the lack of adequate information has left farmers and stakeholders in the dark, amplifying the confusion caused by the minister’s inaction.”
McGrath stressed the importance of promptly approving the Forestry Programme and making the afforestation scheme accessible to all farmers. Currently, the programme’s approval is pending the European Commission’s State Aid approval process. “It’s no wonder that industry stakeholders and farmers are deeply frustrated. That’s why I am urging the minister to be transparent and take decisive action to address these concerns,” the rural TD continued.
“I implore Minister Pippa Hackett to promptly address these issues and facilitate the implementation of the Forestry Programme. Failing to do so would further hinder Ireland’s forestry sector, which is already facing significant challenges,” he said.