Sinn Féin TD for Kerry Pa Daly has criticised processing delays within the Department of Agriculture, highlighting a range of issues affecting beef farmers, forestry and aquaculture in Kerry.
Teachta Daly said:
“Over the past year, I have continually been hearing from constituents who are frustrated with the Department of Agriculture and the Marine.
“The main complaint is that applications for a variety of licences are routinely denied, and then held up in appeal for months, and in some cases, years.
“Beef farmers are telling me that their appeals on a beef suckler scheme will take at least 12 weeks to review because there are hundreds of appeals backlogged.
“It would appear the mechanism for reviewing and sharing documentation between the Department and the Appeals office needs review. There is no question staff are facing additional challenges due to Covid-19, but Departmental management must look into this and make changes or add resources where necessary.
“I am also hearing from foresters who cannot fell cultivated forests, with some applications looking like they will be in process for over three years by the time a decision is made.
“When I raised this in the Dáil to Minister McConalogue last week, he responded that additional ecologists have been hired to assist with reviewing applications in light of requirements under the EU Habitat and Birds Directive, which necessitates an ecology review. However, we were told ecologists were hired last year and it has not made any difference.
“In one example, I asked about a licence in July 2020 and was told it was held up due to the need for this review, however I was told in January that the application had not moved and that there is as nine-month backlog. The Department offered that the farmer could pay for his own ecology review, which could cost up to €15,000.
“I put it to Minister McConalogue that he needs to get the multiple divisions of the Forestry Appeals Committee up and money as was promised some time ago. Until this happens, foreign lumber is being imported where an Irish product could be provided instead.
“Finally, in 2016 the Department issued an open invitation for aquaculture licences which led to over 100 being submitted in Cromane, including fishers with no association with the area.
“These applications were summarily rejected due to spatial concerns, and those that appealed are still in appeal over four years later.
“The growers are telling me they do not even have a mechanism with which they can engage with the Department on their appeal to advance the discussions or agree mitigation strategies to protect the marine environment.
“These bottlenecks must be removed and we must allow Irish farmers and growers to earn a living and supply the local market.”