The Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, has confirmed that €9.25 million has been paid out in grants over the past decade to support forest owners impacted by ash dieback. The disease is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus and has affected forests that were planted under the afforestation scheme. Two schemes were launched in 2013 and 2020 to restore these forests. Between 1990 and 2013, 15,897 hectares of grant-aided ash were planted in Ireland. The first confirmation of ash dieback disease in Ireland was in 2012 at a forestry plantation site which had been planted in 2009 with trees imported from continental Europe. It is now believed that around 90% of ash trees could be impacted by the disease.
The minister was responding to questions from TDs, including the chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Fianna Fáil TD, Jackie Cahill, regarding the effectiveness of ash dieback schemes. McConalogue said that his department was continuing to review the schemes. He added that a total of €9.25 million had been spent on both schemes, which included a grant for site clearance as well as replanting. So far, intervention in relation to ash dieback under the support schemes has been grant-aided for more than 2,800 hectares.
McConalogue also highlighted that a new scheme for the reconstitution of ash dieback will be launched as part of the government’s proposed new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme, which is subject to state aid approval by the European Commission before it can be implemented in Ireland. In the meantime, a new interim reconstitution scheme for ash dieback was launched in March, which includes an enhanced site clearance grant rate, increased to €2,000, and enhanced grant rates as per draft forestry programme 2023-2027.
The minister outlined that this scheme is available to 154 current approvals covering an area of 477 hectares. To date, 14 of those eligible have applied for this scheme for an area of 65 hectares. He also detailed that there are a further 589 applications seeking approval, which represent 2,534 hectares, which are currently being processed and which he said “will be able to avail of the new programme scheme when approved”.
McConalogue said that he has regularly met with landowners whose forests have ash dieback and farming organisations and is aware of their concerns.