Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Update on Implementation of National Forestry Programme: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, for the update on the implementation of the forestry programme. We are all very aware of the benefits of forestry, but the issue is very much about achieving a balance between environmental needs and meeting the needs of communities. As the Minister of State correctly pointed out, it is an important mechanism through which we must tackle the issues surrounding climate change. There is also the fact that 12,000 people are employed in the forestry sector.

I live in north Roscommon and, as in Leitrim, people there are dealing with issues in respect of marginal land, farmers trying to manage within very tight margins and the issues with the increase in plantation in the region. We are all aware of the report the Minister of State has commissioned in an effort to address the communities' concerns. As Senator Grace O'Sullivan said, a number of people from Leitrim travelled to Leinster House recently. They are concerned about the increase in forestry and the increase in the amount of land being bought by people from outside the locality for the specific purpose of planting to avail of subsidies. There is great concern about that across the north-west region of north Roscommon and Leitrim.

It is positive that the report will allow for consultation with farmers, non-farmers, representative groups and other interested parties. The Save Leitrim group has concerns about the terms of reference but the fact that there will be consultation is positive. The outcome of that report will be important for how we achieve a balance not just in Leitrim but throughout the country. Teagasc also has an important role to play with regard to the interest and its advisory clinics. The Minister of State referred to increasing the minimum mandatory requirement for broadleafs per site. Again, that is positive. Obviously, there must be a focus on more species and habitat diversity, and the broadleafs are very much a part of that.

Finally, the concerns of the people in the north west are real.I will end where I started, whereby we are all very much in favour of the need to increase forestry in meeting our environmental targets. We also need to find that balance across our communities. As Senator Mulherin rightly pointed out, farming is going through a particularly difficult period at present, especially in the west. While there may be different land options, unfortunately things are really difficult in the beef and suckler sector. Farmers are struggling across very tight margins. We need to support them as best we can to ensure that the suckler sector can continue. That is difficult at present. I am aware that is not part of today's discussion but in many ways it does form part of it, because people are considering forestry instead of these sectors right across the north west. It is important that we achieve a balance nationally and not in just one particular area.


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