Forestry policy breaches EU state-aid rules: Harkin
Ireland is breaching state aid rules in relation to forestry by not ensuring that 30pc of all plantations are broadleaf, a conference has heard.
MEP Marian Harkin claims that the European Commission had fought "tooth and nail" in 2014 with the Irish Government to make sure that from then on 30pc of all afforestation would be broadleaf planting.
She told the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers (INHFA) Association forestry conference in Carrick-on-Shannon that Ireland gives 100pc grant aid for afforestation and it had to apply to the Commission under State rules to be allowed to do that.
The Department of Agriculture confirmed the percentage of broadleaves being planted was at 20pc, and to help achieve targets, the minimum percentage of broadleaves in each afforestation application will change from 10pc to 15pc next month.
MEP Mairead McGuinness said that while some people thought there was too much afforestation, our domestic targets were not being met.
She said all farmers should have some level of forestry on their land.
Ms McGuinness acknowledged it was an emotional issue in Leitrim but she did not think people were in favour of an outright ban on forestry. The MEP said she felt people wanted the freedom to do as they wished with their own land.
At the conference, which was attended by hundreds of people, the INHFA called for a moratorium on the planting of Sitka spruce and a change in the planning laws to ensure there is more control over the scale of plantations.
It was claimed afforestation was causing environmental and fire risks, and leaving farmers hoping to acquire land, unable to compete with those availing of forestry incentives.
Campaigner Edwina Guckian (pictured), who described herself as a "farmer's daughter who wants the best for our county", said Leitrim is being sacrificed to meet national carbon emissions targets.
Ms Guckian said that you could object if a neighbour was building a wall opposite your house. "But when 60ft Sitka spruce grows around us and suffocates our light and view, there seems to be little we can do, only send an observation to the Department of Agriculture," she claimed.
INHFA spokesman on forestry Gerry Loftus called for the abolition of the tax-free incentive scheme for forestry. He said plantations also caused fire risks and farmers were being made scapegoats when fires broke out.
The INHFA pledged to continue with its campaign by seeking a Private Members' Bill in the Oireachtas to amend forestry planning regulations. State controls on the proportion of land which can be planted in any one county will also be sought.
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