This is a complex and difficult issue and a previous protocol on forestry was discarded as the European Commission considered it was not compliant with the EU Birds Directive.
My Department has prepared a draft Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan in cooperation with the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (including the Forestry Service), Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and Housing Planning and Local Government. The draft Threat Response Plan will be discussed with Departments and with the Consultative Committee, drawn from relevant sectors, in the coming days and further as necessary. The draft Plan must also go to public consultation.
The decision to issue afforestation licences and grant aid rests with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and in summary, under the European Communities (Birds And Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011, any Minister considering a plan or project in a Special Protection Area (SPA) shall give consent for such a plan or project only after having determined that the plan or project shall not adversely affect the integrity of a European site. The Court of Justice of the EU has issued a series of judgements stressing that there must be no doubt about possible adverse impacts in such decisions. In addition, under the European Union Guidelines for State Aid in the agricultural and forestry sectors and in rural areas, within SACs and SPAs, only afforestation consistent with the management objectives of the sites concerned and agreed with Member State’s authority in charge of implementing Natura 2000 (in Ireland’s case, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) shall be allowed.