Thursday, 1 April 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
409. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the action he plans to take to reform the forestry licensing system and to address the manner in which it discriminates against farmers unable to complete their own NIS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18047/21]
I am aware of the issues facing the forestry sector and considerable efforts have been made to address them. Additional resources have been recruited and training, information and guidance has been provided to both Departmental staff and registered foresters and, as a result, we have seen gains in terms of output. Nonetheless we know we must do more to deliver a better service.
The introduction of Project Woodland, recently launched by Minister of State Pippa Hackett, with responsibility for forestry, is our strategy for resolving the licensing issues. This new structure aims to ensure that the current backlog is addressed. The Project involves a review and refresh of our processes and procedures and includes outside stakeholder participation to bring an independent perspective. It is a task-driven process, with clear deliverable and milestones.
Working Group 1 under Project Woodland is specifically tasked with reducing the backlog and then plotting a trajectory to achieve this target. The recommendation in Ms Jo O'Hara's Implementation Report is that this Group publish a process to achieve these targets, including prioritisation and scheduling and that a monthly dashboard show the outcome of this process against the target trajectory. Meanwhile, Working Group 4 will address Effective Processes, which will include clearer explanations for the statutory basis for forestry regulation and the introduction of more efficient and effective processes. Working Group 4 will also consider piloting an environmental report process with a recommendation for where this should be used, alongside grant support. I expect there will be cross-cutting issues between these two groups.
The NIS is used across all development applications in the national and other planning processes and arises as part of compliance, where relevant, with the Appropriate Assessment process under the Habitats Directive. In cases where an NIS is required and not provided by the applicant, the Department will carry out the ecological assessment. However, providing an NIS will significantly reduce the time taken to process the application.
410. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the role of project manager of project woodland is a full-time position; the number of hours allocated to this role per week; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18048/21]
Project Woodland, under the leadership of Minister-of-State Hackett, who has responsibility for forestry, is an initiative to tackle issues in forestry in Ireland and to promote and encourage woodland creation.
It involves four different Working Groups reporting to Minister Hackett through a Project Manager and a Project Board. The project Board is being chaired by the Secretary General.
The Working Groups are working concurrently, focussing on different areas. The first one will concentrate on the backlog, the second on a vision for forestry, the third on devising a fit for purpose organisational structure and communication, and the fourth on streamlining the licensing process for the future.
Each Working Group is made up of stakeholders drawn from the Minister’s existing Forestry Policy Group and is chaired by an independent, experienced outsider. All Groups have met already and the Project Manger has updated the Project Board on the outcomes from those meetings, with good progress being made and plans for meeting the milestones and objectives of the Groups being put in place. These groups are supported, as appropriate, by resources within my Department.
The Project Manager is the Assistant Secretary with responsibility for forestry and agri-environment schemes within my Department. As such his role is intrinsically linked with the delivery of actions from the Mackinnon Report, which is being facilitated through Project Woodland. He will be supported by a full time Management Professional and a systems analyst who are currently being recruited.
I am committed, along with Minister Hackett, to the success of Project Woodland and all appropriate resources across my Department will be in place to ensure that it can be delivered for the benefit of the forestry sector and society.