A Burren farmer committed “a heinously illegal act” when felling trees on his lands without a licence.

That is according to Judge Patrick Durcan, who fined David McMahon €600 after convicting the father of two for removing trees without a licence at Conga, Ruan, Co Clare, between 1 September 2018 and 30 November 2018.

Counsel for the Minister for Agriculture, Thomas Wallace O’Donnell BL, told the court that the Department’s own estimate is that 40,000 trees were felled.

Mr O’Donnell told the court: “The Department views this case as very serious.”

It is understood that the case is the first such conviction under the Forestry Act 2014.

However, counsel for Mr McMahon, of Ballincorra, Kilfenora, Donal Cronin BL stated that the 40,000 estimate “totally overstates what took place here”.

Mr McMahon entered a plea at an early stage and accepts that there has been wrongdoing

Mr Cronin stated that what took place “is not offending in that order at all whatsoever”.

Mr Cronin stated: “Mr McMahon entered a plea at an early stage and accepts that there has been wrongdoing, but he wasn’t aware of the extent of his wrongdoing at the time."

He stated: “The agricultural activity he engaged in was the removal of scrub from his land."

Mr Cronin stated: “The amount of actual physical trees that may have been discommoded is uncertain, but it is far less than the figure of 40,000."

Mr Cronin stated that the figure of 40,000 “only comes into play by an estimate by the State and what I might say is the broadest possible definition of the concept of a tree”.

Mr Cronin stated that Mr McMahon has been farming the land in the Burren for generations “and would consider some growth to be scrub as opposed to a tree. It is an issue that could have taken up a lot of court time if the matter was contested.”

Mr Cronin stated: “What my client engaged in was normal routine agricultural practice in the area that was incentivised and facilitated by the Department over the years."

Mr Cronin stated: “Mr McMahon didn’t realise what he was doing was wrong - it is as simple as that. I want to put that forward in the strongest possible terms on behalf of my client."

Good character

Mr Cronin stated that his client “is a good character” and is a part-time farmer by necessity.

Mr Cronin stated that Mr McMahon’s means "are limited and small".

He stated: “He is a man of modest means and very embarrassed about being [at] the courts."

Mr Cronin stated: “As a result of what has happened and as a result of the planting order that is in being now, my client will face - conservatively - a loss of earnings of direct subvention from the State of a minimum of €10,000 per annum and that arises from just one narrow condition that the Minister seeks to impose on him - the exclusion of animals from the area completely for 11 years.”

He stated: “That means to all intents and purposes that this land is no longer agricultural land.”

Forestry industry in crisis

Judge Durcan stated that the breach committed by Mr McMahon is in the context where “the forestry industry is in crisis at this present time”.

Judge Durcan stated: “One of the shocking scandals at this present time is the way that our forestry industry has been so neglected and so little leadership has been shown by those who should show leadership."