Ann Fitzgerald: 'Our initial enthusiasm for forestry programme has been felled'

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Having written in August 2017 that we were buzzing at the prospect of planting some woodland under the Department's 2014-2020 forestry programme, I figure it's time to give an update.

We earmarked 16.5 acres, in two lots, and took on a forester named Gerry Blake, who did most of the work on the afforestation licence application. This was submitted the following month.

We were subsequently informed that they were undertaking an assessment of the smaller 3.9 acre area.

I decided to make contact with the forestry section to find out more about what was happening and to get some advice as how best to proceed. When I rang the number listed on the website, I was greeted with the following 10-second message: "You have reached the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Johnstown Castle. We are currently experiencing a high volume of calls. If you wish to call back later, please do so."

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I didn't know if I was in a queue or not. The message was repeated over and over again. One time, I must have heard it 50 times before hanging up. I didn't want to call back, I wanted to speak to someone.

If my memory serves me, I think the person who manned the line worked part-time. But, if so, the message should have said this.

In fairness, when I did finally get to talk to someone, she was very efficient.

After this conversation, we decided to push ahead with the application for the larger area on its own.

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A licence was granted in April 2018. This was planted, as required, by December 31 last year. A few days later, we were notified that the application for the other area was refused due to "environmental considerations" and "to protect archaeology features and structures".

We did not appeal the decision.

Among the requirements for grant aid are proof of ownership and a tax clearance certificate.

I promptly sent off the tax clearance cert for the farm, which is in the name of Robin and his mother Pam. This did not suffice. What was needed was one in Robin's name alone and one in mine. I got these and sent them off.

However, mine was in my maiden name, so I had to provide proof that Ann Fitzgerald and Ann Talbot are the same person. I sent on our marriage certificate.

What we also realised is that the land that had been planted is in Pam's name, whereas the forestry application was made in Robin's and mine.

To avoid a tax liability, the land is first being transferred into Robin's name, then ours jointly. The first stage of the transfer is now complete and the second underway.

When I heard this, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make contact again with the Department to find out if proof that the second transfer is proceeding would be deemed acceptable grounds to move the application on.

I emailed the woman I had previously been in contact with. My mail bounced because she had been moved. I then wrote to the alternative email provided. At time of writing, this had not been replied to, or its receipt acknowledged. Nor was a follow-up email answered.

So I am back again to: "You have reached the Department of…"

Throughout all of this, I have been in regular contact with our solicitor to try to keep the process moving, so we can get paid some money.

Our initial enthusiasm is worn out. The process is not simple, nor is help easy to come by. Changes to the scheme are badly needed.

Indo Farming

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