Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has said that Minister of State, Pipa Hackett, and Minister Charlie McConalouge, must come before the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee to account for the Department ceasing to process afforestation licences.
Deputy Carthy was speaking as it emerged that existing applications for tree planting were paused with no new applications being accepted in response to the Department’s failure to secure European Commission approval for the new forestry programme.
Teachta Carthy said:
“Last October voices from the forestry sector warned that the failure of government to have a new forestry programme in place by January 1st would have a devastating impact.
“This delay followed the extension of the 2014 to 2020 programme by two years to allow this government to outline their vision for forestry in Ireland.
“Government has still failed to produce their new strategy, instead simply publishing the payment rates for the new schemes in advance of the full programme itself.
“This has now been exposed as a cheap publicity stunt, with government ceasing to process road and afforestation licences in response to their failure to yet secure European Commission approval.
“Effectively, the old programme and schemes have elapsed, with the new ones yet to be approved. An interim scheme is in place for those who already have licences but, even in these instances, confusion exists on a case-by-case basis in terms of state-aid rules.
“This government, with a Green Party Minister responsible, has overseen the near collapse of afforestation rates. The medium-to-long term impact of this most recent debacle will be on our ability to meet our climate objectives.
“But, it could have a very real and immediate impact on forestry businesses who will see the amount of work available to them in the coming months decimated.
“Interim solutions to mitigate the worst impacts are possible and Sinn Féin stand ready to bring constructive proposals in this regard – for example, with no new applications being taken in relation to the Ash Dieback Reconstitution & Underplanting Scheme, the Department should examine the provision of separate distinct supports for the clearing of land on a health and safety basis.
“While I have acknowledged that the forestry sector was in turmoil prior to the formation of this government, we are now far past the point of this being a crisis of someone else’s making. Minister of State Hackett and Minister McConalogue must take responsibility.
“Since the formation of this government afforestation rates have been abysmal. The number of afforestation licences issued have hit record lows. The fact that government is still considering reports, arising from an implementation report, itself into an initial report that dates back to 2019 points to their incompetent handling of this sector.
“I have written to the Chairperson of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee requesting that both Ministers be invited before the Committee without delay to account for these abject failures and this most recent debacle.”