The Government had to make some very difficult decisions in preparing the 2003 public finances. This resulted in a reduction in the level of funding available for a range of Government funded programmes, including the forestry programme. In the changed budgetary situation, the prioritising of the plant ing programme meant that it was not possible to meet all requests for funding from the forestry budget this year.
I am conscious of the contribution the Tree Council and Crann have made to the development of forestry in Ireland. The forestry service has been happy to support both organisations over the years. I appreciate that the withdrawal of funding may impact adversely on their activities in the short-term. However, my Department must operate within budget and prioritise expenditure accordingly.
This Government remains fully committed to the long-term development of the forestry sector. The situation in relation to the Tree Council and Crann will be re-examined in the context of the 2004 estimates discussions later this year.
In relation to the native woodland scheme and the neighbour wood scheme, the allocation for 2003 is €870,000. The financial allocation for these schemes over the next three years will be determined during the annual estimates process for those years. It should be recognised however that expenditure on all programmes must respect the public expenditure ceiling set by the Government and must take account of wider budgetary priorities.