500 jobs are on the line in West Cork because of the forestry crisis and as a result of that workers are living on the edge, Deputy Michael Collins told a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine which addressed the crisis within the industry with Minister for State at the Department, Senator Pippa Hackett earlier today.
She told those gathered that licencing is the most immediate and impactful challenge the sector faces and her officials were now completely focused on turning the situation around.
“We all want to reach a stage where licenses are issued in a timely fashion,” she added.
Meanwhile, 1,900 forestry licences have been issued since the start of 2021 (42% of the annual target of 4,500 licences); 415 of those licences were issued in June alone - the highest since July 2019.
220 private felling licences were also issued during the month of June - the highest number in five years.
Minister Hackett said the figures indicated “progress” and it was a trend that she wished to see continuing.
“Currently system improvements apply to tree felling licences and road applications only,” the Minister continued.
“Afforestation files will be dealt with next by the Department and I am confident this will increase afforestation output in Ireland.
“We have also found that around half of the applications for private felling files require further information, so In the spirit of co-operation, I believe we can improve this situation to the benefit of forest owners.
“There has been a downturn in the output of licences in July and this is directly linked to the introduction of a second 30-day public consultation process for applications subject to appropriate assessment.
"This has arisen from the EU birds and habitats amendments regulations 2021 which were recently introduced by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
“This means that any application screened in for appropriate assessment and which has had an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be advertised with all relevant documentation on the forestry licence, 30 days for public consultation.”
She then pointed out that this change would afford all interested parties the opportunity to have their say in relation to projects that have the potential to impact European sites.
“This does add extra time to the processing of these applications but 536 cases have gone to public consultation up to July 23, 2021 at an average of 178 per week,” she added.
“The first of these exited the process on August 1.”
The meeting also heard that a regulator review will also be introduced for licences and those in attendance were also reminded that the charter for Project Woodland was recently published.
Deputy Michael Collins highlighted the “serious crisis” that was in the sector and pointed to the 500 jobs in west Cork that were now at risk and how workers there were now “living on the edge”.
“There is a serious crisis in the forestry sector and my concern is for the 500 jobs in west Cork and all the workers who are now living on the edge because of this,” continued Mr Collins.
“Not only that but there are 12,000 people employed in the forestry and timber sector in Ireland and why should they believe that the Department is going to reach its target of 4,500 licences this year?
“Only 1,900 forestry licences have been issued up to July 23 - up 25% on last year, according to the Department.
“What miracle is going to occur in the latter half of this year that will enable the Department to turn out 2,600 licences and reach that projected target of 4,500.
“Afforestation licenses are down 28% compared to 2019.”