Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Forestry Policy and Strategy: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I will be as brief as possible. I will not rehash what was said earlier. A great deal was covered.

Since this committee was formed, it has concentrated on all sectors of forestry and the problems relating thereto. In my role as Fianna Fáil spokesperson on agriculture, I have led numerous debates on forestry in the Seanad. If people want to check the record, they will see that on every occasion and without fail I questioned how confidence in this sector could be restored, especially among the farming community and potential smaller actors who buy into forestry. They are the 99%. The Department's figures show that the Gresham House deal is only 1%. Leaving the deal aside, we still need the other 99% from that sector between now and 2050. We all welcomed the forestry programme, and the €1.3 billion in funding, when it was announced. We were beginning to see improvement and progress in licensing. The correspondence I received regarding forestry started dwindling. Along with many others, I thought we were on the road to getting the confidence to which I refer back and that we had turned a corner. Unfortunately, it was one step forward and two steps back once news broke of the Gresham House deal.

As can be read from the mood of the room this evening, I and other committee members are all in the same boat. The correspondence, representations, phone calls and emails about forestry started again. Confidence took a hammering. There is massive concern out there. There will be no confidence in the sector and people will not volunteer or sign up to partake in the scheme while there is such concern among farmers, landowners, rural dwellers and the public in general.

I take everything the Minister has said as to how we got to where we are. The narrative is out there, and it will be out there again when these proceedings are dissected and covered. The €1.3 billion in funding was brilliant, as was the increase in the premium from 15 to 20 years. I thought we were turning a corner, but now there is negativity because the premium is going to go to investors. Land prices are going to be exorbitant. Where there are investors and big outfits involved, there will potentially be large tranches of forestry in specific areas. I received a lot of correspondence from people in the areas they think are going to be targeted, like the north west or whatever. If we had brought the farmers with us and kept that confidence there we would be looking at the smaller and more sporadic kind of forestry. That would be a better fit for everybody. You cannot relaunch the €1.3 billion. The bounce from that is gone. How is the Minister going to get it back? I would like a detailed response, based on everything that has been said here this evening. We are where we are, what has happened has happened, we have lost that bounce and confidence has taken a bigger kick. It is in a worse place than it was all through our deliberations in the last two years. How does the Minister propose to get that confidence back? How does he propose to get farmers planting trees? As I said, he cannot launch the €1.3 billion again. How does he intend to meet his targets? I would like some more specifics on what he plans to do to make sure that at the end of this five years we will have nothing like that again, that the emphasis will be, as he keeps saying, on the farm family and the small landowner, and we get people back planting trees and investing. We need to put a lot of detail and thought into what we are going to have to do to achieve that because this was the last straw. People do not even want to talk about forestry anymore. The only people in the farming community at the minute who have any interest in forestry are the ones who are sitting in the long grass who think they will get a massive price for a bit of land that might be suitable for forestry and are looking forward to this deal going through.