A NEW TRADE association for the forestry and timber industries, Forest Industries Ireland (FII), has been launched today.

FII is a new business sector within Ibec, the national business organisation.

The new association has 22 member companies from across the island of Ireland, which comprise the full span of the forestry supply chain.

Currently, forest cover’s 11% of Ireland land area, 49% of which is privately owned.

The forest sector currently supports 12,000 rural jobs that are spread throughout every region of the country.

“FII is placing timber and forestry at the heart of Ireland’s rural economy. With combined turnover of over €800 million, the industry is a major player in the rural and national economies,” Brian Murphy, the inaugural chairperson of FII and CEO of Enniskillen-based timber processor Balcas, said.

FII is predicting major growth in the coming years.

It estimates a doubling of the industry’s turnover to €1.6 billion by 2035. It also expects the creation of an additional 6,000 rural jobs on top of the 12,000 already in the industry.

It also predicts that timber output from Irish forests is set to double between now and 2035, which will double industry output.

FII has said it will spearhead the industry response to crucial challenges such as Brexit and will act as the primary voice for the sector in Ireland.

Brexit worries

83% of Ireland’s forest product exports are destined for the UK.

Speaking today, Murphy said that “Brexit is a source of anxiety because the important part of trade is that we continue to move products smoothly across borders”.

However, in a statement announcing the launch of FII, Murphy said that they are “confident that the industry will prosper in the long-term, even with Brexit”.

Coillte CEO Fergal Leamy added that from the company’s perspective, they “would be concerned about Brexit”.

“However, we’ve been working on this now for two years in terms of preparedness. We have taken steps in terms of taking warehouse space in the UK,” Leamy added.

We’re very well prepared as an industry. I think we’ve put an awful lot of effort into this.

Generally speaking, preparations are being made at British, Irish and European level for a no-deal Brexit, in case an agreement is not reached ahead of the official withdrawal date of 29 March.