Calls for Minister Hackett’s Resignation Over Delay in National Forestry Programme
The private sector forestry group, SEEFA, has called for the resignation of Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Senator Pippa Hackett, due to the delay in implementing the new national forestry programme. This comes after two DAFM forestry officials appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine last Wednesday, where they were asked to provide an update on Ireland’s forestry strategy. However, the committee was left frustrated by a lack of information.
The Irish government has submitted its proposed new €1.3 billion forestry programme for 2023 to 2027 for approval to the European Commission. The programme is subject to state aid approval under the commission’s guidelines. Fergus Moore, a senior forestry inspector at DAFM, informed the committee that the commission had written to the department on June 6 and June 21 regarding its review of Ireland’s application. He stated that the department had responded in detail to the correspondence received on June 6 and was preparing an additional comprehensive reply to the further correspondence received on June 21, which would be issued shortly.
Moore also revealed that in-person bilateral discussions had taken place on June 20, 2023, between the commission and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, and Minister of State, Pippa Hackett. Independent Senator Victor Boyhan raised concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the forestry programme at the European level. He asked about the concerns raised by the commission. Seamus Dunne, the head of the forestry inspectorate at DAFM, acknowledged that the aim of the department was to have the forestry programme up and running “as early as possible this year.” He expressed surprise at the length and complexity of the approval process, stating that previous state aid approval processes had not indicated such delays.
Dunne explained that intensive discussions were ongoing on several issues, most of which were related to environmental concerns raised by the commission. These issues included the percentage of broadleaf trees planted, the impact on farmland birds, and planting on peatlands, Annex 1 habitats, and high-value farmland. When pressed by Senator Boyhan, Dunne admitted that he could not disclose the department’s position on each of these issues, but he could share the concerns raised.
Chair of the committee, Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, expressed disbelief at the situation, stating that there had been two years to submit the policy to Brussels and yet six months into the process, unresolved issues were still being dealt with. Cahill emphasized the dire state of the forestry sector, with contractors anxiously awaiting a resolution. He described the situation as appalling and called for more clarity from both Minister Ryan and Minister Hackett.
SEEFA, the representative body for the private forestry sector in Ireland, expressed outrage at the failure to implement the new forestry programme. The organization highlighted that this is the first time since the commencement of private forestry in Ireland that there is no operational forestry scheme. SEEFA believes that Minister Hackett’s lack of interest in progressing commercial forestry is evident and has misled the sector regarding the proposed new forestry scheme. SEEFA called for Minister Hackett’s resignation, stating that the failure to implement the scheme by the extended deadline of January 2023 can only be seen as negligence and a dereliction of duty.
In conclusion, the delay in implementing the new national forestry programme has led to calls for Minister Pippa Hackett’s resignation. The lack of transparency and unresolved issues with the European Commission have raised concerns about the future of Ireland’s forestry sector. SEEFA has expressed outrage at the failure to implement the programme and has called for urgent action. The forestry industry and contractors are eagerly awaiting a resolution to ensure the sector’s viability and growth.