Thursday, 10 July 2014
Forestry Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed)
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1.In page 6, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:“ “ancient woodlands” means those woodlands which have had continuous tree cover since 1650 or before and which are most likely to have arisen naturally and to be descended from Ireland’s original forests;”.(Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett)
The Deputy had sought clarification in regard to the situation at Gougane Barra. I researched what happened in Gougane Barra in regard to the felling of trees and believe it would be helpful to clarify this for the House before we continue with this Bill.
I assure the Deputy that Coillte was acting on instructions and following best scientific advice from the Department regarding controlling the larch tree disease. The disease is serious and affects many species, but larch is particularly susceptible to it. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine issued a legal disposal notice instructing Coillte to carry out felling at Gougane Barra. The decision was not taken lightly. It was important to take it in order to limit further spread of the disease, which was found in various parts of the forest.
I believe it is important to point out that the forestry inspectors from the Department took samples from the forest and sent them for analysis to two separate laboratories, the Department laboratory in Backweston and the Coillte laboratory in Wicklow. In regard to the use of the Coillte laboratory, I would like to make it clear this laboratory has particular expertise in forestry pathology and the Department often uses it for testing samples. Coded samples that do not indicate the location are sent. In other words, only the Department knows from where the samples being tested come.
The decision was not taken lightly, but on the best scientific advice available within the Department. It was the forest service of the Department which took the decision to fell, not Coillte. In fact, Coillte was instructed by the Department.
I appreciate that information as it helps put the jigsaw of what happened together.
The issue of consultation will arise further on in this Bill. I am not a scientific expert. I am open minded on this and do not assume the worst, but I believe one of the things missing in regard to this is consultation, particularly in regard to the cutting down of 16,000 trees in a national park on what appears to have been a preventative basis. Subsequently, there has been some controversy over whether this was necessary.
I am sure the labs say it was necessary. However, one thing Coillte is bound by, with its eco badge, is a commitment to public consultation on any significant action affecting the forests in its care and stewardship. As far as I am aware, there was no public consultation about this action, which has had such a huge impact on Gougane Barra, which is one of our most important national forests. Therefore, there are still questions to answer, but we can discuss them when we get on to the issue of the public consultation and the importance of having the most robust system of public consultation for dealing with forests.
Much of the Minister of State's response to the proposal made in my amendment centred on the fact that with special areas of conservation and so on, our concerns are covered in terms of the protection of ancient woodlands. However, the point that has been made to me is that what we are missing are specific management plans for the remnants of our ancient woodlands. We need this because of their incredible importance as a crucial part of our heritage and as a genetic bank of biodiversity. We do not have this genetic bank with industrial forestry, which is mostly based on species that are cloned or imported, which are, therefore, genetically weak and more vulnerable to disease. Our native ancient woodlands are a genetic and biodiversity storehouse of our forests. Therefore, we need specific management plans to protect them against possible dangers and threats such as disease. That is the reason for these amendments.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, line 19, to delete “0.1 hectare” and substitute “0.5 hectares and five metres in height”.Deputy Ferris sends his apologies and has asked me to take his place here.
I remind the Deputy that on Report Stage, the first contribution is unlimited, but a second contribution is restricted to two minutes. The mover of an amendment may then make a third contribution.
The reasoning behind this amendment is simple. It is our view that 0.1 hectare is a very small area of land, not even a considerable back garden. We are concerned in regard to enforcing this legislation in terms of such a small area of land. It would seem more sensible to set the size at 0.5 hectares.
I am not in a position to agree this amendment. As I already stated on Committee Stage, for international and national reporting requirements Ireland has defined a forest area as being at least 0.1 hectare as described in the Bill. We are committed to using the same forest definition for reporting to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Food and Agricultural Organisation definition may use 0.5 hectares, but countries reporting to the FAO can use their own definition, with Ireland having adopted the use of a 0.1 hectare threshold.
It is worth noting that a number of other member states, including the UK, use the 0.1 hectare threshold for reporting purposes under the UN framework. Some other countries define forest areas at a lower threshold than 0.1 hectare, for example, the Czech Republic and Austria. Changing the definition would mean that all carbon stocks previously reported to the UN would have to be revisited, as well as an estimate being provided to the European Union in regard to projected levels of carbon sink. The 0.1 hectare threshold is also the minimum area where consent is required for all proposed afforestation projects as described in Ireland's forest consent assessment regulation 2010.
The area definition should also take into account the fact that this Bill describes trees as either inside our outside forests. If the threshold were lowered, it would mean that all areas below 0.5 hectares could be removed without either a licence or a requirement to replant.
From the point of view of Ireland, with its historically low levels of forest cover, it is important to record as many forests as possible. Reducing the threshold would facilitate deforestation and result in a potential loss of biodiversity. In many cases, small woods interlink with and adjoin the massive network of hedgerows in Ireland and are an integral part of our landscape. As stated previously, my Department has provided grant aid since the early 1990s in respect of broadleaf woodlands which meet the threshold of 0.1 hectare. Many important areas of woodland along rivers and valleys are small in size, and an upward movement in this threshold could result in their being deforested and in no replanting taking place. I cannot, therefore, accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 7, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:“ “Rio Forest Principles” means the “Forest Principles” adopted at The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992;”.From my point of view, these amendments are some of the most important I have tabled. They go to the heart of what I and people concerned with the future protection and development of Irish forestry and woodlands believe to be quite central to this matter - namely, putting in place a proper definition of what constitutes sustainable forestry. Such a definition would inform both the Bill and our overall approach to forestry. The highest standard of definition that has been laid down in this regard is that which is contained in the forest principles adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which took place in Rio in 1992. Those principles make for fantastic reading because they provide a real sense of the multiple values and downright importance of forests and trees.
In the day-to-day rush of life, work, stress and pressure, what is happening with our forests might not seem of immediate importance. However, the 1992 principles set out - in a wonderful way - how existence on this planet is dependent on forests, which are the lungs of the world. Our failure to protect them has probably been the single biggest contributory factor to climate change. Forests regulate both climate and weather, and massive deforestation have not helped in that regard. The World Cup is taking place in Brazil at present and the destruction of the equatorial rain forests in that country is a threat to the existence of humanity. An area of trees equivalent to that football pitch is cut down each day by people who either do not understand or do not care about the value of forests not just to the people of Brazil or the indigenous tribes that live there but to the entire world. If we do not do something to protect these forests, the whole planet will be under threat.
What I am talking about is not a matter for the long-distant future. The impact of deforestation is apparent in events that are having an adverse impact on people in this country. I refer, for example, to flooding. Our native forests were cut down as a result of successive waves of British invasion and colonisation and we have done relatively little to replant them. This deforestation did considerable damage to the cohesion of the soil in this country. In so far as reafforestation has taken place, it has been industrial and monocultural in nature and the focus has mainly been on planting Sitka spruce rather than native species. That has contributed significantly to soil erosion, to the acidification of soil and rivers and to silting, all of which have an impact with regard to flooding, disease, etc. In general, the fertility of the soil has been adversely affected.
I do not really want to do so but if I were to argue the matter in the context of economics, I could state that there would be huge potential - from the point of view of the economy and job creation - to expand activity in respect of the planting of native species way beyond the level that has obtained to date. Up to now, we have been far too focused on a particular industrial model of forestry that has failed on all sorts of levels. We are not meeting our afforestation targets and we were recently obliged to revise them. We are failing to diversify our afforestation activities by increasing the number of native species we could and should plant.
The Rio principles set out why all of the matters to which I refer are so important for society and culture and refer to the importance of striking a balance in the context of social, economic and environmental concerns. They are vital to understanding the impact of forestry on many levels. The definitions contained in the principles were developed in Rio and it was a fantastic achievement on the part of all involved that they achieved a consensus about the vital importance of forestry. In such circumstances, it would seem sensible that the definition to which I refer should be inserted into the Bill in order to inform both it and how we deal with the process of forestry.
In 2009, Mr. David Gunning, the former CEO of Coillte, when giving evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts, stated - I stress that it was not me or some environmental fringe group which did so - that, from many different points of view, the traditional forestry model used in this country was no longer viable and had to be changed. However, that model has not been changed in the interim. A major difficulty with the Bill is the fact that the review of Coillte, the largest owner of forestry in the country, has never been completed. This is because the Forestry Act 1988, under which Coillte was established and which predates the Rio principles, has never been amended.
There is no review. We have not received the review - it was never completed - of what is going on in Coillte. The Bill that governs Coillte, the biggest owner of forests, does not take into account the Rio forest principles in terms of environmental protection, the importance of biodiversity and the multiple uses and value of forestry. That seems to follow through in some of the thrust and bias of the objectives of the Bill.
I am hoping to insert these definitions of sustainable forestry from the Rio forest principles. There is still too much of an emphasis on the narrow industrial or commercial view of forestry. I use the term "narrow" because in arguing for the Rio principles and a more holistic view of forestry development I am not arguing against developing the economic potential or value of forestry. I am trying to explain that we have had too narrow a view of them, with an industrial approach based largely on one species. It has not really worked and is potentially damaging and threatening to the future of the forestry sector overall. If we really want to develop the economic, employment, tourist, amenity, biodiversity and heritage potential of forestry, we need to have a more balanced and sustainable long-term view, rather than a narrow focused industrial view. The Rio forest principles set the balance correctly in the most comprehensive way and better than any other forum. That is why they should be included in the Bill. That is the argument. As we signed up to them, why not include them in the Bill? I do not see any reason not to do so.
I support Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett. I was not involved in the previous debates on the matter. This is well intentioned and, in the main, good legislation. Given that it is, I was surprised by the absence of the Rio standard, the gold standard for forestry management throughout the world. If the principles and activities of forestry management are undertaken within the Rio forest principles, we can be assured that they meet the gold standard, that it is a certain standard, rather than making it up as we go along. We have several amendments tabled. Most of them are detailed and deal with specific points. However, if the legislation was put to work towards and within the gold standard of forestry management principles, that is, the Rio forest principles, my concerns about the other amendments would largely dissipate. Will the Minister of State reconsider accepting them?
I am taking amendments Nos. 4, 5, 8 and 16a together. I addressed the proposed amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 8 in a comprehensive manner on Committee Stage. The Government is totally committed to the advancement of the principle of sustainable development in Ireland. In 2012 my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, published Our Sustainable Future: A Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland. More recently, he published the general scheme of the climate action and low carbon development Bill 2013. This policy and legislative framework is based on a joined-up whole-of-government approach to firmly embedding sustainable development principles in policy formulation and decision-making across all sectors. It includes a commitment to continue support for the sustainable development of the forestry and forest product sectors.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett has brought forward amendment No. 5. There is no universally agreed definition of sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management is not a fixed concept. In Europe the most widely accepted definition is that developed by the FOREST EUROPE process. Ireland has integrated the FOREST EUROPE definition with its national forest standards. Discussions are under way in FOREST EUROPE on the criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management and to facilitate the evaluation of progress towards attaining that end. Further to recent communications from the European Commission on a new EU forest strategy, discussions have been initiated at Council working party level and at the standing committee on forestry on the possibilities of applying sustainable forest management criteria to all uses of forest biomass. The outcome of these discussions will, undoubtedly, have a bearing on any future evolution of the definition of sustainable forest management. Given the foregoing, I continue to take the view that there is no need to include the definition of the Rio forest principles of sustainable forest management in the Bill. The sustainable development of the forestry sector is sufficiently covered.
Coillte has signed up to the concept of sustainable forest management through Forest Stewardship Council certification. The Department's forest service regulates in accordance with the principle of sustainable forest management also. I am, therefodre, not in a position to agree to the amendments.
Amendment No. 16a reflects the need to ensure that in the exercise of his or her functions relating to forestry the Minister shall have regard to the policy of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government ion climate change.
I do not agree with the Minister State who said there was no agreed international definition of sustainable forest management. I have before me the report on the United Nations conference on environment and development, annex III, non-legally binding authoritative statement of principles for a global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. It is not legally binding, but we signed up to it. Therefore, there is agreement on the issue. This consensus is unprecedented at an international level on the nature of sustainable forestry. It is the most comprehensive statement on the matter and brilliant. My fear is that there is a reluctance to sign up to it in legislation because it would tie us to the sustainable forest model we need and that this might infringe on certain vested interests who have no wish to sign up to the model. That concerns me.
It is not as if everything is well in the forest, to use a pun, when it comes to the forestry sector. We are failing to meet our targets. Biodiversity is under severe pressure. Let us consider diseases such as ash dieback, ramorum and so on which indicate that we have got things wrong. Native species are far more resilient and have an immune system that cloned and imported species do not have. We, therefore, need to change the model. We could develop a sustainable model under the Rio forest principles. I disagree with the Minister of State; it is critical that they be included.
The process in which we are involved is Forest Europe. We are trying to develop a forestry business that is commercially viable. This is important for our country. We will take all environmental issues on board, but Forest Europe is the way we will do that in concert with other European countries.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:" "sustainable forest management" means the management of forests following the definition of sustainable forest management as set out in the 1992 Rio Forest Principles;".
Regarding amendment No. 6, I remind Deputies that the Government introduced an amendment to section 5(l) on Committee Stage, which reads "to promote the production and use of timber". Therefore, this issue has been adequately addressed.
As regards amendments Nos. 14 and 68, section 5 already provides to the Minister a number of promotional functions in facilitating the development of forestry, which in turn will contribute to a competitive timber industry and the creation of jobs in rural Ireland. Paragraph (b) reads: "to promote the development of forests and forest-related activities and industries in such a way that forests provide an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable yield of forest goods and services, while maintaining and enhancing their biological diversity". Paragraph (k) reads: "to promote the development and marketing of a quality-based forest industry sector". Paragraph (l) reads: "to promote the production and use of timber". Section 30(4)(b) reads: "promoting the development of forests and forest-related activities and industries in such a way that forests provide an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable yield of forest goods and services, while maintaining and enhancing their biological diversity". I am satisfied that adequate provision has been made to meet the objective identified by the Deputy and do not see the need for repetition in sections 5 and 30. Therefore, I cannot agree to these amendments.
Previously, I explained the constraints under competition law precluding the Minister from interfering in markets. People have a right to decide when and to whom they sell their timber. However, it should be noted that, through the promotion of afforestation, I am effectively increasing the outputs of primary producers and working towards the continuity of and increase in supplies.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 8, to delete lines 7 to 10 and substitute the following:"(b) to promote sustainable forest management as set out in the 1992 Rio Forest Principles, forest resources and forest lands should be sustainably managed to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations. These needs are for forest products and services, such as wood and wood products, water, food, fodder, medicine, fuel, shelter, employment, recreation, habitats for wildlife, landscape diversity, carbon sinks and reservoirs, and for other forest products;".
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, line 17, after "against" to insert "the harmful effects of pollution including airborne pollution and".The reason for this amendment is self-evident, in that airborne pollution is a danger to forestry and it should be explicitly set out that we seek to protect our forests from it. I am taking my lead from the Rio forest principles. Indeed, the amendments' phrasing is taken directly from Article 2(b) of the declaration's principles and elements section. The declaration rightly recognised the need to indicate the various threats to forestry and woodlands against which it was critical to protect. If we are to protect our forests, ancient woodlands, biodiversity and so on properly, we need to recognise this threat when developing forest management, protection and conservation plans and measures. These are sensible amendments that follow an international precedent and I do not know why the Government would not deign to accept them.
In amendment No. 9, the Deputy is correct to highlight the potential harmful effect of airborne pollution on forests and other habitats. However, responsibility for controlling and monitoring pollution, including airborne pollution, and ensuring Ireland is protected from its harmful effects rests with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, partially via the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities. It would not be appropriate for me to interfere with or replicate the statutory functions of the Minister and the agencies under his remit. Therefore, I cannot accept amendment No. 9.
Regarding amendment No. 10, it is implicit in the section that, in seeking to ensure forests are protected against harmful pests, diseases and invasive species, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will have regard to the maintenance of their full multiple value as far as is practicable. However, maintaining the full multiple value of every forest in the State cannot be guaranteed. Whether a forest is managed so as to maintain its full multiple value is a matter for the forest's owner or manager. For example, a forest owner who has permitted public access to his or her forest may wish to restrict or rescind access temporarily to all or part of that forest because of, for example, illegal dumping or proposed felling works.
I am afraid that was not convincing.
The demarcation lines of bureaucracy and Departments should not be what inform our approach to forestry. We often hear the phrase "we need joined-up thinking" and often people comment of the lack of it in Government and in other areas. Where areas overlap and there are certain demarcation lines, we need flexibility and imagination and to remember that what is important is the issue with which we are dealing and not the pre-existing demarcation lines set by the Government and bureaucracy. If such flexibility and creativity informed the way the Government works, it would work much better and probably alienate far fewer people.
The Minister has not given a terribly good explanation for not being able to accept the first amendment in this grouping because in terms of what I proposed we are dealing with forests and this is the Forestry Bill. Let us get the protections and the approach to it right and let the Government catch up with how it deals with overlapping responsibilities between one Department and another. I am sure they can figure it out. I do not accept the argument he put forward. Principle 2(b) of the Rio declaration states: "Appropriate measures should be taken to protect forests against harmful effects of pollution, including air-borne pollution, fires, pests and diseases, in order to maintain their full multiple value." That is the holistic and right approach.
On the Minister of State's response to the second amendment in the grouping, there is a tendency in many of his responses, and it is also inherent in the Bill, to create a false tension between the forest owner, particularly the private forest owner, or the farmer and more environmental concerns. The thrust of all my amendments is to point out that this is a false distinction. What is good for the forest is good for the farmer but it is not always seen that way. The way legislation is often framed is informed by the view that there is some contradiction between those two things and there is not. If we do not understand that and overcome that false distinction, we will do a disservice not only to forestry but to farming.
I agree with the Deputy that we need joined-up thinking. It is important to have it across Departments. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the county councils have their responsibilities and whether it is in regard to pollution or whatever, responsibility for it rests with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Forest Service and this Bill seek to make forestry accessible. It involves a huge shift in mentality for landowners to decide to plant their land. The reason we introduced this Bill is to encourage people to plant their land. There is much marginal land across the country that could provide employment in rural areas and that is what we want to achieve through this Bill. The Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine want to encourage that. We want to encourage more people to get involved in forestry; we do not want to make it more difficult. We do not want to bring in other matters related to pollution controls and so on, which would make it more difficult for people. We want to make it easier and encourage people to get involved in forestry. I want to be clear in pointing out that my objective in bringing forward this Bill is to encourage and make it easier for people to get involved in forestry. It would be a good use of agricultural land that is not suitable for production of grass or cereals. I travelled the length and breath of the country, particularly during the past 12 months, and I saw huge opportunities for forestry in many parts of the country. I know Deputy Colreavy would agree with me on this. Deputy Boyd Barrett would agree that we must encourage more people to get involved in forestry. The idea behind this Bill is not to encroach on any other Department.
I think the Minister may have accepted it. Did he? I submitted all my amendments from Committee Stage for Report Stage but I note from the Bill, as amended, that paragraph (n) is included. Is the wording of it the same as proposed in my amendment? No, my apologies.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 8, to delete lines 27 to 31 and substitute the following:"(n) to promote and monitor the protection and enhancement of water quality and water status in all aspects of forestry, so as to ensure that forestry plans, operations and forest-based activities regulated under this Act are compatible with the requirements of Directive No. 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 on water policy;".I am a little confused.
Yes, exactly. It does not alter the intention of the provision. The existing text already obliges the Minister to ensure that forestry operations and activities that are regulated under the Bill are compatible with the water framework directive. I do not believe that this amendment is necessary and I cannot therefore accept it.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 8, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:"(o) to promote conservation, expansion, restoration, and positive management of natural and semi-natural woodlands, including the remnants of Ancient woodland and ensure that management plans are put in place for these woodlands once identified, whether they occur in Special Areas of Conversation or Natural Heritage Areas or otherwise, and that this is prioritised in forest policy;".
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 8, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:"(o) to promote silviculture based on natural conditions using continuous cover forest planning and management using native species adapted to the site, having small scale operations and by encouraging natural regeneration, ensuring the protection of rare, endangered, and ecologically important areas while maintaining, conserving and enhancing biological diversity in forest ecosystems;".I have made many of the arguments already for what I propose in this amendment and I will not labour the point. As in the case of many of the amendments I submitted, I stress in respect of this amendment the need to develop our native organic forestry which has been massively depleted in favour of deforestation, in the first instance, and in so far as we have started to recover forestry in Ireland, it has been too focused on an industrial and monocultural module and too narrowly focused on the idea of developing its economic potential. This amendment proposes a different model and approach which recognises the multiple values - the environmental value but also the economic, social and cultural value of recovering and regenerating our native species and woodlands.
The Minister of State in his last response spoke about wanting to encourage people to take up forestry and to use land that is not being used for other purposes, and I agree with him completely on that point.
I do not want to do anything to discourage this. What we need to do is create an understanding among people of a slightly broader view of what the forestry sector can be and how, if we embrace and develop that broader concept, everybody can be a winner, including the environmentalists, farmers, the economy, rural communities and even urban communities which should also develop forestry. Everybody can be a winner in terms of job creation and the development of much more community-based forest-related industries rather than industrial processes and so on. That is the thrust of many of my amendments, including this one.
The value of forestry has not been fully grasped. When the case in this regard is presented, people immediately see the value of it. This was evident in the huge outpouring of concern about sale of Coillte's harvesting rights. When people thought about it, they came to the view that our native forests were important to us but that we did not think about them most of the time. The more one thinks about and understands forestry, as I have come to do in the past year or two, one realises we are not getting it right. We need to radically shift what we are doing if we are to make forestry sustainable and develop its enormous economic potential. It will take a more holistic view of forestry to develop that potential.
I welcome Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett's positive attitude to forestry. However, that is a debate for the future and I would welcome that discussion. The benefits of forestry are not known. Many people do not appreciate forestry until such time as they come to understand the business of forestry, trees and the environment. I would welcome a debate or legislation in this area in the future. However, what we are doing in this Bill is trying to encourage people with marginal land to become involved in forestry because of its economic benefits, particularly in rural areas. There is huge potential for the creation of jobs.
A few weeks ago I visited a wood-related industry on the Cork-Kerry border. It employs 1,000 people, 200 of whom were only taken on during the past few months. There were no press releases or announcements, but the company is now exporting to the UK market. There are great benefits to be gained in forestry and there is a need for a huge change of mindset. I would welcome and encourage this and acknowledge that this is the thrust of many of Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett's amendments. I would welcome the opportunity to debate the issue int the future.
On amendment No. 13, continuous cover forest involves the use of harvesting systems and natural regeneration to promote uneven aged forest stands and continuous tree cover more typical of natural forests. The use of continuous cover forests, although not widespread, is practised to a small extent in a number of areas in Ireland. While there is little experience of continuous forest cover in Ireland, in recent years there has been an increasing interest among many forest owners and forest professionals in these forest management systems. As forest estate matures and forest diversity increases a trend towards more continuous cover forest management systems in Ireland is likely. While I accept that continuous cover systems should be encouraged, I must also recognise that other forest management systems such as clear felling and replanting also play an important part in the sustainable management of forests.
It would not be appropriate to promote in primary legislation one forest management system over another. The function of the Minister should be to promote all forest management systems as long as they are compatible with good forest practice. This is provided for in section 5(c) which empowers the Minister to promote good forest practise within the forests and forest-related sectors. The provision already provides the Minister with sufficient powers to promote the range of management options available to forest owners, ranging from continuous cover forest systems to clear felling and replanting systems. Consequently, I cannot accept the amendment.
The Minister of State welcomes my positive attitude and I welcome his. While there are different forest management approaches and so on, overwhelmingly, the forestry sector has been focused on one system, namely, the big industrial single species clear felling system with sitka spruce. We need to move away from this system. The situation in Gougane Barra is possibly an indication of why we must move away from this approach. What happens if the forestry sector in Ireland which has the potential to create jobs and so on is suddenly hit - it is very vulnerable to this because we are so focused on one species and one approach to forestry - by a serious disease that wipes out a substantial portion of our currently economically valuable forestry? That would be a disaster and it could happen given what happened in Gougane Barra. The point about this approach and specifically promoting and upgrading the importance of developing this type of forestry system is that it is more resistant because it encourages a greater level of biological diversity and, therefore, a type of immune system against threats, diseases, bad weather and so on. That is the reason I suggest we need to recognise specifically the need to develop forestry in this direction.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 8, after line 35, to insert the following:"(2) The Minister has a duty to provide information to ensure the public and other authorities are regularly informed on the role and condition of forests as well as on all forestry activities.".This amendment relates to the entitlement of stakeholders, communities, environmental NGOs and so on to information on the development, planning and management of forests. It is important that this imperative be provided for in the legislation. This is important for many reasons, one of which follows on from comments made by the Minister of State. In terms of the need to develop forestry and win people over on the huge potential it presents, we should start the process by involving those who are most enthusiastic about forestry. I get the sense from people who spend all of their time worrying about these issues that there is deep alienation from the powers that be, including the Government and Coillte which owns half of the forests in the country, in the planning, management, development and protection of forests. We need to address this issue. We need to unite all of those with an interest in developing forestry. From the involvement of all stakeholders will come better ideas.
People will learn from one another. They may also learn to overcome certain suspicions they have about one another. I still believe - it is not the Minister of State's fault - that environmentalists and farmers are still suspicious of one another and that these suspicions need to be broken down. The involvement of all stakeholders, including NGOs and those with environmental concerns, would help to overcome suspicions to the benefit of forestry as a whole. People could learn from one another.
A farmer must make living and an investor in forestry does not want to be burdened with unnecessary regulations that might hamper his ability to make a living. Sometimes, perhaps, environmentalists need to understand that. Perhaps they do not fully appreciate it all the time. Equally, farmers sometimes do not fully understand the knowledge and value environmentalists could bring to developing forestry to the benefit of everybody.
Over the past year or two I have been forced to learn a little about forests, given the campaign we are involved in. I learned about agro-forestry and how planting native species on the boundaries of land used for growing crops or grazing cattle enriches the fertility of the soil on that land, thus benefiting the produce. Therefore, there is a double benefit. One is not only developing forestry, because there are also spin-off benefits at all sorts of levels, including for the farmer and environment. The land being used for a more conventional agricultural purpose benefits. Perhaps this is not always fully appreciated.
These are examples of where more buy-in and participation from NGOs, concerned community groups and other stakeholders could actually result in the development of forestry to the benefit of everybody.
With regard to information, let me return to the subject of Gougane Barra. There is suspicion about this matter. I do not know whether it is justified, but there seems to be a lack of information on the basis for the decision that was made. I submitted a series of questions, prompted by people concerned about the matter, and slowly information began to trickle out. Should a decision as big as this not have been subject to the making available of much more information? Should there not have been much more pre-consultation such that everybody would understand that action would have to be taken if there were a very big threat? On the basis of evidence to prove certain action is necessary, everybody could be satisfied. That has not happened in this regard and, therefore, there is suspicion and a bit of a cloud. I do not know the truth of the matter but I contend that there is concern and some suspicion.
If this Bill is to help develop forestry, it must recognise these problems and set out to achieve an improvement by having a more robust regime for giving information to the public on what is happening with forestry. The public should be involved in decisions on the planning, management and development of forestry.
Amendment No. 21 is similar in intent to amendment No. 16. Sometimes I believe the Government and Government agencies regard people as a problem and just do not trust them. It is believed that if people are told too much, they will make life difficult. We are moving towards a more enlightened model of community participation, not one based on the type of consultation we have always been talking about. The Government and industry are learning that if people are involved from the very beginning, one ends up with better decisions and outcomes. This is because the choices are more informed. Amendment No. 21 would simply encourage openness such that information would flow freely to people, and it would ensure people were involved at each stage of decision-making.
I do not see the need for amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 21. Consequently, I do not propose to accept them. There is already legislation in place that entitles citizens to information on forestry and to participate in forestry planning. I remind the Deputies that my Department, like all other Departments, is a public body that allows access to information on the environmental regulation, which allows members of the public to request environmental information held by public authorities. This places an obligation on public authorities to be proactive in disseminating environmental information to the public.
Under the European Communities (Forest Consent and Assessment) Regulations 2010, my Department is already required to consult stakeholders and the general public when deciding whether to grant consent for afforestation and forest road projects. My Department is also an authority for the purpose of the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations, which require the Department to carry out a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, of any proposed programme for forestry and to consult widely and facilitate public participation during the process. In this regard, I announced on 10 March the formal signing of a contract to carry out, among other things, an SEA of the new forest programme for the period 2014 to 2020. The SEA process includes consultation with all stakeholders, including environmental NGOs. The first round of stakeholder consultation on the proposed measures for the new forest programme for 2014 to 2020 has already been completed, and further consultation on the environmental report and revised forestry programme will commence shortly. My Department already publishes and disseminates a wide range of information on forestry, including statistics and information on the condition of Ireland's forests. Deputies may recall that only last December I announced the publication of the main findings of Ireland's second national forest inventory. This information, along with more detailed information generated by the inventory, is available on the Department's website.
Furthermore, section 5(j) of the Bill already provides the Minister with the general function of collecting and disseminating information and statistics on forests, forestry and forest-based industry.
I agree that we need to involve people. The point Deputy Boyd Barrett made about trust between landowners and environmentalists is good. Trust certainly needs to be built up. I see regularly in my rural constituency the lack of trust that exists. There would be many fewer objections to projects around the country if more information were shared and there were more trust among the various groups. As Deputy Colreavy rightly pointed out, we are moving away from the era of not giving out information. The information is available. When I was a public representative on the other side of the House, I was often critical of the Department and various public bodies not giving out information but now that I work in the Department I see it from a different angle. Public officials are quite intent on giving out information they have to hand.
Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of Gougane Barra and the lack of trust. Last night, when I went straight to the departmental officials, everything was forthcoming. There was no hiding of information. The Deputy has tabled parliamentary questions on this matter and I read them and the answers.
A great deal of information was provided and there was no hiding. With regard to what happened in Gougane Barra, nobody took that decision lightly. The decision was taken on foot of two tests reports from two independent bodies. I have the two reports with me. They directed the Forest Service, which directed Coillte, to carry out an operation that was needed for the future of the forestry industry and to protect the trees of the country. That is what happened. The information is in the public domain for everybody to see. I have the two reports and they are available to the public. It was not nice to have to cut down the trees but it had to happen for the reasons outlined in the two independent surveys.
I do not dispute that matters are progressing and that, hopefully, we have moved substantially from the era when decisions were made at the top and people were seen as a problem and an obstacle. There is improvement, but there is still a way to go in that regard. Some of the suspicions and concerns still exist, so we must move it forward and it would be useful to have a clear commitment in the Bill.
Again, this raises the spectre of Coillte. This is not to cast aspersions on the people in Coillte, but there is concern about them being the owner of all of these forests and a concern that when many decisions are being made, people outside do not really know what is happening. That criticism comes from many different sectors. There is an imperative to overcome that and to have real information flow and real participation, not just consultation. Participation in decisions from a broad spectrum of stakeholders is quite important.
Finally, with regard to Gougane Barra, was there consultation?
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 8, after line 35, to insert the following:“(2) The Minister has a duty to ensure that all the people who live in Ireland and environmental NGOs are entitled to participate in forest planning and management at local and national level, ranging from public enquiries to environmental assessment and monitoring.”.
I move amendment No. 16a:
In page 8, after line 35, to insert the following:“(2) In performing any relevant function under this Act, the Minister shall have regard to, in addition to any other material matter, the policy of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on climate change.”.
I move amendment No. 16c:
In page 9, line 10, to delete “, loans, or both,”.These amendments are technical changes that remove the reference to loans in the Bill. I do not believe that their removal will impact negatively on the Minister's powers to regulate for forestry. Amendment No. 68aempowers the Minister to make regulations governing the operation of the Department's grant scheme for forestry. This will enable the Minister to give a statutory basis to forest grant schemes.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 9, line 13, after “guidelines” to insert “that incorporate binding requirements as in section 28 of the Planning Act”.I look forward to the Minister's response.
Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act empowers the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to issue guidelines to planning authorities, who must have regard to these guidelines in the performance of their functions. I assume the intention of the amendment is to empower the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to issue binding requirements on those involved in the forestry sector. This is already catered for in section 7(1) of the Bill, which empowers the Minister to attach binding conditions to any licence or grant given under the relevant statutory provisions. Such conditions can include, among other things, compliance with any guidelines, code of practice or standards for good forest practice produced by the Minister under section 6(d). These conditions are applicable to both public and private owners. Therefore, the matter is already sufficiently covered in the Bill and I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 9, to delete lines 15 and 16 and substitute the following:“(e) purchase land that is for sale, land swop, or lease for afforestation or any other forestry related activity,”.
I stated previously on Committee Stage, and I have received legal advice, that section 6(e) does not provide the Minister with the power to compulsorily purchase land. This remains the position and I cannot accept the amendment. The term used in the subsection, "or otherwise acquired", is sufficiently broad to cater for any type of acquisition, including by lease, other than by compulsory acquisition.