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McConalogue warned of ‘no-confidence motion’ if forestry crisis continues

An estimated 4,500 forestry licence applications remain backlogged in the forest service – down just 200 since October 2020

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'Patience amongst stakeholders has run out; they need to start seeing results'. Photo: Brian Farrell

'Patience amongst stakeholders has run out; they need to start seeing results'. Photo: Brian Farrell

'Patience amongst stakeholders has run out; they need to start seeing results'. Photo: Brian Farrell

A motion of no confidence in Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue “is inevitable” unless “positive changes” become apparent in the forestry sector, independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has warned.

The caution follows confirmation from the Department that approximately 4,500 forestry licence applications remain backlogged in the forest service – down just 200 since October 2020.

It also follows the publication of multiple reports on tackling the issues behind the long-running forestry crisis that resulted in less than 2,500ha of new forests planted in 2020.

Speaking on the matter, the Roscommon-Galway representative said: “The forestry sector continues to be hampered by a lack of real progress around delays in dealing with licence applications for afforestation, forest roads and felling.

“This is despite all of the measures supposedly taken by the Department – including hiring more ecologists – to date to alleviate these problems, which have come to the fore in recent months.

“If you look at our forestry planting targets and where we are at the moment, there is no chance we will even come close to the 8,000ha target. We are on a downward spiral and if swift action isn’t taken, the sector will crumble – as it is already on its knees.

The deputy called on the minister and his officials to clarify how the sector has been “let slip into such a state”.

“We have all heard how more and more ecologists have been hired and progress is slowly being made. But we need to see real results; the future of the sector and people’s livelihoods are at risk.

“If stakeholders do not see significant positive changes in the short-term, then a motion of no confidence in the minister and the officials over the sector will be inevitable.

“Patience amongst stakeholders has run out; they need to start seeing results,” he said.

More reports

Last week, the Farming Independent revealed that an estimated 4,500 applications are still backlogged Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service for processing – this marks a reduction of just 200 applications since October 2020.

The latest figures show that 2,760 felling applications, 1,009 afforestation applications and 684 roads applications are still awaiting approval.

A recently-published Government report entitled ‘Project Woodlands’ aims to implement the Mackinnon report on forestry licences which was published in November 2019. It states that a revised governance structure in the Department is required to overcome the long-running issues which have hampered the sector.

Last week, the Agriculture Committee also published a further report identifying issues and recommendations which spanned the following areas; the Mackinnon Report, Programme for Government, Licensing, Ash Dieback, Legacy issues, and planning for the future.

Nonetheless it has also been noted that while approximately 90pc of all new plantings were undertaken by farmers 10 years ago, the figure for 2020 was just 30pc.

Furthermore, the reports do not outline a timeline for meeting the state’s national planting target of 8,000ha per annum – last year just 2,433 new hectares of forestry were planted in 2020.

The current split of licences being approved is 60:40 – Coillte: private; it is understood that Coillte supplies 75pc of the timber to the sector.

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