Just 86 forestry licences have been processed so far this month despite departmental assurances that 100 licences would be processed on a weekly basis to clear the chronic backlog of applications.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has described the situation as “a national scandal” as sawmills around the country continue to desperately rely on shipments of timber imports to keep several rural businesses operational.
It comes as the first interim report on the implementation of Project Woodland has recommended a regulatory review on forestry licencing in Ireland; and ahead of yet another Agriculture Committee meeting on the matter.
“The fact that mills around Ireland are being forced to import timber from abroad in order to keep the show on the road is mind boggling, given the amount of timber which is fit to cut around this island,” said the Roscommon-Galway representative.
“There are thousands of licences currently submitted to the Forestry Service of the Department of Agriculture – across clear felling, thinning, roads and afforestation – with applicants yet to receive a decision.
“In the first three full weeks of this month, only 86 licences have been processed. Coillte felling licences amounted to 19, private felling added up to 37, road licences reached 18 and afforestation licences equalled a paltry 12.
“This is despite senior representatives within the Forest Service previously citing a target of processing 100 licences a week in order to reach their annual goal of 4,500.
“Senior representatives and Minister Pippa Hackett may point to hiring more ecologists and the establishment of Project Woodland, but where are the real results?
“We are seven months into the year and only 2,722ha of afforestation has been licence – which is a long way from the 8,000ha target that we have failed to meet continuously in recent years… The level of incompetency amounts to a national scandal,” the deputy said.
Earlier this week Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett published the first interim report on the implementation of Project Woodland.
The purpose of the interim reports is to give feedback to members of the working groups across the scope of the project, to keep stakeholders and the general public apprised of developments, and to make recommendations to the minister on next steps.
The report presented two recommendations in particular as requiring immediate action: The need for a regulatory review on forestry licencing in Ireland – a tender for a review team comprising legal, planning and environmental expertise is being published this week on the Government’s eTenders website; plus, a consultation plan for the development of a new National Forest Strategy.