The State must drop the pretence that everyone was powerless to prevent to ash dieback catastrophe, ash plantation owner Simon White told the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee last week.
In a withering rebuke of the Forest Service’s response to the disease, White — who is chairman of Limerick-Tipperary Woodland Owners Ltd — said it was not the “whole truth” that its importation into this country was not the fault of the Department’s control systems.
He pointed out that a ban on the importation of all ash plants was announced only after the discovery of dieback here.
“All during the period leading up to this, everyone in forestry in the EU was well aware of the risks this disease posed to our native ash growing in Ireland,” he said.
“Why did our Department fail to carry out due diligence knowing the threat to trees in Ireland?”
While he said he was “not here to apportion blame”, he said for ash plantation owners to be treated fairly, it “would be helpful if pretence that everyone was powerless to prevent this catastrophe happening was dropped”.
White described the Department’s Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme as a “failed initiative” that was “badly designed” and said it needed to be replaced with a scheme that “assists people rather than costs people”.
Despite his group meeting with Minister Pippa Hackett on several occasions in the last 18 months and receiving commitments that the issue would be ‘looked at again’, he said there have been only some “very minor cosmetic changes” to the scheme.
“There has been no attempt to address the horrendous mess ash growers face. The impact of the lack of action is two planting seasons being lost,” he said, highlighting that any trees planted now will take 70 years before there is a commercial return.
White said larger, older plantation owners “now feel as if the Forest Service has its name on their title deeds”.
“They wonder if there will be anything in their holdings for their grandchildren,” he said.