An invitation for European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski to visit Ireland has been extended by Billy Kelleher MEP to allow the Commissioner to witness first-hand the “failures” of the State’s forestry policies.

The Fianna Fáil MEP called on the Commissioner to launch an investigation into the low rates of afforestation witnessed in Ireland over recent years as the European Parliament debated forestry matters in Thursday’s sitting.

Kelleher’s criticism of the current forestry regime and missed planting targets echoed with comments of fellow MEP Sean Kelly, who claimed that the Department of Agriculture had wrongly alleged that the forestry licensing logjam had been blamed on the EU.

Both MEPs criticised the bureaucratic hurdles encountered by farmers and landowners when applying for the permissions required to plant and manage trees.

'Significant difficulties'

“We have seen for the past number of years significant difficulties in terms of forest owners securing felling licenses,” said Kelleher during the Parliament’s proceedings.

“These landowners, in many cases farmers who planted trees at the behest of the governments, are simply being blocked at every turn from realising the value of their investment by a planning system bedevilled by bureaucratic obstacles.

“I invite the Commissioner to come to Ireland, to observe our practices and to investigate what is going wrong in our forestry industry.

“This situation cannot continue as it is. Managed forestry is a sustainable economic practice that provides important income for farmers and landowners.

“We must get to the bottom of why our industry is failing to live up to its potential,” Kelleher demanded.

Targets missed

Kelly tasked the European Commission with ensuring that those who wish to plant forestry are facilitated.

He emphasised the link he saw between excessive planning requirements and missed planting targets to the MEPs.

"Obviously, illegal logging has to be tackled and eliminated if at all possible,” Kelly said.

"Unfortunately, in my country, it’s the opposite problem we have - we can’t get legal logging, because of rules by the Department [of Agriculture].

"Planning permission, permitting, etc, - a whole backlog, which they tried to blame on the EU until of course that was disproved. As a result, they have a target of setting 8,000ha per year and they’re only meeting 2,000ha.

"So, I would ask the Commission to look at that and ensure that those who want to set forests in Ireland are facilitated - not what is happening at the minute,” the Ireland South MEP concluded.

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