The Irish government is facing criticism for its failure to meet forestry targets, as afforestation licensing figures continue to decline despite the implementation of the new Forestry Programme. Deputy Claire Kerrane, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Agriculture, has raised concerns about the management of forestry and the limited and restrictive nature of the new afforestation scheme. She believes that the eligibility criteria and administrative burdens are preventing the necessary levels of afforestation. The Forestry Programme aims to achieve 8,000 hectares of afforestation per year across 12 forest types.
According to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Afforestation Scheme under the Forestry Programme 2023-2027 opened on September 6 and existing applications are being migrated to this scheme. So far, 53 afforestation licences have been approved, covering a total of 516 hectares. However, Deputy Kerrane has been informed by foresters that many potential afforestation sites are no longer eligible due to new rules regarding planting on peatlands. She has sought clarification from the European Commission regarding the requirement and its impact on the availability of land for afforestation.
Farmers and forestry owners have also expressed frustration over the lengthy processing time for afforestation applications. There is currently no timeframe for when applicants can expect to receive their licences. Minister Charlie McConalogue has acknowledged the demand-led nature of the licensing process and has promised to publish a new Forestry Licensing Plan that will meet industry needs and climate commitments.
Despite the implementation of the Forestry Programme, Deputy Kerrane believes that confidence in forestry remains low and shows little sign of improvement. Years of mismanagement have eroded trust and hindered participation in the sector. Farmers and forestry owners need reassurance that forestry is being effectively managed.
In conclusion, the government’s failure to deliver on forestry targets has been highlighted by Deputy Claire Kerrane. She has raised concerns about the limited and restrictive nature of the new afforestation scheme and the lengthy processing time for licences. The impact of new rules regarding planting on peatlands has also been criticized. Minister Charlie McConalogue has pledged to address these issues and restore confidence in the forestry sector.