February 26, 2024
Government inaction on afforestation risks sleepwalking the forestry sector into disaster – Claire Kerrane TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Agriculture, Claire Kerrane TD, has slammed the Government’s response to low afforestation rates and warned that continued inaction risks “sleepwalking the forestry sector into disaster”.
 
Teachta Kerrane pointed out continued concerns to Minister 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.
 
Speaking today, Teachta Kerrane said:
 
“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.
 
“This could not be further from the truth, and I noted this during our exchange in the Dáil.
 
“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.
 
“I cannot understand how the Minister is not hearing the same concerns when we are meeting with the same individuals and groups. Either she is burying her head in the sand, or refusing to take on board the issues that have been raised with her for months now.
 
“It has been raised time and time again 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.
 
“Rates of afforestation under the new Programme remain very low – for example, just 130 hectares (ha) 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 states 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.
 
“The Minister also stated that an afforestation working group has been established, which at least shows she is aware that there is an issue. However, without an urgent review of the current Forestry Programme and ongoing engagement with representatives from the sector, it is unlikely that there will be substantive improvement in this area.
 
“If Minister Hackett and her Government do not take action immediately, we will continue to miss our 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.”

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