DEAR SIR: Forestry in Ireland is in a devastating crisis. It would seem to anyone listening to the officials from the forest service before the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Marine that they have it all under control. But the facts speak otherwise.

There are 4,500 licence applications held up in a system that cannot process them within the target timeframe set by the forest service.

Many of these applications have been held up in the system for years.

It is now almost impossible for people in the private sector to get permission to harvest or thin commercial trees to send to the various timber processing plants around the country. Even Coillte, which is being given a fast-track advantage over private growers in the system, has been reduced to importing lumber from abroad to keep its timber processing plant in production, because it cannot get permission to fell enough mature trees. There is now a huge shortage of saw log. The sawmills are dealing with this shortfall by importing thousands of tonnes of lumber, at a scale never seen before.

But with this comes a very serious and real risk of importing more pests and diseases that have the potential to wipe out our spruce plantations. Spruce forests are the backbone of the Irish timber industry, on which 12,000 jobs depend.

It beggars belief that the inept response to the risk of Ash dieback by the Department of Agriculture is being repeated, with no sign from Department officials that any phyto-security lessons were learned. By failing to ban the importation of plants from Ash dieback-infected regions of Europe until after the disease was imported, the Department bears responsibility for the decimation of native Irish Ash.

It could and should have been prevented getting into Ireland. The Minister for Agriculture had the power to do so under the forestry act, was ill-advised by his officials and failed to use that power. There is no way the forest service’s level of border control in place at present is acceptable. We in the LTWO Ltd are co-operating with FOCS, with other growers all over the country and with every other stakeholder in the timber industry prepared to support us. We are lobbying hard with Government to sort out this incredible forestry mess and get the industry back on track. The present situation cannot be allowed drag on any longer. Our experienced growers have workable solutions, but first we must get the relevant politicians to engage with us.

We are sick and tired of hearing how Minister Hackett and her officials are willing to engage with the stakeholders.