Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Claire Kerrane TD, has called on Minister Hackett and Minister McConalogue to provide clarity on the announced approval of an afforestation grant scheme by the European Commission.
It has been announced today that the European Commission has provided approval for a grant scheme to support investments in afforestation under EU state aid rules.
Some media reports have suggested that only partial approval has been received, with €308m being referenced for the afforestation grant scheme.
The Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine have issued a press statement confirming approval of afforestation measures by the European Commission, but have not clarified the total amount approved.
Teachta Kerrane said:
“It is a welcome update that approval has been provided today by the EU Commission for a grant scheme for afforestation.
“However, many more questions remain unanswered.
“Some media reports are indicating that only partial approval has been received. This would be unexpected as that point wasn’t referenced in the Ministers’ comments on the matter.
“It is positive that partial approval has been granted, but unusual that this important detail has not been included by the Ministers announcing this update, should this be the case.
“€308m equates to less than 25% of the announced €1.3bn for the Forestry Programme 2023-2027. It is crucial that the Ministers provide clarification and additional detail on the approved amount.
“Given the significant delays to the new Forestry Programme already, farmers and foresters deserve to know exactly what amount has been approved and what it has been approved for.
“In addition, the Ministers have stated that applications will be opening in the next couple of weeks, but it is reasonable to expect that any afforestation grant scheme would be up and running almost immediately. There has been plenty of time to have this scheme ready to go on approval, given applications should have opened late last year.
“We know that movement on afforestation is urgently needed.
“I have been contacted by farmers and forestry landowners as recently as last week, who have been seriously worried about the significant delays to the new Forestry Programme and the impact this will have.
“In addition, there is an annual target of 8,000 ha of afforestation. Yet, there has been just 1,020ha planted in the first seven month of 2023 and licensing issued for just 140ha of new forestry so far this year.
“Given the situation, it is no surprise that confidence in the sector amongst farmers and foresters is at an all-time low.
“That lack of confidence will not be helped by questions remaining about how much the approved afforestation grant scheme is for, what it is for, and when it will be up and running.
“As I have said before, the government has dragged their feet on Forestry and they continue to do so.
“I am calling on Minister Hackett and Minister McConalogue to provide urgent clarity and confirmation on this matter.”