Minister for State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett came under fire during a meeting that discussed the ongoing problems regarding licencing within the forestry sector.
Minister Hackett was before a meeting of the Dáil agriculture committee this week, where she gave figures on the latest forestry licence applications.
“The number of licences issued in June, at 415, were the highest since July 2019, and the number of private felling licences issued in June was the highest in the last five years at 220,” the minister told the committee.
However, Independent TD Michael Collins did not seem confident in the Department’s abilities to resolve the licencing issues.
He argued: “Why should anyone in the forestry sector believe you? You say the Department is going to reach its target of 4,500 licences by the end of the year, when there have only been 1,900 licences issued up to 23 July.”
Collins added that the Department should “refrain from comparing output from this year to that of 2020” because 2020 was a “bad year” and accused Minister Hackett of painting a rosy picture of improvements made.
“Yes, felling licences issued in 2021 are up 28% compared to 2020, but they are down 191% in comparison to 2019,” he said.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice also criticised the minister and her Department, suggesting that there was a human resources problem within the Department.
“Inspectors have lost confidence in senior management,” he said.
Fitzmaurice added that: “Project Woodland is a thing for down the road - at the moment we have contractors going bust.”
Fianna Fáil TD Joe Flaherty said: “There is growing disquiet and a sense of frustration that issues that have been flagged by the sector over many months have not been dealt with at this stage.
“Everybody within the sector agrees that Project Woodland is a very good project and it’s going to deliver, but it’s going to be to two to three years before we see anything emanating from it.”
Processes have to be followed and it has to be done properly
Flaherty suggested that “the sector has been completely decimated” and cited emergency legislation as “the only thing that will get us beyond this problem".
“Remove the licencing required for thinning and for roads,” he insisted.
However, head of the Department’s forestry environment section Kevin Collins said that: “Processes have to be followed and it has to be done properly.”
He added there would be “ecological risks” if licence requirements were to be suddenly removed.
Chair of the agriculture committee Jackie Cahill said that he did not agree with the assessment of “environmental risks”.
“This land was granted a licence for afforestation and obviously thinning and roads are a natural progression of that,” he said.
“Thinning, at the very least, needs to be exempt from licencing.”
Minister Hackett reiterated throughout the meeting that her Department was committed to meeting the 4,500 licence target by the end of this year.