Forestry appeals committee in place after court action
Committee finally gets green light eight months after set-up deadline
Farmers have faced delays in getting licence approvals for tree plantations due to a failure by the Department of Agriculture to put a forestry appeals committee in place until recently, it has emerged.
The President of the High Court was extremely critical of the delays in setting up the important facility by the Department of Agriculture in a case involving a forestry plantation that came before it last week.
The delay is also at odds with the Government's drive to increase forestry planting as they face increasing pressure and potential future fines over greenhouse gas emissions.
Seimié Hagan, regional manager for forestry firm Green Belt in the midlands, said they had faced delays in getting approval for planting in instances where there were objections lodged. "We have been waiting for the committee since May of last year, that is the sort of crazy stuff we are dealing with," he said.
"Now we have to put up a site notice so it is leading to people objecting to plantations when they are not even in the locality.
"There wasn't anyone to deal with the appeals. We plant 35pc of the land in the country so naturally we were as affected as anyone else by it. We had contacted the department looking for it to be set up."
It is understood that the committee should have been set up last May.
However, it is only in recent days following a court case that Agriculture Minister Michael Creed announced the appointment of Bart Brady as chair of the new Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC).
Mr Brady is a former assistant secretary general in the Agriculture Department.
Forestry Minister Andrew Doyle said he welcomed the news that the committee is about to commence its work.
"I understand that the number of appeals received to date under the new system is very low relative to the volume of licence decisions issued by my department," he said.
Mr Hagan warned delays and negative issues being raised make farmers nervous about committing to planting. "I don't think we'll reach the planting target for this year," he said.
The Department said the appeals body would be independent and will deal with applicants or third parties who are dissatisfied with decisions made by the Department.
It comes as Gerard Murphy, managing director of forestry at Coillte, stated that it has now reviewed the issues raised in a "small number of farm partnerships".
He stated Coillte had "not withheld any payments to farmers" in line with its contractual obligations.
However, Coillte admitted "there is confusion among some farm partners regarding the timing of payments which have led to the current issues" and it was due to a "lack of clear communication".
Mr Murphy said there had been site visits to partners and payments discussed but it was not formally communicated.
"From this year all partners will get an annual statement," he said.
"KPMG are reviewing the payment calculation system to verify that it is in line."
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