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Hackett’s Forestry Program Takes Root: EU Approval Process Set in Motion

"Ireland's €1.3 Billion Forestry Programme enters formal approval process with European Commission"

The Irish government has begun the formal process of securing approval for its proposed €1.3 billion Forestry Programme with the European Commission, according to Minister of State, Pippa Hackett. The programme, which is set to run from 2023-2027, is subject to state aid approval by the European Commission before it can be implemented in Ireland. In the meantime, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has approved “interim” schemes for afforestation and roads, which are based on the de minimis rule that makes them exempt from state aid rules.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on agriculture and food, Deputy Claire Kerrane, has expressed concern that many farmers have lost faith in forestry. She stressed the importance of getting the forestry programme right in order to restore farmers’ faith in the system. Deputy Kerrane raised the issue of forestry felling licensing backlogs during a Dáil debate this week and queried why some farmers and forestry owners had been given two-year rather than 10-year licences.

Minister Hackett responded by stating that the backlog of licences had been reduced from 6,000 applications in August 2021 to 3,700 at the start of 2022, and further reduced to 1,840 by April 14, 2022. She also noted that her department continues to issue and accept felling licence applications and has issued 909 felling licences to date. As of April 14, 2023, there were a total of 2,238 felling licence applications on hand, with 1,199 of these on hand for more than 120 days, which is how the backlog is defined.

Minister Hackett intends to publish a new forestry licensing plan once the new forestry programme has been approved. However, Deputy Kerrane expressed concern about the length of time that some farmers have had to wait for licences, whether for felling or forestry, and the frustration that this has caused. She stressed the importance of clarity in relation to licence terms, stating that the standard licence should be for 10 years. Deputy Kerrane believes that this will contribute to a much more successful forestry programme in the future.

It is clear that there is significant interest in the forestry sector in Ireland, and the government’s proposed new Forestry Programme is an important step towards supporting this industry. However, it is important that the programme is implemented in a way that is fair and transparent, and that farmers and forestry owners have confidence in the system. The reduction in licensing backlogs is a positive development, but there is still work to be done to ensure that the forestry sector in Ireland can thrive in the years ahead.

Categories: Agriculture