Fears trees will replace population in Leitrim
Existing government policy, related to forestry, will decimate the social fabric of Co. Leitrim, according to Independent MEP Marian Harkin.
Harkin said local groups are determined to challenge a policy which, they contend, encourages pension funds, corporations and large farmers from outside of Co. Leitrim to purchase land for afforestation.
In 2016, there was a 150pc surge in the levels of forestry planted by non-farmers, according to Department of Agriculture figures. Counties with the highest proportion of non-farming investors - more than 40pc - include: Leitrim, Longford, Clare and Cavan.
Harkin says such investment was designed to provide either carbon credits, to offset future charges that could arise from intensive farming or to avail of substantial grant aid and tax free returns on investment in forestry.
“An immediate and effective response was required from those who believe that trees should not replace population in the coming decade,” she said.
Official statistics indicated that Leitrim had the second highest acreage of forestry at 16.7pc, just behind Wicklow at 17.7pc, she said.
“These figures are out of date and evidence on the ground from speaking to people in Leitrim strongly suggest that this figure of 16.7pc has significantly increased.
“This is a serious issue currently for farmers in Co. Leitrim, and their communities who, under present government policies, cannot compete for the land needed to ensure their future viability in farming and vital to the retention, and necessary increase, of population to ensure local community viability”, she said.
Harkin said when land was planted under current regulations, it really meant that it can never again be brought back to support food production and it also meant cutting off and displacing families and communities, she said.
“It is very clear from planning policy on afforestation that it was much easier to plant trees than build a home.
Co. Leitrim had, over the decades, being faced with a consistent attempt to replace farming with tree production and to do so without concern for the communities affected, she said.
“The prospect that Ireland faces substantial EU fines for failure to meet emissions targets has further encouraged policies which incentivise blanket forestry with little diversity of species”,
Grants and tax breaks effectively meant that farmers wishing to achieve future viability could not compete for land in the areas concerned, she maintained.
She urged all concerned with the issue of excessive afforestation in Co. Leitrim to come together to see what structure could be established to assist farmers to acquire land offered for sale, especially land adjoining theirs which would help to make a holding capable of sustaining a family farm into the future.
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