Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Priority Questions

Legislative Programme.

3:00 pm

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Question 5: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the main aspects of the proposed new forestry Bill; the groups and bodies that have been consulted in the drafting of the heads of this bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30235/07]

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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My Department has completed a comprehensive review of the Forestry Act 1946 and the draft heads of a new forestry Bill have been prepared which will update and consolidate the 1946 Act. The draft scheme of the new forestry Bill will be submitted to the Government shortly for approval to be sent to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting.

The proposed legislation will address many of the issues raised during the extensive consultation process undertaken by the Department. The new forestry Bill will introduce a regulatory framework to support the development of a modern, multi-functional, sustainable and high quality forestry sector which enshrines the principles of sustainable forest management and protection of the environment. The proposed Bill will, among other provisions, introduce a simpler and more streamlined felling licence system, allow for change of land use from forestry to other sustainable uses and provide a statutory basis for forestry guidelines and forest management plans.

My Department has engaged in an extensive consultation process as part of its review of existing forestry legislation. The consultation process commenced in May 1998 with the establishment of a legislative review group with responsibility for, inter alia, evaluating the operation of the Forestry Acts, identifying and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of existing forestry legislation and making recommendations regarding the legislative framework. During the course of its work, the group engaged in widespread consultation and sought the views of the general public, along with various public and private sector organisations.

In December 2005 a consultative group was established by my Department during the final stages of the review of the Forestry Acts. This group comprised representatives from the Irish Forest Industry Chain, the Tree Council of Ireland, the Irish Farmers Association, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the National Council for Forest Research and Development and the City and County Managers Association. Specifically, the consultative group was asked to consider what operational issues needed to be included in any new Act and assess and evaluate submissions and make decisions on their content vis-À-vis inclusion in primary legislation.

Additional information not given on floor of the House.

The establishment of the consultative group coincided with advertisements in the national newspapers seeking final submissions from interested parties.

During the overall consultation period between 1998 and 2006, 26 separate written submissions were received. A dedicated website, upon which regular updates were posted detailing the deliberations of the consultative group, was also established to keep those interested in the process up to date with developments.

In May 2006 a special public seminar was held to allow all those organisations, groups and individuals who had participated in the consultation process between 1998 and 2005 a chance to present and clarify their submissions in person directly to the consultative group. The group examined all the submissions received during the consultation phases and considered all the comments raised at the public seminar. The proposed general scheme of the Bill reflects the results of the deliberations of the consultative group and represents a broad consensus on the issues involved.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his lengthy reply but he did not provide me with many details. I will set out three objectives.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I would prefer the Deputy to ask a question, it being Question Time.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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What will the proposed Bill do to increase the total area classified as woodland or to achieve the Government target of 17% cover by 2030? Will it change the obligation on replanting, which is perceived as one of the biggest obstacles to increasing forest cover in the private sector? Will it have any implications for COFORD?

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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The principal features will be simpler and streamlined felling licensing, formal structures for forest management, a statutory basis for forestry guidelines and changes in land use from forestry to other sustainable uses. An appeals mechanism will be put in place for the first time and forest owners will be protected. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I had issues in that respect in the past where adjacent developments took place and forests were felled without any contact from the Department. Forests will be protected through measures on disease-free status and land acquisition. The Minister will have an opportunity to grant compensation if she so wishes.

In my former role as Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, I established the wide-ranging industrial liaison group. It was a difficult task to persuade the group to convene initially. The Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, has continued this dialogue and she has reached the stage at which the heads of the Bill have been prepared and are ready to go before the Government early in the new year. The Bill will reflect the views of all the stakeholders.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State is not grasping the nettle. Yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, launched a study on forest planting levels. I am shocked that the Government has proposed yet another delaying tactic in terms of a consultancy report. I will quote from the press release she issued seeking this consultancy report.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy should not quote from statements during Question Time.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The press release stated, "Mary Wallace T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for forestry matters at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today announced the appointment of Mr. John Malone to undertake a study on the factors affecting the rate of afforestation in Ireland". What bearing will that have on the forthcoming Bill? It is time to tell the Minister of State to get off the fence because every squirrel in the forest knows the biggest obstacle to reforestation is the planting obligation.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The lady in red knows that too. She made a promise during the election.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I do not know about the squirrels in the forest.

Photo of Mary CoughlanMary Coughlan (Minister, Department of Agriculture and Food; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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The squirrels in the forest know when this Bill will be finished.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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This issue has been with us since 1998 and in fairness to the Minister and the Minister of State, they have fast tracked the Bill in order that it can shortly go before the Government.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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They have been dragging their feet for ten years.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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The consultancy report announced yesterday is intended to find out why the farming community and land owners will not plant or avail of the grants currently available.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister of State need an expert to tell her that?

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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We want to increase planting levels and the Minister of State has initiated proposals in that regard.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Will any action be taken before the report is completed?

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Of course.