The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has only issued 42 afforestation licences so far this year, which is approximately 2% of the target set by the government, according to the Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA). The latest forestry licensing dashboard, up until the first week of November, reveals that the department has received 87 afforestation applications in 2023. In addition, 467 forestry road applications have been made, but only 179 licences have been issued. SEEFA has criticized Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State at DAFM Pippa Hackett for their failure to meet the government’s afforestation targets. SEEFA claims that the forestry licensing system is still broken, as indicated by the 50% drop in road licences. The association stated that the Forest Service is not fit for purpose.
According to the forestry dashboard, 52 afforestation licences that were previously approved by the department are now approved under the new Forestry Programme. Additionally, 288 afforestation licences have opted to enter the de minimus scheme, which was in place before the new programme was approved by the EU Commission. Independent TD for Laois Offaly Carol Nolan described the data on afforestation licences as a “staggering betrayal of a core Irish industry.” Despite recent positive news regarding ash dieback and compensation packages, she believes that the overall situation for Irish forestry is dismal due to the department’s inability to address the afforestation licensing crisis. Nolan expressed concern for private forestry operators and farmers who are facing numerous challenges and questioned how much longer they can hold out.
Independent Senator Victor Boyhan expressed deep concern over the decline in planting figures and the issuance of afforestation licences, stating that it has set back Ireland’s Climate Action Plan. Boyhan, who is a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, called for Minister McConalogue and his officials to meet with SEEFA. He emphasized the need for collaboration between the state and private forestry sector to significantly increase national forestry targets and improve the licensing regime. Boyhan concluded that 2023 has been a disappointing year for Irish forestry results and time is running out to make significant progress.