Forester owners are “infuriated” with the second interim report from Project Woodland and the lack of “political will in Government to actually do anything other than provide spin”, according to the Irish Forest Owners (IFO) group.

Some members of the group went as far as to call the report “whitewashing” in response to its contents.

Forest owners were particularly frustrated with the note that “a significant improvement in licencing output is being achieved”, which they say is clearly not the case.

Licensing backlog

The IFO highlighted what it claims as “whitewashing” in the interim report and outlined the extent of the forestry licensing backlog which it said the report did not cover.

Forest owners said: “According to Department licencing figures for the week ending 29 October, there have been 4,097 new licensing applications (year to date) and only 3,158 licences issued. This represents an increase of 939 in the backlog (year to date).”

The group said it is “alarming” that the same Department figures show that “of the 5,462 applications in the system, 2,375 have been there for over 13 months”.

The IFO insisted this is the “opposite of progress” and that it “clearly confirms the general opinion within the forestry industry that the interim report is attempting to spin [Project Woodland’s] total failure to produce any real change in this absolutely critical area.

“Tellingly, no data is provided for those licences in the system for over two or three years," it said.

Steering group

The group also said: “The intention that the project board would act as the steering group for the regulatory review and the organisational review is totally unacceptable to IFO members and must be reversed.”

It reiterated that such reviews must be carried out completely independent of the Department.

“There is a strongly held view that the Department is attempting to control and direct the narrative from these important reviews and effectively prevent the necessary changes being made.

“The afforestation figures alone should be enough to engage political minds. However, it appears there is no political will in Government to actually do anything other than provide spin.

“Project Woodland is on the verge of collapse due to the disenchantment of many of the organisations and individuals involved," it said.