Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has criticized Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Pippa Hackett, accusing her of being “sound asleep” in her role. Healy-Rae claims that the Irish forestry industry is facing a crisis due to Hackett’s inaction, particularly in relation to the delayed issuance of licenses. The DAFM issued two afforestation licenses in August, bringing the total number of licenses for new plantings issued this year to 12. Healy-Rae stated, “I feel that [Minister Hackett] is sound asleep on the job and since she took over the situation has gone from bad to worse. The Green Party has been continuously telling us what to do to help the environment. One of the most basic things you can do is plant trees, take care of the sector and they are not doing [that], and seem completely unwilling or unable to do so. The situation has never been so bad since 1946 and it is time that the minister wakes up to this situation.” Healy-Rae called on Minister Hackett to intervene and address the issues facing the forestry industry.
According to figures from the DAFM for the week ending August 25, 176 hectares were planted last month. This brings the total planted so far in 2023 to 1,197 hectares, compared to 1,699 hectares during the same period in 2022.
The DAFM has confirmed that the €308 million afforestation scheme, approved by the European Commission under the new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme 2023-2027, will open shortly. However, the DAFM currently cannot accept or issue grant-aided afforestation licenses until the new program is in place. Non-grant-aided afforestation licenses are still being accepted. Under an Interim Afforestation Scheme, those with valid afforestation licenses issued before the end of 2022 can apply for the higher grant and premium rates of the new program. To date, the DAFM has issued 12 non-grant-aided afforestation licenses and provided financial approval to commence planting to 288 grant-aided license holders under the interim scheme, representing 1,750 hectares.
The Social, Economic, Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA) has expressed concern over the delay in licensing, stating that the situation has gone from “bad to worse”. SEEFA claims that without changes to how license applications are processed, the Irish forestry industry will remain crippled, even with the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027 in place. The organization has requested a meeting with Brendan Gleeson, the Secretary General of the DAFM, to discuss their concerns, but these requests have gone unanswered. SEEFA emphasizes the need for urgent financial support to protect jobs and ensure the availability of skilled personnel for the implementation of the new forestry program.
In conclusion, Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has criticized Minister Pippa Hackett for her perceived inaction in addressing the issues facing the Irish forestry industry. The delayed issuance of licenses has been a major concern, with only 12 licenses for new plantings issued so far this year. The DAFM has stated that the new afforestation scheme will open soon, but until then, grant-aided licenses cannot be accepted or issued. The Social, Economic, Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland has expressed frustration over the situation and called for changes to the license application process. Urgent financial support is also needed to protect jobs and ensure the successful implementation of the new forestry program.