The Department of Agriculture has accepted that “procedural errors” on its behalf are the reason for high numbers of the forestry licenses it issued being thrown out after failing to stand up to the scrutiny of the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC).

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue stated that the Department accepts the significance of these errors and has made the changes it says will lead to a "more robust" licensing procedure in future.

The FAC has fully upheld just 294 out of the 648 of the forestry licenses it handled since October 2020, while it threw 292 out.

The decision of the appeals committee is “final and conclusive”, but can be brought to the High Court for judicial review or challenged on a point of law.

A further 62 appeal decisions were varied, ie given the go-ahead with the addition or removal of conditions from the licence that had been originally granted by the Department.

The admission of an error by the Department comes amid low levels of afforestation and efforts to increase planting to 8,000ha per year.

Improving Department performance

Minister McConalogue maintains that the appeals committee was “not questioning the substantive correctness” of his Department’s decisions when overturning the majority of these license decisions.

He claims that the committee was striking licenses out on the basis that they did not explicitly state that the decision to grant them had taken “other plans and projects in the area” into consideration or that they did not state the “combined effect of these projects” on Natura 2000 sites.

“My Department takes full cognisance of all decisions of the FAC and is constantly working to improve its performance in respect of these and other matters,” the Minister said.

He expects that future licence decisions “will not be successfully appealed on these particular grounds” after changes have been to the appropriate assessment and environmental impact assessment determination procedures that will “ensure better recording of the decision-making process”.

“My Department therefore would expect that future licence decisions will not be successfully appealed on these particular grounds.”