Vulture funds 'wiping out communities'
An urgent review of the Government's forestry programme has been called for as farm families in the west claim they are being "swallowed" up by large tracts of towering woodlands planted by foreign investment companies.
Minister of State for Forestry Andrew Doyle will today meet a delegation from the IFA in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim to discuss mounting frustrations.
Farming representatives feel the area is being "unfairly targeted" by Government plans to increase forestry. They claim farmers are being "bullied" out of buying land as banks favour international companies with "massive budgets".
The Agriculture Department stated over 80pc of the 513 hectares planted in Leitrim last year was driven by farmers, not by forestry companies, but Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice questioned the accuracy of this figure as he called for a review of the forestry programme.
He claims Roscommon, Sligo, Cavan and Longford are also affected. "It is rampant. Foreign companies, vulture funds and people never involved in farming are buying up tracts for planting," he said.
"Communities are being wiped out and the future of farming in the county is under huge threat. I've seen it myself where farmers can't compete with them. We need to go back to the system where you had to have a herd number and stock before you got a grant to plant."
Although a review of the Government's forestry programme - which is aiming for 18pc national forest cover by 2046 - is scheduled for 2017, Mr Fitzmaurice says it must be fast tracked.
Farmers and others who opt to plant can avail of a tax-free premium payment of €210 per acre each year for 15 years.