Thursday, 16 December 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
636. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to comments by this Deputy in Dáil Éireann on 11 November 2021, the progress that is being made in relation to clearing the backlog of felling licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62882/21]
Tackling the backlog in forestry licenses remains a key priority for me, Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who has overall responsibility for the sector, and my Department and I am pleased to report significant progress has been made in the past year, particularly on felling and road licences.
The investment in resources and continual improvement has had a positive impact with a significant increase in licence output in recent months. This has brought our output to 3,894 licences issued to 10th December. I am confident that we will meet our target of 4,000 licences by year end which will be a 60% increase on last year.
My Department has issued 2,782 tree felling licences, for a volume of 8.133 million cubic metres. This is 60% higher than last year and the highest volume ever licensed in a single year.
We are making progress under Project Woodland. In terms of licensing, an important initiative is the in-depth review of the forestry licensing system being carried out by a consultant with legal and environmental expertise. It will review the existing statutory framework for the licensing of forestry activities in relation to environmental and public participation obligations in order that practical advice can be provided to the Department on how to work more efficiently within the existing legal framework. That report is expected at end February next.
We will build on this year’s momentum in 2022 and will implement all practical process improvements which result from the review and analysis in train under Project Woodland. I remain fully committed to delivering a licensing system which will meets the needs of the sector and of society.
637. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has considered a legislative and regulatory review to address the issue of serial objectors in respect of forestry and felling licensing; if fair restrictions on objections will be considered to reduce instances in which the objector has little or no ties to the area concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62883/21]
I have already introduced legislation to make for a better and more efficient and effective forestry appeals process, namely the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 which was enacted on 5th October last. To give effect to these, I signed the Forestry (Licence Application and Submission Fees) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 417/2020) and the Forestry Appeals Committee Regulations (S.I. No. 418/2020).
At the time of the introduction of the Act, all matters relating to the forestry appeals process were considered and an extensive public consultation exercise was conducted. The results from the public consultation exercise made clear that there were concerns with restricting the right to appeal to certain persons. In view of this, the Act allows that all those dissatisfied with a decision may bring an appeal directly to the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC).
I believe we now have in a place an open and transparent public consultation and appeals process for forestry. The FAC has been extremely efficient in how it has gone about its business and the number of decisions currently outstanding at 37, as compared to the approximately 1,000 cases on hand when the legislation was being introduced.