Independent TD Mattie McGrath has criticized the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) for its handling of forestry licensing in 2023. According to the most recent Forestry Licensing Dashboard published by the department, there were only 165 afforestation licence applications made in 2023, a significant decrease from the approximately 440 applications in 2022. The area covered by afforestation licences also decreased, with only 789ha being covered in 2023 compared to 4,972ha in 2022 and 4,246ha in 2021. These figures fall far short of the government’s target of planting 8,000ha of new forests annually by 2027.
Deputy McGrath described the dashboard as painting a “bleak picture” and criticized Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister for State Pippa Hackett for their inability to meet their commitments. He pointed out the irony of holding farmers to stringent emission reduction targets while failing to meet forestry planting targets outlined in the climate action plan. DAFM explained that the figures for trees planted in 2023 reflect afforestation that had already been paid for at the first grant stage in the previous year. In 2022, 2,273ha of forestry was planted, and in 2021, 2,016ha was planted.
Deputy McGrath highlighted that 2023 was the worst year on record in terms of afforestation licenses. The figures reveal that there were 922 private felling licence applications made to the department in 2023, with 1,427 licences issued. State-owned forestry company Coillte made 1,078 applications for felling, and 1,411 licences were granted to them. Additionally, there were 520 applications for forestry roads, with 243 licences being issued. In terms of appeals, there were 12 related to afforestation, 32 related to tree felling, and two concerning forest roads.
DAFM recently published its forestry licensing plan for 2024, which estimates that the department will issue 4,200 new licences this year.