Only 14 individuals have opted into the Ash Dieback Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) to date, according to the Social, Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (SEEFA). This is despite the fact that the group claims ash trees are dying, dead, and rotting all over the country. SEEFA has accused the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of failing to provide support to farm families to remove seriously decayed trees from the Irish landscape before serious injuries occur. As per the latest data, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has issued only five afforestation licenses this year.
SEEFA has claimed that Minister Charlie McConalogue is “sleeping at the wheel” when it comes to the forestry sector. In response, McConalogue has stated that an interim ash dieback reconstitution program is in place under an interim afforestation scheme. He has also mentioned that DAFM is continuing to issue and accept felling license applications. The Minister has further added that he intends to publish a new forestry licensing plan once the European Commission has approved state aid for the new Forestry Programme 2023-2027.
Independent TD for Laois Offaly, Carol Nolan, has written to the Minister asking him if he believes that the Ash dieback scheme is fit for purpose. Nolan has called for a full review of the current approach to ensure that farmers cannot engage in clearing and felling of dead and dying trees without a license. The leader of the Social Democrats, Deputy Holly Cairns, has also questioned Minister McConalogue on why DAFM has not accepted any afforestation, ash dieback or forest road applications from private individuals and companies since January 1, 2023.
Minister McConalogue has said that the government is still waiting for formal approval from the European Commission to the €1.3 billion program. Once EU Commission approval has been received, they will be in a position to launch the new program, subject to finalization of the Strategic Environmental Assessment. However, he has also highlighted that while DAFM cannot issue licenses for grant-aided afforestation, roads or forestry support schemes until the new program is in place, felling licenses have continued to issue.
The lack of participation in the Ash dieback scheme indicates that forest owners are not finding it appealing in any meaningful way. This could be due to a lack of awareness or interest in the program. It is essential that the government takes necessary measures to address this issue and ensure that the forestry sector receives the support it needs to thrive.