Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
895. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which the estimated number of cubic metres or hectares in respect of felling licences in the forestry industry are currently under appeal; when normal felling and the auctions for the felling of timber can resume; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6447/20]
Firstly, I am aware that there are currently delays to issuing forestry licences and I acknowledge that this is causing difficulties for some in the sector. The current licensing difficulties are as a result of the changes made to internal Appropriate Assessment Procedures (AAP). The Habitats Directive (Article 6.3) requires that where a plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura site, either individually or in-combination with other plans or projects, it must undergo an appropriate assessment of its implications for that Natura site. The changes now introduced were in response to important Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions and their subsequent interpretation by the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) and others. These changes are unavoidable and are largely beyond the control of my Department.
Notwithstanding this, the situation with regard to felling licences has significantly improved since the start of 2020. Since January, 685 felling licences were issued up to 15th May. These licences cover over 6,000 ha and a volume in excess of nearly 1.7 million m3. My Department continues to issue new felling licences on a weekly basis.
I accept the current changes to procedures are very significant and significant resources have been devoted to introducing a robust and workable system, which meets the legislative requirements. My Department is now meeting those needs as follows:
- New forestry inspectors and additional administrative staff have been assigned to licensing. More forestry inspectors will be recruited in 2020.
- Two new ecologists have joined the Department ecology team, with four more to be appointed shortly.
- We have engaged external ecological expertise to help with the backlog of files. Four local ecologists have also been contracted to provide extra support. Further, an ecology contract with 5 new ecologists is due to be signed very soon.
- Additional administrative staff have been assigned to the Agriculture Appeals Office to assist with the increased workload of the Forestry Appeals Committee.
- Three planning officers have been contracted in to work with the Forestry Appeals Committee.
- A specialist mapping expert has been assigned to forestry issues.
My Department is the forestry licence consent authority and, since 2017, all licence applications are subject to a statutory public notification system. All forestry licence decisions are subject to appeal by those dissatisfied with the decision and appeals must be lodged in writing within 28 days to the Forestry Appeals Committee, which is an independent body. Most appeals have been in connection with the Appropriate Assessment (AA) procedures. There are 2,262 hectares of felling licences currently under appeal with the FAC. It is worth noting that licences, once granted, are valid for a period of up to 10 years.
The timing of auctions of felled timber is a matter for the licence holders concerned and my Department has no role in relation to this.