I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this important matter on the Adjournment. The forestry inspector in Sligo, who is employed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, retired recently. A replacement has not been appointed and as a result forestry payments for grants are not being processed or paid. The forestry office workload is extremely demanding and time consuming and for the past 18 months the inspector worked single handed every weekend. He covered all of Sligo, most of Leitrim and part of Cavan and dealt with matters, such as private planting, advising on species of trees to be planted, pre-planting and post-planting, general inspecting advice and so on. He was the only person employed in that office; he did not have a secretary to answer telephone calls. The office is now unmanned and an adequate service is not being provided for those involved in forestry in Sligo, Leitrim or Cavan.
If this position remains unfilled, planting will come to a standstill and those employed in forestry contract work in the area will cease work. I am concerned that the private contractors who work for the forest service will not be paid if the work is not carried out.
The automation of sections of the forestry operation in recent years has led to a decrease in the number of people employed in forestry. This is another matter of concern because in recent years the forestry sector has not been adequately catered for. Additional people should be employed in that sector.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and ask him to urgently appoint a replacement forestry inspector. The officer who retired worked seven days a week and the only time farmers could contact him was when he returned home at night. The service in Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan has been down-graded. If possible, will the Minister make that appointment within the next few weeks to ensure payments are made on time?