If the forestry and forest products sector is to play a major role in achieving carbon neutrality in Ireland by 2050, it needs clarity and leadership by Government rather than mixed signals.

Ireland’s Climate Action Plan and the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) are clear on the role that forestry needs to play in climate change mitigation.

Both call for an 8,000ha afforestation programme in the medium term, which needs to increase if Ireland is to achieve forest cover of 17% by mid-century.

To address this, the CCAC states: “The Government needs to identify and remove barriers to policy implementation by ensuring adequate funding and planning reform at scale and speed.”

Instead, this Government is setting up barriers and roadblocks at every possible juncture.

Not only is productive forestry being obstructed, native woodland projects are also failing.

Even what should be a relatively simple straightforward scheme, such as the Native Tree Area (NTA), is turning out to be an administrative and costly ordeal.

We now have the spectacle of State foresters, private foresters and ecologists spending inordinate time and money on applications, inspections and assessments before final rejection or – if you’re lucky – planting approval for sites as small as a quarter of an acre.

Afforestation licences are down again this month to 42ha per week.

Even advocates of regulations such as the 30cm peat depth threshold are astounded at its draconian interpretation, which is resulting in excellent forestry sites – both ecological and productive – being refused licences.

It is now time for the minister to honestly and openly discuss the future of the current forestry programme and why it will not contribute to the expectations of the Climate Action Plan and CCAC in its current format.

Forestry has a great future in playing a central role in climate change.

Forestry has a great future in playing a central role in climate change but the minister needs to respond to farmers, foresters, timber processors, contractors, nursery owners and forestry companies who have called for an independent forestry development agency to drive a viable forestry programme.

Forestry is the only natural resource without such an agency.