Forestry growers have accused the Department of Agriculture of attempting to turn the Ash Dieback Taskforce into a “rubber stamping exercise”.

Heated exchanges erupted between senior Department officials and forestry grower representatives at the inaugural meeting of the taskforce last Tuesday.

The differences centred on a demand by Department officials that the grower representatives sign up to the taskforce’s terms of reference, which restricted its role to that of an implementation group for the €80m ash dieback support package which was announced recently.

Representatives of the Irish Forestry Owners (IFO) group and the Limerick-Tipperary Woodland Owners (LTWO) both expressed reservations regarding the overall funding available under the support package. The forestry groups also questioned how and when support payments are to be made, and the eligibility criteria for these payments.

However, Department officials were adamant that the ash dieback support package was not up for renegotiation and it was not the taskforce’s remit to discuss such matters.

IFO chair Derek McCabe eventually agreed to sign up to the taskforce’s terms of reference, but insisted that he did so “under duress”. Simon White of the LTWO refused to accept the terms of reference but said he would remain in the taskforce to represent the views of group's members.

McCabe was scathing of the attitude of senior Department officials at the taskforce.

“I went there with honest intent, but I may as well have been at home. There was no democracy or engagement. They are squandering an opportunity to build goodwill,” McCabe claimed.

Meanwhile, the LTWO held a protest outside the Dáil yesterday to highlight the opposition of its members to the ash dieback support package.