Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett are set to provide an update on Ireland’s Forestry Programme and Strategy at an Oireachtas committee meeting this week. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine will host the ministers on Wednesday evening, October 4th, where they will address committee members and answer questions.
The appearance of both ministers at the committee comes as the main opposition party, Sinn Féin, expresses concerns about potential issues with the new Forestry Programme. Claire Kerrane, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on agriculture, highlighted ongoing problems with the licensing system. She pointed out that there is currently no license plan in place for the remainder of 2023 or for 2024. Kerrane also criticized the lack of clear timelines for licensing improvements and the absence of commitments from Minister McConalogue on this matter.
In addition to these concerns, it has been revealed that some applicants to the afforestation scheme in the previous Forestry Programme will be ineligible for the new one. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is currently reviewing a number of on-hand applications, potentially leading to their exclusion. There are currently 437 applications under review that were received under the previous programme. Department officials are checking the associated files against the rules and regulations of the new programme for those who have opted into it.
The new Forestry Programme introduces several changes that will affect the area available for planting. Among the 437 afforestation applications under review, 3% are now ineligible due to their proximity to a curlew site within 1.5km. Over 70% of the remaining applications will require further assessment to determine their eligibility, as they are located in areas where new restrictions may apply. These areas include peat soils, high-nature-value areas, breeding wader areas, or a combination of these factors.
The committee session with Ministers McConalogue and Hackett will commence at 5:30 pm in Committee Room 3 of Leinster House. This meeting provides an opportunity for the ministers to address concerns surrounding the new Forestry Programme and to provide updates on the licensing system and eligibility criteria. Sinn Féin’s criticism of the programme highlights the importance of addressing these issues to ensure the success and effectiveness of Ireland’s forestry initiatives.