A NEW trade association has been created for the forestry and timber industry, amid growing fears over the impact of Brexit.
Forestry Industries Ireland (FII), which has been set up by Ibec, was launched in Dublin yesterday and comprises 22 member companies from across the island which cover the entire forestry chain.
Coillte CEO Fergal Leamy stated at the launch that Brexit was the main driving force behind forestry companies deciding to come together at this time.
"Brexit has been somewhat of a catalyst, to be honest, for us coming together because we have been working for the last two years on our response to Brexit.
"The UK is going to be a crucial market for us and the more we can work together as an industry and meet that challenge, the better it is," he said.
Mr Leamy added that UK customers see Irish timber as a homegrown product and that contingency plans on how to address supply-delay issues will be discussed by FII in order to plan for a possible hard Brexit.
"We need to ensure a smoothness of supply.
"One thing we think about with timber is that it's not a perishable product, so it doesn't matter if it's there within a time - but it really does," he said.
"A lot of our customers build supply chains which depend on easy access to the markets in a timely fashion, so if they order today they'll get it in the next couple of days."
Brian Murphy, inaugural chairman of FII and CEO of Eniskillen-based timber processor Balcas in Co Fermanagh, added that the "anxiety of Brexit" had forced the industry to engage in joined-up thinking.
"Talking for myself, we have 23,000 commercial truck movements a year across the Border between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
"If all of those are held up by even a small amount of time, it will be a huge problem.
"Brexit is a source of anxiety. The most important part of trade is that timber is allowed to continue to move smoothly across borders."
Murray Timber managing director John Murray pointed out that while prices for timber have improved since the initial announcement of Brexit in 2016, a no-deal is the worst possible outcome as the Irish product is particularly suited to the UK.
"The worst thing you can have in business is uncertainty. I think it would be very remiss of the political establishments if a hard Brexit is allowed to happen, be it the UK, Ireland or the EU.
"If it does happen it will be by accident and it will be a political decision... which is unfortunate, as that wasn't what Brexit was about."
FII aims to increase the combined turnover of the industry from the current €800m to €1.6bn by 2035.
It is hoping to create an additional 6,000 jobs on top of the 12,000 jobs already there.
It plans to drive an increase in the economic contribution of the sector from today's €2.3bn a year.