Sinn Féin has raised concerns about the new Forestry Programme, stating that it may encounter similar issues as the previous programme. Claire Kerrane, the party’s spokesperson on agriculture, food, and the marine, highlighted the lack of a licensing plan for the remainder of 2023 and 2024. She criticized the absence of clear timelines for licensing improvements and the lack of commitments from Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue. Kerrane emphasized the potential impact of licensing backlogs on the forestry sector and called on the minister to prioritize addressing this issue.
Kerrane also expressed worry about the eligibility of applications for the afforestation scheme from the previous programme under the new programme. Minister McConalogue confirmed that 3% of applications to the previous afforestation scheme are now considered ineligible due to their proximity to curlew sites. Out of the 437 applications currently pending, over 70% will require further assessment for eligibility due to potential new restrictions. Kerrane highlighted the additional waiting time for farmers and foresters awaiting a response to their afforestation applications.
The Sinn Féin deputy criticized the communication surrounding the programme, stating that confusion remains among farmers and forestry landowners regarding the new rules. She stressed the importance of clarity in order to encourage uptake and meet the afforestation target of 8,000ha/year. Kerrane called for these issues to be addressed promptly and expressed the expectation that Minister McConalogue and Minister of State Pippa Hackett would provide further information on how they intend to tackle these concerns and challenges during their appearance before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
In conclusion, Kerrane emphasized the need for clear communication and answers to ensure the success of the new Forestry Programme. She highlighted the importance of resolving these issues promptly and stated that the programme must be a turning point for forestry in Ireland.