The Government’s inaction on afforestation risks sleepwalking the forestry sector into disaster, Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture Deputy Claire Kerrane has said.

Deputy Kerrane pointed out continued concerns to Minister of State Pippa Hackett in the Dáil last Thursday and asked for an update on her approach to addressing low afforestation rates, given that the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027 has now been in place for several months.

“When I raised concerns with Minister Hackett, she stated that the new programme aims to encourage a substantial increase in afforestation levels and that it has been warmly welcomed by the forestry sector.

“It is clear from my engagement with farmers, forestry owners and representatives from organisations working in the forestry sector that there are serious concerns about afforestation under the new programme," Deputy Kerrane said.


It has been raised time and time again, Deputy Kerrane said, with the minister that those involved in forestry are worried that afforestation rules under the new forestry programme will limit their ability to plant trees.

“Restrictions mean that huge areas of land are likely now ineligible for planting and I have been contacted by many farmers and foresters who are interested in planting and cannot do so due to these rules or due to the costs of having their land surveyed.

“And this is not about condoning the planting of special protection areas (SPAs) or unsuitable peatlands, as the minister tried to suggest during our exchange.

"It is about land which could be used for afforestation being excluded through subjective rules and resulting in continually low afforestation rates under the new programme," she said.

Rates of afforestation under the new programme, she added, remain very low - for example, just 130ha were planted in January 2024 and about the same will be planted in February, according to nursery dispatch records.


“As it stands, rates of afforestation in 2024 are unlikely to surpass the 1,650ha planted in 2023. Considering our annual afforestation target is 8,000ha, this is really alarming.

“The minister and her Government state that they want to see increased afforestation and that they recognise the value of doing so for the environment and for local economies and communities. Yet, their actions to date and her responses during our exchange in the Dáil tell an entirely different story."

Deputy Kerrane warned that if Minister Hackett and her Government do not take action immediately, Ireland will continue to miss its targets and farmers, forestry owners, nurseries, sawmills and local communities will suffer as a result.

“Whether intentionally or not, they are sleepwalking the Irish forestry sector into disaster. It seems the alarm bells continue to go off, but the minister will not wake up. I will continue to push for action on this matter," she said.