Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

12:30 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, along with Deputy Cairns, because it is an important one. The Government's policy, as the Deputy states, is to increase afforestation from the current level of 11%, or 808,848 ha, to 18% by 2050. This will require an additional 450,000 ha of new forests by 2050. Coillte, in its strategic vision, has committed to enabling 100,000 ha of new forests by 2050, to create a carbon sink of approximately 18 million tonnes of CO2. Half of these forests will be native woodlands. The other half will be forests for quality timber production, which will be used in large part to displace emissions-intensive building materials such as steel and cement.

My view, which the Minister will be communicating to Coillte today, is that Coillte did not need the legal approval of the Government in respect of its decision. However, I take the Deputy's point that overall public policy must be clear also. My view is that subject to state aid rules, in terms of forestry, I would want the land to be in State ownership. Farmers are individual private operators as well. We want farmers to drive the bulk of the afforestation, so we must be careful about the utilisation of the terms "private" and "public". There can be no selling off of any State forests or anything like that. I think the State itself should be more actively involved in purchasing land too. That will create tensions in terms of pricing and other such issues, but we must purchase land for native woodlands and for simple rewilding at its most basic because the biodiversity challenge is so crucial. We are not at the races in respect of meeting the biodiversity challenge just yet. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and others have made great progress in the past two and a half years by doubling the budget of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and it now becoming a Government agency. For the first time in a long time, the NPWS has found its feet and has got great underpinning. I am very passionately committed to the biodiversity agenda. I have been asking agencies to buy land for rewilding and native woodlands. We need commercial forestry as well. The construction industry must develop more carbon-efficient mechanisms to build houses in the future. Timber-frame construction is pitifully low in this country in comparison to Scotland, for example. The real issue for us is to get from the low level we are currently at. Significant progress was made in the 1980s and 1990s but that has stalled in more recent times.

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