Amendments Nos. 1, 59 to 63, inclusive, 66, 99, 100 and 108 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Amendment No. 63 is a physical alternative to No. 62.
Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
"(7) The Forestry Appeals Committee would give their decision on an appeal within eight weeks of receipt or, in the case of an oral hearing taking place, the decision would be four weeks after oral hearing date.".".
This amendment proposes that the forestry appeals committee would be obliged to give a decision within eight weeks and, if there is an oral appeal, that this appeal would be completely processed within three months of the original appeal being made. This cannot keep dragging on. Any relevant information from either party, the person applying for the licence or the person objecting, would have to be submitted so that everything could be completed within eight weeks. If there is an oral appeal, the case would still be done and dusted within four weeks of the initial decision on the appeal. That is the basis of the amendment.
The crux of the issue is that appeals were not decided upon in a timely manner but the Bill does not really address that. Instead it seeks to erode the appeals process. The backlog of appeals has crippled the industry and if, as Deputy Fitzmaurice has suggested, we could get through appeals in a timely manner, it would make a massive difference. One of my amendments seeks to introduce a statutory obligation for appeals to be heard in a timely manner. This simple change, which does not redraw the whole system, would resolve the sector's key concerns.
I tabled amendment No. 61 in my own name and in the names of members of the Regional Group. It introduces a statutory provision that appeals must be dealt with within 60 days. The whole objective of this legislation is to address the backlog in respect of appeals. It is pointless to bring forward legislation to address a backlog if we do not set a specific target for how long it will take to process applications, such as we see with regard to An Bord Pleanála and the local authorities.
That is the case with An Bord Pleanála and the local authorities with regard to how long it takes for an application to be processed.
The reality is that justice delayed is justice denied. It is the case that the focus of the debate up to now, rightly, has been on the chaos this is causing within the industry. The Minister of State should look at it from the other side as well. What about a homeowner who has a plantation going up beside the home? It takes years for a decision within the licensing process and then further time, a further two years, for an appeal to be decided. That means the homeowner is left in limbo for four or five years before knowing what will happen beside the home. No individual should be left in that situation.
Our amendment is simple and straightforward. We are looking to have a clear target set so that every appeal would be dealt with within 60 days.
I support the amendment. Section 18 of the Forestry Act 2014 sets out the timeframe within which the Minister and officials are required to make a decision on an initial felling licence application. The wording of section 18 is loose and, therefore, the timeframe of four months is merely an objective. It is an aspiration and need not be met. Therefore, the deadline of four months is not a deadline at all.
While I welcome the fact that the Bill does much to improve the appeals process, I believe that by not accepting this amendment an opportunity is being missed to more clearly define the time limits that should apply for the consideration of initial applications. The purpose of the amendment is to replace section 18 of the Forestry Act 2014 and introduce a mandatory eight-week deadline for the making of initial decisions on licence applications.
There is no reason in the world we should not deal with this situation in the exact same way as we deal with an application for planning permission to a local authority. In that case, an applicant makes an application. Then, after eight weeks the applicant is told one of three things. He is told the application is granted or refused or else he is told the authority is seeking further information or clarification of some aspect of the application. An applicant would have a statutory time in which to submit the further information requested. The authority - in this case it is the Department and in the case of my example it was the local authority - would have to come back within a given timeframe. These would all be statutory due dates. In other words, people making applications would have a good idea on the day they apply and could gauge when they would know exactly what they were doing.
That is what Deputy Fitzmaurice and the rest of us are trying to do. We are simply trying to assist the Minister of State. There is one thing we want to make clear. I know that I speak on behalf of virtually everyone in the Chamber - I must put on my glasses to see the Minister of State when I am saying this. By working this evening with the Minister of State we are not working against her. We are trying to work with her. We agree with what the Minister of State is doing. All we are trying to genuinely do is make a tighter and better Bill when it is finished compared to what it is at present. We are not criticising what the Minister of State is doing or the work she has done. All we are genuinely doing is trying to get our amendments accepted by the Minister of State so that we will have a watertight Bill afterwards that we can all be proud of. That is all we are trying to achieve.
The Bill is being introduced so that we can try to clear the backlog in licensing applications that have gone for appeal. Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment is in that spirit. I put it to the Minister of State that we have to clear this backlog of appeals.
The Minister of State should give consideration to setting up a farmer's charter, like what has operated in the past for different farm schemes in place. The charter put strict timeframes in place for payment dates for different schemes. I sat on the body operating the charter of rights in a previous role and it worked well.
The Minister of State should look to have such a charter for all licence applications. A charter of rights could be set down. There could be a clear timeframe so when an application is made, there would be a timeframe for when an answer had to be got. The charter of rights body would meet on a regular basis. It would also have the added benefit that officials operating the system would have to sit before stakeholders and answer questions if dates and timescales were not being met. I appeal to the Minister of State to give the notion of a charter of rights for stakeholders in the industry consideration. If the Minister of State is reluctant to put a timeframe in legislation, this could be a way of giving stakeholders confidence that a timeframe would be in place and that officials in the Department would be answerable to stakeholders in the industry. They would be forced to comply and meet standards.
We have an industry in crisis. I have visited nurseries like None-So-Hardy. It simply cannot survive another year with planting at current levels. We are not going to hit a fraction of the targets. We are going to be at approximately 20% or 25% of the planting that we have envisaged in the country and that our nurseries need to stay viable. Only for the options they have at the moment to plant in Scotland their gates would be closing.
This is urgent and we have to get it right. Deputy Fitzmaurice made a point about the licensing process earlier and having ecologists involved at the starting gate when the applications come in. That has to be done. I believe we need to bring in a consultant immediately, within a short timeframe, to examine how the whole licensing process is operating. The Minister of State should bring in a consultant and give him four weeks to come back with a report on how the licensing can be speeded up. The appeals process is simply one cog in the wheel. We have a whole draft of applications that have not even gone to the appeals stage. They are held up in the system. Farmers are losing faith and are taking other options. They are not looking at forestry as a viable option because of the amount of delays, paperwork and bureaucracy that arise.
The licensing system is not working. The Minister of State is addressing the appeals and I welcome that. As I said, I urge the Minister of State to look at the charter of rights as a way of putting a timetable in place. The whole licensing process has got to be addressed because it is simply not working. Having ecologists at the start when an application is first looked at could be a way of speeding up the process. I urge the Minister of State to bring in an outside consultant to look at the whole process and come back quickly with a report to the House.
I appeal to the Minister of State to look at designated land too. We have to increase our planting acreage in the country. We have a great deal of land subject to a blanket ban on plantations. There is evidence that different stages of afforestation in these designated areas would actually improve the habitats.
The directive from Brussels on designated land has taken away approximately 80% of the capital value of that land. If we allow that land to be planted in different stages, we could help to restore some of the capital value. In my time I have never known a directive to have eroded the capital value of land to such an extent. It is a direct attack on the property rights of landowners. This could be a way of restoring the capital value and meeting our afforestation targets as well. By providing a proper compensation scheme for designated land and allowing afforestation in a staged way we could go a long way towards benefiting our environment and the capital value of the land as well as giving farmers a viable enterprise on their land again.
I urge the Minister of State to consider a charter of rights. It would be a great way of ensuring a timeframe is put in place. We have to give stakeholders confidence again in this industry. Timber contractors at the moment are being forced to sell some of their expensive machinery to meet bank repayments. If this industry is not helped it will disappear. We have an opportunity now. This is the first stage in building a block for the forestry industry. Far more needs to be done.
We will get this appeals system correct and then we will have to work on the licensing process.
The logic pursued by the supporters of the Bill is rush, rush, rush. It is a dangerous rush and it is one that may well lead to people cutting off their nose to spite their face. I fully understand the anxiety, concern and pressure among small farmers who invested in forestry and who feel the need to gain a return on that investment. They should certainly be supported, as should people who rely for an income on forestry and investments they made in that regard.
If, however, proper oversight of the impact of the felling of forests or the planting of the wrong types of forests is thrown out, it will ultimately damage not just the environment but also the conditions, the soil and the environment that allows a living to be made and employment gained. Of course we need to speed up the appeals process but we have to remember what we are we dealing with. I understand Deputy Michael Healy-Rae's analogy, and this is not a criticism of him, but building a house, with all the objections and the planning permission that go with it, is one thing; a forest is very different, and particularly a large one. It has huge implications for the stability of the soil and the mountains, which forests keep up, and for ensuring there is not dangerous, poisonous run-off that affects water and so on.
I do not want to overstate this but it cannot be overstated. Take, for example, Derrybrien and what happened there because a proper environmental impact assessment had not been carried out. We are still paying the price as a State. The damage was done because a proper environmental impact assessment had not been carried out. In the broader scope of history, however, the issue is even more significant. The truth is that places such as Iraq or huge parts of Greece that are now deserts were not always deserts. They became deserts because the trees were cut down, and the trees were where moisture gathered. The environment there was destroyed, with a short-term objective of felling wood, and in achieving a certain objective, the conditions in which the people made a living were destroyed. The lowlands below them were destroyed too, as a result of the damage done to the sides of mountains and so on when trees were being cut down.
These are serious matters. It is not that some sort of vexatious objector is concerned about them; they have real implications for farmers, rural Ireland, the stability of soil, the quality of water and our wider environment. That is the nub of the debate on this. We should speed up the appeals process but qualified people who know what they are talking about should assess the applications and what the consequences might be. That means beefing up the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the forest service with jobs for people who have the skills, such as ecologists, who can process these matters properly, and not just because we are in a rush to get it done. If that means there is some delay, the farmer should certainly be compensated. Let us not set good ecological and forest management against the farmer, nor make them enemies of each other. Farmers should be compensated and supported.
Nevertheless, we must bear in mind what I mentioned earlier. These are facts that were given to me. Coillte last year granted 800 felling licences in one day for 6,000 ha of forest to be felled, and on another day in December, 350 licences for another 9,000 ha. That is some of the backlog. These are not small farmers; they are large plantations that can have very serious consequences. Similarly, there is the sort of planting that is alienating communities and is not doing any good. It is not creating the sustainable model we want or employment. There is not much employment in this monocultural-type forest model.
There is some employment for planting and felling but very little in between. As I pointed out earlier, a point my attention was brought to is that there are 12,000 jobs but, given the conditions for forestry that exist in this country, there should be a hell of a lot more. It should be generating a hell of a lot more revenue. The forestry model in many other countries throughout the world, on the same or less land, generates many more jobs and much more revenue because they have a proper forest model, or a better one, than what we have. Simply processing all these appeals rapidly, without properly doing the necessary assessments and ensuring we are making the correct decisions, with properly qualified people looking at those appeals, is a mistake that will ultimately damage farmers and rural Ireland and will not help us move towards the sustainable and better forest model we need. It will have the opposite impact.
I had intended to read out the following earlier. It is such a brilliant quote from a surprising source and it puts the whole debate in historical context. It is from Friedrich Engels.
Is there no Irishman?
Friedrich Engels's life partner was a woman from rural Ireland called Lizzie Burns. He stated:
Let us not [...] flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first.
The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries.
When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were [...] thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons [...]
Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.
To me, that is the basis of a sustainable forestry and ecological policy that bears considerable relevance to the debate. It is in that context that I intend to move our amendment in this grouping, amendment No. 59.
I cannot limit Deputies' speaking time, but many people have gone to a great deal of trouble and four speakers are indicating. I ask, therefore, for the House's co-operation during the debate on the amendments.
I will support Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment, which seeks to provide that eight weeks would be a sufficient period in which a decision on a felling licence could be made.
That is laudable and deserves praise. I do not know if that includes a stipulation that five weeks should be allowed for the appellant to make the appeal or a submission. That should be part of it as well in the same way it is for a planning application for a house or for the biggest commercial venture ever thought of. Those are the rules that the local authorities insist on in those scenarios and they have worked fine in thousands and maybe millions of applications.
I have to say to Deputy Boyd Barrett that I respect him an awful lot. He does an awful lot of talking and good work but he has gone off the rails this evening and he is off the track. It is a good job that he is elected here and that he has a salary out of Dáil Éireann because if he did not, he would not make a living out of forestry anyway. I can guarantee him that because he just does not know what he is talking about.
Many of the forests we are talking about are being cut down for the third time. They were planted back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, they were cut down 30 years after that and they were cut down 25 or 30 years after that again because they grow quicker the second time as there is more vegetation. It is a recognised fact that forests grow quicker the second time and even the third time. I can even point out one forest in Kilgarvan to the Deputy that has been planted three times and one little patch of it has been cut. My father worked there in the early 1950s with a spade and a shovel and that is where he learned to drive a bulldozer as well.
The owners of these forests had no problem in getting the felling licences the first two times. It is only at this stage, and I am going back about two years, that these blackguards started appealing the applications for felling licences. When landowners, Coillte or whoever planted their forests and got grants for same, they should have had a fair presumption that they would be allowed to cut them down. It is wrong of anyone here, there or anywhere to suggest that the people who own those plantations would be denied the right to cut them down. There are other natural trees in different places and they are a different story altogether. These were plantations that had to be planted and fenced to get the grant. These poor people, entities, companies or whatever all have to pay their way.
Deputy Boyd Barrett suggested giving the landowners funding while they are held up. Who is going to do that? This Government does not have money to pay for home help or to give elderly people the right to stay in their homes as long as they possibly can. I suppose Deputy Boyd Barrett does not know that if a person has a place planted, receives a felling licence and then cuts it down, he or she cannot reclaim the land and try to make it arable. If the person wanted to do that, the only way to do so is to plant another place of equal size. Those rules exist and Deputy Boyd Barrett need have no fear in the world about that.
I will allow the Deputy to continue but we are speaking to the amendment on the timeframe for the forestry appeals committee to give its decision. I am reminding everybody that we are not on Second Stage. We are on Committee Stage so the Deputy's contribution should be relevant to the amendment.
I will be relevant to the amendment but I am just addressing what the hero before me came out with. I want to educate him so that he will not delay us any further with any other raiméis because these are the facts of it.
The people who planted the land in the first place should not have any need to apply for a felling licence because they planted it with the idea of cutting it down and selling it. Here we are at the stage where hauliers, harvesters, forwarders and sawmills are practically at a standstill. The Government must act now and listen to what is being put forward in these amendments. I am appealing to the Minister of State to listen to what we are saying here because it is relevant, proper and right. We are doing nothing wrong and we would not be going to the trouble of helping these people with these amendments if we did not mean well. Deputy Fitzmaurice and we in the Rural Independent Group mean well and we want this Bill to go through and to make sense. We want it to have substance so that it will mean something to the people who are looking for felling licences.
Deputy Cahill spoke about the charter of rights for farmers and the charter of rights for people who have forestry planted. In essence, the Bill is a positive move forward and I understand there is some reluctance to put the timeframe in it. Decisions should be made in the shortest possible timeframe from when the application is put in because, as other speakers have said, this industry is out of the soil, it has grown over generations, and there is great rural employment in it. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has just said, the felling licences compel a person to replant the land. It will not be complete clear-fell and it will not return to any other use. There are stringent rules on this.
We have to be very clear that we understand what is implied in the whole forestry industry and what we believe the essence of this Bill before us is. It is to clear a massive backlog that has stifled the forestry industry and many jobs in recent years. Anybody who is involved in it, including the companies that are trying to plant or fell land are engaging with all sectors. They are far and away ahead of any of us here in terms of ecology and any of the rest of it. They have studied it and put it together and they are fighting tooth and nail to try to do the right thing for the environment, their rural communities and the jobs that have been built up in rural communities where there is little else in the way of employment.
We talk about afforestation and we talk in flowery language and terms of other ecological moves such as small plantations and getting people to plant more trees. All of it is fine and I plant individual trees as well as everything else but there is one sector that also needs to be highlighted tonight, namely, the community groups that for one reason or another have built up a small amount of afforestation. Far-seeing people bought small plots of land in the late 1960s and early 1970s and these have been invested in or are owned by community development organisations throughout this country. They have got felling licences and they have looked at the initiatives that have been brought forward by the Department, such as the fantastic NeighbourWood scheme. They have looked at such schemes and decided to go with them because they saw that they would empower their communities and give better resources such as walks to them. These organisations are also in this logjam. These communities want to do right by their environments and they are in the logjam of this process as well.
We are in the Dáil Chamber discussing the crisis in the forestry industry. Each and every one of the speakers who has spoken has done so with passion to try to get this moving. We want to get this Bill passed as fast as possible but we also want to ensure that the passing of this legislation will not be the end of it. There has to be massive dialogue between the Department and the stakeholders.
Deputy Fitzmaurice made a point on Second Stage about community groups. They give small amounts of land for community or recreational facilities but they must go through a lot of red tape in the Department. To counteract Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, they must go through the Department to try to get small pieces of land that were forested excluded from replanting so they can put playgrounds, community facilities or something else on it. We are talking about fractions of acres being taken but there is an amount of red tape to be surmounted to get this through the system.
Right through the forestry legislation there are very stringent conditions and these can stifle improvements, enlightened development and engagement in rural and urban communities throughout the country. These groups seek to bring a benefit to everybody by turning these plots into recreational areas.
This Bill is a first step in ensuring the logjam that has stifled the industry and brought it to a halt throughout the country is eased. We must ensure this mechanism will not continue saecula saeculorum. There must be a defined timeframe and we must move forward with proper engagement to try to ensure a proper legislative floor can be put under the forestry industry. There must be flexibility for people who want to take small parcels of land from forestry and return it to a community facility or the like.
The Minister of State has the imagination to do this but she must ensure everybody in the Department is challenged on this. If more legislation must be brought before the Houses on this, it should be done as a matter of urgency. Forestry companies have written to me and people I know well have worked in forestry for generations at this stage. They are waiting on decisions but there is no timeframe. There must be a charter. We must not have to return to this debate later by saying that legislation was good for its time but it did not address the time delay.
There is no time limit on a Deputy's contribution but it should be relevant to the amendment. We are speaking to amendment No. 1, in the name of Deputy Fitzmaurice, and there are a number of associated amendments. It would help if we could address the amendments.
I will do my best to keep my comments relevant to the amendments but I must address some of the comments that have been made. I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle deals with many representations relating to planning permission, where people make a major investment to home themselves so they do not need a house from the State. They go through the planning and An Bord Pleanála process, as well as environment impact statements or flood plain issues.
Like Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, I remember as a young boy going to national school seeing those men on their bikes cycling to the woods. They had such pride at the time in the Irish forestry service and the work they did. They put in the drains and fences, and the entrances were a joy to behold. A snipe would not get through those fences, never mind a deer. Lamentably, since Coillte took over, with its associated companies and conglomerates, there are no men on the ground and no jobs. There is no maintenance, so God help the sheep farmers or other farmers trying to rear animals beside those forests.
I agree with many of Deputy Boyd Barrett's comments. He agrees that we must have a good forestry service. Farmers - small farmers mainly, including mountain farmers - planted the land once, twice or three times. There are people now held up that are ready to plant again. There are contractors who do the planting and it is not like the wild west.
I have often objected to the way Coillte has cut forestry at the roadside because it did not leave a screening, so the plantations looked desperate when they were harvested. We need that tidied up. There was no problem with first or second licences over 60 or 70 years, but now, all of a sudden, the loopholes are there and the Minister is trying to get around them. The former Minister, Deputy Creed, ignored this over the years.
I do not know the name of the gentleman mentioned by Deputy Boyd Barrett, but was it Mary or Biddy O'Connor who he said was his bean chéile? God bless her.
Gabh mo leithscéal. Máire Ní Bhroin. I do not know where she lives or whatever, but there are some great and wise people out there, a lot wiser than me or Deputy Boyd Barrett. They used to lived in botháns in the hills without electricity and water but things have evolved, but they have evolved too far. I want the appeals system tied down. I want a finite time and date. Tá an Teachta Naughten ag gáire but it is a fact. They were wise people and they knew the land.
The Deputy then went to Iraq but I thought there was no oil under any of the forestry in the Knockmealdowns, the Galtees or the Comeragh mountains, in Tipperary anyway. There is oil under the ground in Iraq but we have plenty of water, mountain sheep, foxes and deer. There is no oil there. The Deputy went around the houses and had great latitude. I am not criticising the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in saying that.
However, we need to be sensible here. I always admire the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's contributions and I heard her earlier and agreed with her when she said we need the forestry bodies and all the relevant Departments dealing with this to be properly staffed and maintained with properly qualified people. Perhaps we should also bring in the likes of Máire Ní Bhroin, people who know the land, who have feeling or empathy for it, and who know the mountains and the areas. It is not because they went to college and got degrees in ecology and everything else that they know everything about the flora and fauna of the Knockmealdowns and Galtees. We cannot beat the learned experience of trying to live with the land and beating the beast of the mountain in snow, floods and everything else.
Forestry is very important. Tomorrow is "Tree Day", which has been observed by young people in schools over recent years. It is a wonderful part of education. Big companies have not looked after forests and we have heard about bad management. There are maps and designs. They have the roads well drained and the water came off the country roads, in fairness.
I will not delay any further. It is a long way from Iraq to the Knockmealdowns, Deputy Boyd Barrett, and it is a long way from Iraq to the Galtees. Cá bhfuil Máire Ní Bhroin? An bhfuil sí imithe? An bhfuil sí beo fós? Níl a fhios agam. We need common sense.
For what it is worth, I say again that we are discussing the amendments.
I will not be giving a rendition of "Rivers of Babylon" or treating the House to a treatise on Mesopotamia. I stand here to support the amendment, which is quite logical and practical. We are about being practical this evening in how the forestry appeals service could operate.
I will refer briefly to the MacKinnon report, which is the template for many of us now. In wrapping up her Second Stage speech, the Minister of State referred to it and the appointment of an independent chairperson. In support of the amendment I will speak very briefly to the observations made on page eight of that report. I am sure many Members, including Deputy Boyd Barrett, will have a copy of the report before him.
Paragraph 22 states "The perception among [registered foresters] and landowners was that, where an appeal is lodged, it is likely to be a further 12 months before a decision is issued." Tonight, we are looking to tidy the process up to be helpful to the Minister of State. If the Minister of State accepted this reasonable and practical amendment, it would give ample time for staff to process applications and go through an appeals process, given that 14 ecologists have now been appointed. This would ensure we can sustain communities throughout this land. From the fellow driving the digger to open the road to the fellow planting the forestry to the person who thins it, everybody would have a fighting chance. Right now, that fighting chance is not there and will not be until we see this legislation passed. I ask the Minister of State to give consideration to the amendment.
I thank the Deputy for his brevity and relevance.
I fully support Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment and reject everything Deputy Boyd Barrett has said. He assumes that we in rural Ireland love to butcher trees and never plant them. That is totally wrong. It is unfortunate. The Deputy needs to spend a little bit more time in rural Ireland. I know he comes to west Cork sometimes. I will take him for a spin the next time he is down there and show him some beautiful and careful planting done by people who respect the environment. He should also remember that if we do not support Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment, we put 500 jobs on the line at GP Wood and its associated company in Enniskeane. Hours are being reduced next month. Laying off 500 workers would represent a major loss to the economy in west Cork. They come from as far away as Schull, as well as Bandon, Clonakilty, Ballineen, Drimoleague and Dunmanway. This will be a huge loss. I have spoken to these workers.
The industry estimates that 2 million tonnes of timber are held up by the appeals and licensing processes of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Deputy Boyd Barrett wants more houses to be built. That is enough timber to build 100,000 homes. He should keep that in mind. GP Wood has managed to source some supplies from abroad, which will start to arrive next month. Buying from abroad goes against everything the company stands for. Imagine the environmental impact of shipping timber from across Europe. Doing so supports no jobs in Ireland.
Moreover, the Government and the Green Party cannot hit tree-planting targets while all this is going on. The delays are killing the tree-planting programme. Only 2,500 ha will be planted this year out of a Government target of 8,000 ha per annum. The impact on our climate goals is massive. Afforestation is a key weapon in the fight against climate change. The difference will be millions of tonnes of CO2 left in the atmosphere because the trees that would soak it up will not be planted.
I am trying to speak to the amendment and the importance of accepting it. The forestry appeals committee should be aiming to get through at least 20 appeals per week rather than the current rate of 20 appeals per month. The concept of the forestry appeals committee meeting in divisions is of critical importance. I will be supporting this amendment. I will not hold up this discussion any further because there are a lot of amendments to discuss.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Senator Pippa Hackett)
I will discuss all of the amendments in one group. Some of these amendments relate to a timeframe. The need to issue decisions in a timely manner is the precise reason I am introducing these regulations. It is not appropriate to put into the Bill a time limit on the issuance of decisions. A time limit will not make the appeal disappear and it would be inappropriate to put undue pressure on the forestry appeals committee. The appeals process must proceed fairly. Dividing the forestry appeals committee into smaller units will greatly increase its capacity and will therefore speed up the whole process. That is the purpose of that part of the Bill. I will not be accepting the amendments on it.
Other amendments to section 2 concern online publication of decisions. The forestry appeals committee gives notice of its decisions as soon as is practical and publishes them on its own website in a timely fashion. These notices will contain reasons for the decisions, the conditions imposed, and any assessments and reports sourced or produced by the committee in making the decision.
The amendments to section 5 seek to amend the Forestry Act 2014 to allow for the publication on the Department's website of applications for forestry licenses and decisions on those applications. I accepted an amendment concerning timely publication on the Department's website in the Seanad last week. As I have said, the forestry appeals committee already publishes its decisions on its website.
It is entirely appropriate for the forestry appeals committee to be satisfied whether a serious or significant error or a series of errors was made in making the decision which is under appeal. There will be circumstances where the forestry appeals committee will carry out screening or conduct an appropriate assessment, such as an environmental impact assessment. However this will not be the norm. The committee can request such assessments if it deems them necessary. As the licensing authority, it is for the Department and not the forestry appeals committee to carry out such environmental screening and make determinations in the first instance. With those considerations in mind, I will not accept any of the amendments in this grouping.
To be quite frank, we are getting nowhere. When someone applies for planning permission or lodges an appeal in that area, a decision is made within a certain period. We are now bringing in new legislation that allows the deciding authority to sit on a case for a year. I know of decisions that have been awaited for 730 days, 531 days and 623 days. We are wasting our time here if we will not set a time limit on decisions. A time limit of eight weeks would allow certainty for both the objecting party and the applicant. At least they would know one way or the other. If we are not prepared to do that, we might as well not introduce a Bill because we are going nowhere.
I find myself, strangely, in agreement with Deputy Fitzmaurice, or perhaps it is not so strange. We should not be debating this Bill. We certainly should not be rushing it through in this way. I have learned a lot from the Deputies Danny and Michael Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath and others. I genuinely bow to their knowledge and experience of certain situations, the views of farmers and all of those points. However, I also believe that our current forestry model is a problem. That is not the fault of individual farmers. Rushing through legislation that could have very significant knock-on consequences to solve a particular problem is not the answer. We should be allowed to consider this properly and come to a solution that is beneficial to all. That is now what this is about.
I am not quite sure who is driving the agenda here, but I suspect it is far bigger players than those represented by Deputies Michael and Danny Healy-Rae. The forestry appeals committee should not be tied to a particular timeline. Our amendment No. 59 is about ensuring that the forestry appeals committee carries out all the necessary checks which are required of the Minister by law and complies with all the relevant EU directives. That must be done, however long it takes. The forestry appeals committee should have the same legal obligations as the Minister in that regard. Unfortunately, those obligations will sometimes take time to fulfil. Deputy Mattie McGrath or Deputy Danny Healy-Rae might say it is just not realistic to give financial compensation to people whose decisions are held up. I understand that, but I think we should give such compensation. If they planted in good faith, their investment or employment is on the line and they face problems because of the requirement for proper environmental oversight, they should absolutely get support from the State.
However, I do not think the two should be set against each other. We need to have proper oversight and should not be tied to arbitrary timelines as proposed in some amendments.
I am absolutely gutted by the response of the Minister of State. She indicated that she will not put a time limit on felling licence applications or appeals. We are going nowhere. The Government is codding the good, hard-working people who are providing employment and creating produce. They have invested a fortune in time and money but the Government does not wish to help them. I can clearly see what the Government is at. It will not listen to any of the amendments.
Time is of the essence. I point out to Deputy Boyd Barrett that there are things that can be changed and improved in the planting of forests but the Bill is about felling licences for grown timber that is ready to be cut. People's jobs are on the line. Deputy Verona Murphy pointed out that harvesters and forwarders cost €1 million per unit. There is not much to them but they cost a savage amount of money and need significant maintenance. The people who have bought these machines cannot continue paying for them if they have no work. The Deputy should be clear on that. The lorries that come through my village or through Killorglin, travelling from the Iveragh peninsula where there a significant amount of grown timber is planted, will stop rolling. The figures for the cost of those vehicles have been given. To learn to drive a harvester is a three-year operation. It is not like getting a provisional licence to drive a car. A person will not be allowed to operate a harvester without having at least three years' experience because they are so intricate and involved. One needs experience to deal with the topography in which they operate. Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to Derrybrien but the problems there arose from the construction of a road and not the cutting of the trees.
I am appealing again to the Minister of State. Time is of the essence but the Government does not wish to listen. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is also present. He is in government now. I also look to him to protect the farmers and landowners who have land planted in counties Donegal, Sligo, Roscommon or other places. The were advised to plant in the first place because the land was not arable and there was no other way of deriving money from it. There are now many places where the trees are ready to be cut. As I have stated in the House on several occasions, we do not have deposits of oil, gold or diamonds in this country. We must use whatever resources we have to survive. Forestry is one of the resources we have on marginal land in rural parts of Kerry and west Cork. I know these places well. I have worked in every one of them.
I know that if I am doing a small job on a road, I will have to put in silt traps and silt ponds and make sure that there is no run-off. The process is perfect in that regard and the same applies to those harvesting trees. If there is a stream, they must ensure that they have a way of crossing it without even taking the wheels of the tracks through it. There are ways in which one can do that. I promise that all those things are in place. If the Minister of State has other issues with that aspect of forestry, they can be raised on another day. We will give her a hearing and if she has a sensible story or a proposal that makes sense, we will support her. We are looking for her support on felling licences for trees and forests that have been cut down once or twice before and are ready to be harvested for a third time. Nothing could be cleaner or better in terms of how they are operated. If I spilled a drop of oil on a road and an inspector came along, I would be castigated over it. When I was in that business, one had to keep a spill kit in one's machine to ensure that any spills were cleaned up straight away. That is how perfect and crystal clear these operations are now.
It is not fair or right for the Minister of State to state that the Government is doing something about this situation by not caving in to our request for a timeline. There must be a timeline. There are timelines for building a house or a factory. This is the very same but it is far more serious because there is a system in place whereby a harvester cuts the wood and a forwarder picks it up. Those businesses are idling because they do not have a felling licence. A haulier collects the wood and brings it to the likes of Grainger's in Enniskeane or Medite in Clonmel and they supply places such as Palfab Limited and the pallet factory in Clondrohid. All those businesses are operating but they depend on one thing. They are asking us to ensure felling licences are granted within a reasonable timeframe.
If the Government does not accede to amendment No. 1, it would be far better for Deputies to go on holidays. There was less harm being done when the Dáil was in recess than there is now. We suffered through the discussion last night on penalty points for fishermen. As I stated, the only lorries that go through Kilgarvan taking produce to the outside world are those bringing fish or timber or a few cattle to the mart. They are the only products we have. We do not have oil or gold or similar resources. These are the things we have. I am lucky to have the Minister and the Minister of State present. This is their time to grant felling licences and do something to ensure a fair licensing system is put in place but if they will not put a deadline or a timeframe in place, they can forget about it.
When I saw the Bill and researched it, I too stated it was feeble and inept. We are now discussing it and we have fallen at the first hurdle. A total of 102 amendments were tabled in the Seanad but the Minister of State rejected them all. The Government is not serious about this Bill. There is no timeline provided in the Bill and it will be unworkable without one. Deputy Boyd Barrett and I raised the fact in the House yesterday and at the Business Committee last week that we are not being given enough time to debate the Bill. We still do not have enough time to debate it. We did not have enough time to submit amendments. There was no pre-legislative scrutiny or anything else.
Deputy Boyd Barrett and I are coming at the matter from different sides. I do not know if he every wielded an axe or drove a mallet or tried to start a chainsaw, but I doubt he did. I have nothing against him. There are so many problems here in Dublin such as oil spillages and raw sewage going into the water supply. The Government is now trying to bring water from Tipperary up to a pipework system that leaks 58% of the water in it. Sewage and oil and other bad substances are going into the water supply. They are being killed just to try to treat it. The whole thing is bananas.
The Minister of State and the Minister are in the Chamber. It is their time, as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae stated. I wished the Minister of State well earlier. She will be looking at a timeline of the Green Party being banished again from government when the next election comes. It might not take long. The Green Party was banished before because it got caught up in silly things instead of looking after people's lives and livelihoods and allowing them to live.
In fairness to Deputy Boyd Barrett, he stated that I and my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group have helped him to educate himself on these issues. I do not know things about Dublin that he knows, such as the story of Mrs. O'Connor and the expert who was brought in 150 years ago. I asked him whether they are alive but they have been dead for 150 years or 160 years. Tá siad imithe, like the snow on the Galtee Mountains.
This is so sad. The Government has no intention of making this work.
The Minister of State is pandering to her own supporters, many of whom are there. One of them, I found out today, is a serial objector. I think he is from my own town. God knows, we went to the same secondary school. I am not saying he is not qualified; he is. We must have common sense but common sense has gone out the window. That is the problem with the Minister of State and the Green Party. The last time the Green Party was in power it destroyed coursing and anything to do with rural pursuits. What have they got against rural Ireland? We want to live. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has stated, we do not have gold and silver but we have forestry and agriculture. We have arable land. I am from the Golden Vale, with some of the best land in the country, but we have the mountain that need to be planted and used as well.
Above all, we cannot build and sort out our housing crisis in any way if we have not the timber to make the roofs. We cannot make them with rushes or bloody thatch like they had 200 years ago. The Minister of State would love to be telling us to have all that crack. She will not let us do that either or give us a decent grant to repair the thatched roofs we have. What the Minister of State is doing with the Green Party here is poppycock. It is nonsense. It is patent blackguarding.
The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is sitting behind the Minister of State, his colleagues will come in here and speak like we are speaking but then they will support the Minister of State. It is a downright double act committing fraud on the people, telling them they will do one thing and then supporting this nonsense of a Bill. It is a waste of time. As Deputy Fitzmaurice said, we might as well go home now and forget about it because the Government has no interest in sorting it out.
If one has not a deadline on anything, one is going nowhere. One must have a deadline. There are deadlines for amendments. There are deadlines for speaking time here. There are deadlines for everything. For anything we do in the country for all the other crops, there are deadlines. There are deadlines for planning. There is nothing for this. That goes to show that the Minister of State will not accept a reasonable deadline. I am not saying one should not give people the time. There are forest improvement scheme, FIS, grants, environmental impact studies and God knows what.
The Minister of State is only trying to cod us but she is codding herself. It is herself she is harming. The Green Party will be banished from Government again. They will come back in ten years' time again and produce another programme for Government with some other fellows who are willing to take them in. They do not understand. The Minister of State is a farmer from rural Ireland. While I do not know the density of forestry in County Offaly, I believe they have a fair bit of it and the Minister of State should understand this. The backlogs are there for all the harvesters, all the fellows with the replanting, the forwarders, the hauliers and the mills. Above all, one will not have the finished product for one's presses, wardrobes or anything, or even the roof.
Where are we going? Kindergarten children would not come up with this kind of baloney. It is merely an effort to let on that the Minister of State is doing something and to fool the people. The Minister of State is fooling no one. Someone said they cannot see the wood for the trees. The Minister of State is not codding anyone. This is shameful.
I am disappointed with the Minister of State's performance here this evening. The one thing that I will say to both the Minister and the Minister of State is that they should remember 30 September because the people of Ireland are watching and they listened carefully to what the Minister of State said earlier on. There are many millers watching this tonight and many contractors who are desperately hoping that they will have work next month and the month after. In the coming days, timber will be coming in from Scotland. It is a disgrace to think that here we are at a stage where we are nearly at a standstill. The industry is relying on the Minister and the Minister of State, as senior politicians, and what the Minister and the Minister of State are saying to us as legislators is they will not accept what we are seeking, which is common sense.
Having a timeline and having a timeframe is the same, as I stated earlier on, as what the local authorities have. It is merely sensible work. It is a way of dealing with a person's right of application. One should remember that when a person applies to the State to plant forestry, he or she obviously has an expected right to pen that forestry, to clear-fell it when its time comes and to make a road through it to make access roads to withdraw the timber of the forestry. Those are reasonable expectations that any farmer or forester would have. If one goes back over history's pages, one will find it was a reasonable expectation and common sense.
Here the Minister of State is tonight denying us the right to have our amendments be accepted. I told the Minister of State earlier on we were not fighting with her. We wanted to work with her but now when I see what the Minister of State is doing, if she wants a fight we will give her as good a fight as anybody will give her.
What the two Ministers are doing here is disgraceful because they are letting the industry think that they are doing something to help it but they are actually not. They are doing nothing to help the industry by not allowing us have our amendments be accepted. Why will they not accept our amendments? Is it because they did not put in these provisions in the first instance? Is it that their heads have already become too swelled in the short couple of weeks that they are there? They should remember that any politician, whether a Minister, a Deputy, a county councillor or whatever, is only there because the people want him or her to be there. The day the people do not want a Minister to be there, he or she will be gone, out of here and history.
The Minister of State is not listening to the users of the service. The Minister of State is not listening to the poor small farmer who might be relying on having his forestry thinned or clear-felled in order that he or she can have a few euro, which he or she is perfectly entitled to have. It was such farmers' right and expectation. The State backed them at the time when they planted the forestry and now the Minister of State is denying them this little bit of assistance. It is here in black and white. The amendments are there. They are perfectly sensible.
Everybody knows I do not like saying anything against anybody but when I heard what Deputy Boyd Barrett said earlier on, to be honest I would hate to give him a chainsaw because his two legs would stand grave danger if he had a chainsaw in his hands, because he knows flip all about timber. He knows nothing about the forestry sector to come out with what he came out with earlier on. The Deputy should stick with what he is knowledgeable about. I say, "My goodness" to any person who would not support what we are trying to do tonight.
There is nothing wrong with what we are looking for. All we are looking for is fair play. When a person hears these big figures, he or she might think that they are millionaires. When one hears that people who might be small contractors whose families are steeped in the tradition of harvesting timber are buying a machine that cost half a million euro, one might think they are very rich to be able to buy that type of a machine. It is a balancing act. All that happens is the person goes to a finance company and gets the finance because he or she has the experience, the operators and a proven track record of going into a forest and being able to thin it and operate the machinery. The forwarders and the harvesters are complex machines to operate and it is a trade in itself to drive them. Those people use their brains to borrow the money through leases or loans for that equipment. They struggle to pay back every month. The repayments are enormous. All they hope to have is enough money at the end of the month to pay what they owe for the lease, the hire purchase or loan, enough money to pay their diesel bill, their transportation cost when they have to move it from A to B, and enough money to pay the driver and maybe be able to cover breakdowns. All they are doing is making a living. There is nothing fancy about it. They might be sitting up on a machine that cost half a million euro or a lorry that cost €100,000 or €200,000 but at the end of the day, it is only a struggling act all the time to keep the show rolling. The Minister and Minister of State are doing nothing to help them by bringing this Bill before the House and not accepting the amendments.
The only reason we were supporting this all along is we surely thought that the Minister and the Minister of State would have the common sense and the down-to-earth understanding that these fellows know what they are talking about and they know what they are doing. We are supporting the millers, the hauliers, the contractors and the forest owners. Here the Minister and the Minister of State are, turning their noses up in the sky and looking down at the lot of us and saying, "No."
I am asking the Minister of State and the Minister a question here tonight, and I will not let them get away with this. Why will they not accept our amendments? Why will they not come down out of their high ivory towers to our level and explain properly what is wrong with what we are suggesting? What is wrong with it and why will they not accept it? They will alienate themselves from many people. They will be classified as foolish, mean and horrible for what they are doing because they are hurting so many people tonight. It is very upsetting.
There are people out there who are relying on us and the Minister and the Minister of State to do the right thing. We cannot do it because we are not the Ministers in government. We are not the people who can have a say. Therefore, I want the Minister and the Minister of State to explain why they will not accept what we are trying to do. The Minister of State heard Members, such as Deputy Fitzmaurice, earlier on. Will the Minister of State please tell us what is wrong with what we are saying or does she just want to support the cranks, the crackpots and the useless people who want to do nothing only object to everything?
Does the Minister of State want our trees? The Minister of State knows what happens a forest. I hope she does anyway.
Does she know what happens to a forest when it is not thinned or properly taken care of? It dies standing because it does not flourish or grow. It is well known that if 40% of the weight of a forest is removed, within five years there is over 40% regrowth in the trees left standing and it is good quality box wood, the pulpwood has been removed and there is only the good quality timber, which we so desperately need. The Minister of State is failing to see this. For God's sake, she should grow up, she is a Minister of State in the Government and she should understand the problem and what we are trying to do here. Why will she not accept the amendments? It is wrong, and what the Government is doing is inherently wrong. It will be remembered for tonight, 30 September. The Ministers should remember it because it will be remembered as a disaster and a failure. When we bring in timber from Russia, the Green Party and the whole bloody lot of them can go and explain where the common sense was in this. Why, in a country which can perhaps grow timber better than anywhere else in the world, do we have to import timber from Russia? Where is the common sense? Where is our carbon footprint? Where does that make sense? How will the users of timber, the people who want to build homes or farmers who wish to use if for construction get it? It will be from the Russians. My goodness. Is the Government proud of itself? The Ministers need to grow up and cop on a small bit and do what they are supposed to do, and do their jobs properly. They are upsetting a lot of people tonight, and I am upset over it.
It looks as though the Minister of State is going to reject every amendment proposed tonight. She did that in the Seanad, where she rejected all but one or two. She has her own agenda. I spoke to her in a call on Zoom last week. While I welcomed the Bill, it was weak. That is fair. It was put before us and we had the opportunity to put down amendments, which now she will reject one by one as if they were not relevant. It has been made quite clear tonight that while we were here to help, the Minister of State is not here to take that help. She has her mind made up on every amendment we have put down and from the way she is speaking, they all will be rejected. I cannot understand how Green Party or Fianna Fáil Deputies have come into the Chamber and supported what we are talking about but then the senior Minister will support her in not allowing any amendments go through. This new Dáil is becoming a game for Fianna Fáil. It did the same thing last night, where Deputies from my constituency of Cork South- West said one thing about the statutory instrument. Tonight we will see whether they will do another thing or whether they will vote against the statutory instrument. Last night, the Ministe, kicked the fishermen in the teeth and, by God, I can tell that they were watching last night. Tonight the farmers, timber operators, the forestry sector and the ordinary people of this country are watching him tonight. He should be very careful. That goes for the Minister of State too. There are a lot of angry people out there. They needed assistance. The Government has an opportunity here tonight not to reject our amendments but to work with them
Many landowners are very stressed. Many come to my clinic in west Cork all the time or have contacted me but I will give one simple example. One person contacted me who had a very sick person at home, although that is beside the point. The storm knocked down her forest but she cannot get a felling licence. If she does not get it in the next few months, it is pointless. This gives an idea of the nonsensical objections, the speed by which they should have been dealt, if there is a legitimate complaint. Obviously someone nearby should have an opportunity to appeal but it is scandalous to think that somebody living, say, 200 miles away can object to something that they probably know nothing about but are just objecting for the sake of it.
I ask the Minister of State to step back here. It is pointless telling us that she wanted to put her Bill, and her Bill only, before the people. As we have said, our amendments are from the heart, they were to help the Bill, which we had welcomed prior to this evening. Unfortunately, the Minister of State decided to reject our amendments, which were meant to help people to alleviate the stress people are experiencing. People are speaking out of both sides of their mouth. I am getting quite annoyed with this Dáil. We have given extra speaking rights to the bigger parties and they are coming into the House, speaking one way and when it comes to a vote, they do the other thing. Do they think they are fooling the electorate? Do they think the people of west Cork or Ireland are all shut-ears and blind-eyes? No, people know. They know what the Minister did with the statutory instrument and they will know tonight what way he will vote. If the Government will not allow our amendments, they will know that too. I ask the Minister of State to step back and reconsider allowing this amendment, which is very helpful in its attempt to speed up the appeal process, if not get rid of the right to appeal altogether, and get a decision with a more immediate effect. She has an opportunity to change her mind with this, but maybe she is in the House tonight simply as a box-ticking exercise, which is our worry. We will see.
Senator Pippa Hackett
To qualify, the justification for not including this amendment on the timing in the Bill is because there is a provision in the regulations under section 14E(1)(f) for the Minister to set a time limit. Consequently, we do not feel it is necessary to prescribe that in the Bill itself, especially at this early stage, when the whole purpose of the Bill is to make the appeals process more efficient and to work in a more effective way. For us to put a timeline on that at the very outset might be very foolish indeed and could be highly problematic in the short term. In the medium to long term, such a provision is contained in the regulation, which hopefully might alleviate some of the Deputies' concerns on that point.
To respond to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, I have some forestry on my own farm and am quite familiar with the hazards and problems that might arise should thinning not take place on time.
There were 104 amendments in the Seanad last week, which were grouped into 14 groupings. As I accepted two amendments, that was not too bad a turnaround. Deputies should be aware that many of the amendments from the Seanad are also included in tonight's amendments.
I thanks Members for their contributions and as the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, pointed out, this is something to which we gave significant consideration in the drafting of the Bill. As she noted, that is why the capacity is provided for in the Bill for the Minister, in due course, to place timelines on how long an appeal might take. That capacity is there. I can assure the House that the Minister of State and I did not engage with other parties or none two weeks ago to ask for co-operation to bring this urgent legislation to the Seanad last week and to deal with it in the Dáil this week in its entirety merely so that we would then end up dilly-dallying and swinging the lead and not trying to get appeals dealt with in as prompt a fashion and dealt with as quickly as possible.
The decision not to put timelines into the legislation but to enable the Minister to do so at a future date was made because were they included in the primary legislation now, as Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment provides, where "The Forestry Appeals Committee would give their decision on an appeal within eight weeks of receipt", then the appeals committee would collapse under its own weight before it had taken its first step.
As we all know, there are appeals that have been in the system for much longer than eight weeks. The backlog is the problem and it is taking too long to deal with appeals. We in the Department have employed additional ecologists so that the appeals can be processed and dealt with promptly. We will also ensure that the forestry appeals committee has additional personnel so that it has the capacity to deal with many more appeals. The priority now is to ensure that the backlog is processed in the promptest manner possible. This means providing the necessary resources and ensuring that appeals are dealt with as quickly as possible.
Once the situation reaches equilibrium again, the backlog has been dealt with and we are in a more normal state of affairs, the legislation will give the Minister the capacity to put reasonable timeframes in place so as to provide clarity on how long appeals should take. Were we to set out in primary legislation that all of the backlogged appeals must be dealt with in eight weeks, it would not be practical or feasible. We must first deal with the backlog as quickly as possible and, once that is done, start processing new appeals in a timely fashion.
There are many more amendments and we are only on amendment No. 1. The co-operation of the House is important. Deputies understand the urgency of passing the Bill this week in order that its provisions can kick into operation quickly. Last week, the Minister of State gave her strong and comprehensive consideration to each of the amendments in the Seanad. We will not have the time to address all of our amendments, but I look forward to moving through them.
Let us first consider this amendment and read the legislation in terms of what the Bill will allow the Minister to do when it is timely to do so. To put this amendment's provisions into primary legislation at the outset would mean that the legislation would not be operable and could not perform the functions that we all want, namely, processing appeals, supporting the sector, ensuring that timber starts flowing again and employment in timber yards and contractors continues, and preventing supply drying up.
We will try to avoid repetition. At this rate, we will not reach a large number of amendments. I will call Deputies briefly before putting the amendment.
I will be as brief as I can, but I cannot believe that the Minister would come out with that statement. The tail is truly wagging the dog. The Green Party is practically lifting the dog of Fianna Fáil, which is a pup now. Fianna Fáil was a party that I was proud to be a member of, but it is nearly facing extinction. The way it is going, it will be extinct. A preservation order will be placed on what is left of it.
This is outrageous. There is a backlog now. Could the Minister not deal with it before setting out in legislation that all future applications would have a timeline applied as is the case with, for example, building a house, a factory or anything else? I have respect for the Minister, but he came out with a diatribe. Here we are with the Green Party and talk of touch-me-nots and political interference. The Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is not happy with a former Senator being appointed to a bank. The Green Party is the moral fibre of the Government, yet this will be at the discretion of the Minister of State. She will decide every appeal even though we as public representatives are no longer allowed to have planning meetings on site with planners and constituents. Everything is all above board, fancy and trimmed up now and we cannot interfere, yet a Minister of State of the self-righteous party that will put respect into politics will now have the right to decide when is long enough and how long is a piece of string. Deputy Boyd Barrett stated that Coillte alone granted 350 felling licences on one day and 800 on another. The Minister of State will be up all night and all day going through every appeal. If she thinks it has gone on for long enough, she will then decide.
It is being dressed up, but we know that this is a contrived and convoluted three-card trick meant to prevent forestry farmers and ordinary people from developing their woodlands and harvesting their crops. The Minister and his backbenchers will fall in and vote for this through the lobby. It is a con job. If it looks like a con and walks like a con, it is a con. That is not lost on us or the people watching, whose jobs are in peril or who have bank loans. The Government allowed the banks to remove the moratorium today. This Bill is just sending lambs to the slaughter, but Government Deputies will be the lambs to the slaughter. I am just afraid that there will be no abattoirs left to deal with them.
I apologise to the House. I have been unavoidably absent for the past 24 hours or so. I was waiting for a close contact to get a Covid test result. Thankfully, it was negative and we are back in action. I wish to record my thanks to Deputy Martin Kenny, who took over the lead for Sinn Féin during that time. I thank all Members who have contributed on this important debate. I hope that it will be a small part of the much larger debate on forestry policy that we need to have.
I have put on the record in the Chamber and elsewhere my belief that it would be overly generous to suggest that this State had a forestry strategy. We do not. A good forestry strategy should be good for the environment and, importantly, local communities. Local communities should want to live close to forests. If forestry is done well, then it should be seen as an amenity and a benefit. It should also be good for the local economy. I am using the term "local economy" purposely. Local people should be employed in these forests and the economic benefit should be visible in any area where there is forestry. The ongoing offsetting of forestry to multinational corporations has been detrimental to the ambition of ensuring positives for communities, the environment and the domestic economy. We have a great deal of work to do.
I would appreciate it if the Minister or Minister of State indicated whether it is the Government's intention to support any of the amendments before the House. That would be telling. The Minister and Minister of State have acknowledged the Opposition's facilitation of this legislation. Both of them are new in their jobs and have told us that this is an emergency, and we have accepted that there is a backlog in felling licences that needs to be addressed urgently. As previous speakers indicated, too many jobs are on the line for us not to take this seriously. However, the Minister and Minister of State have a responsibility to ask their Department why this situation was allowed to become an emergency. The Bill should never have been emergency legislation. We knew this time last year that a backlog was building. Even if Deputies had not known, all they would have needed to do was pick up the Irish Farmers' Journal or look at AgriLand on our phones. Farming organisations and those at the coalface of the forestry sector were telling us about the backlog, yet nothing was apparently done until the summer months when we were told that emergency legislation was being introduced and the Opposition was urged to waive pre-legislative scrutiny, which we did. During the welcome discussions on what the Bill would entail, one of the requests that my party made when facilitating the waiving of pre-legislative scrutiny was that the Minister and the Department would give due consideration to the amendments. Different sides of the Opposition have tabled amendments that are constructive and helpful and would make the Bill much better. I hope to stand corrected, but the inference I have picked up is that the Government does not plan to accept any of them. That would send a bad signal and would be taken into consideration the next time, if ever, we were asked to waive pre-legislative scrutiny.
There is a problem with forestry and a lot of it stems from the Department not taking the issues seriously. We do not have a forestry policy in respect of climate action. We have a timber production strategy, which is an important element but only part of it. We have a situation where, in County Leitrim in particular but increasingly in other counties as well, communities are up in arms because they feel decisions are being made into which they have absolutely no input. They deserve to have such input and this legislation must ensure they do. However, the ability for people to have an input should not be used as an excuse or rationale for stalling the entire forestry mechanism of the country.
We intend to support Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment. I ask that the Minister or Minister of State give an indication as to whether they plan to accept any of the amendments that have been put forward. If we know which ones are being taken on board, we can facilitate their passage through the House this evening.
When farmers are applying for the single farm payment, they must do so before a certain date. If an inspector comes out and finds something wrong with an application, the farmer can appeal the decision by a certain date. In every other instance one can think of, things have to be done by a particular date. However, the Minister is saying that when it comes to the forestry appeals system, it will be a case of, "Sure, whenever we get to it." From 2016 to 2020, the Department reached only 57% of its target in regard to the processing of applications. There is a problem within the Department the Minister and Minister of State are overseeing, whether they want to believe it or not.
The application process will not be effective without deadlines, dates and timelines for getting things done. I am hearing that there are 2,000 applications ready to go through the door of the Department the minute this legislation goes through. What will happen then? Will it take another 780 days of people drinking tea and fiddling around before deciding whether to accept an application? If we do not put deadlines on the making of decisions, one way or the other, there will be no change. We are not pre-empting anything in our proposal. All we are saying is that a decision should be made within an eight-week period and that whatever extra staffing is required to enable this to happen should be provided. One will need more blocklayers to build ten houses than are needed to build one house. It is the same with appeals; if there are more coming in, then more people are needed to process them.
There is no doubt that there will be more appeals coming in if we go on as we are and do not take a different road. If we keep sending the same application back to the same person, he or she has no choice but to do the same again and away we are on the merry-go-round. It is a very simple thing to know that in any walk of life, there are certain deadlines that must be met. If we put in the resources, we can get the applications through in a reasonable time. It is as simple as that. There is also the opportunity for an oral appeal. Everything is covered within the three months, one way or the other. One is either in or out the gap. The people objecting know where they stand and the people applying for a licence know the same. If we cannot at least do that, given the situation in the forestry industry at the moment, we are failing the people involved.
I am very disappointed with the response offered by the Minister and Minister of State. It is absolutely ridiculous that they would try to sell the story to us that it will be left up to the Minister to decide when an appeal will be dealt with. We are asking for a timeline on behalf of the people involved. They are depending on us to ensure that they get fair play but it looks like the Minister and Minister of State are not going to give them that.
If I understood him right, the Minister said that at a later stage, when things cool down a bit, he might put in a timeline. I am not sure whether he even said that much. What he is forgetting is that the appeals are going to keep coming. The blackguards will keep blackguarding and they are not going to stop just because the Minister says he has passed a Bill. The Bill is worthless as it stands if he does not put in a timeline. Maybe he should tell the fellows sending in appeals that until we get up and running and get a timeline in place, no more appeals will be taken. The Minister is the powers that be in this case. The Taoiseach signed a statutory instrument that will allow penalty points to be imposed on fishermen. Can he not sign another statutory instrument to the effect that no more felling licence appeals will be accepted until the backlog is cleared, the people who are waiting for licences get them and work is again going on in the normal fashion that it did until two years ago? He can then decide to resume appeals when they can be dealt with.
The reality is that the Minister cannot deal with the appeals coming into his Department and he has no notion of doing so if he is not going to impose a deadline in respect of them. He should put a stop to them for now and get the Taoiseach to sign a statutory instrument to that effect. Maybe the Minister could sign it himself. The time for blackguarding is over and it is time to sort this out one way or the other. We need to stop any new appeals coming in for now to allow the backlog to be cleared. The people making the appeals are not going to stop. At the rate they are going, the whole thing will close down in one slap altogether and the Minister will be remembered forever for it. A previous Government closed the sugar factory in Mallow and it will never be forgotten that it did so. If this Government closes down the timber industry and the whole business of cutting timber, taking it to sawmills and cutting it up for roofing houses, people will not forget it. If the Government presides over that, it will take a fair hammering at some stage. Nobody knows who will survive and get through the next election.
We are all trying to do our best here but I can see that the Government is not listening to us on this very serious issue. We are talking about an area of production that has been achieved on very marginal rural land that was good for absolutely nothing else. Governments gave people grants to plant the trees and it is only right that those people would presume that if they got a grant to plant them, then they should be allowed to cut down the trees. We are asking the Minister to deal with the blackguards. There may be a very small number of people who have genuine concerns and we want to assist them. However, that is not what is going on when we have fellows 200 miles away from Kerry appealing and holding up the granting of a felling licence there. That is truly wrong. There are parents who want to sell their forestry to pay for their children to go to college. I know a woman whose husband has been in a wheelchair for two years since he had a stroke. She wants to sell a bit of forestry to get the money to adapt the house for him. There are several cases like these right under our noses. The man beside me has a haulage set-up and he is depending on timber to be felled. He cannot draw it if it is not cut. There are several thousand workers right around us who are affected by this. We have very little in rural parts of Kerry but there is forestry production. It is all going to go for nothing.
The Minister must do something to reduce the volume of appeals coming into the Department. The reason he gave for not putting in a deadline is not acceptable. We do not accept that it should be left up to the Minister.
There are hundreds of applications going in. A Minister will not deal with those, and will not want to deal with them. It would be too onerous and complicated. The Minister must include in the Bill a deadline for deciding on appeals and block any further appeals until that is in place. Surely he has enough common sense to see that. The Government is talking about allowing a Minister to make a decision on each appeal. God help us.
On amendment No. 1, the Minister indicated he would make a decision at a later date on timeframes and so on. Where is provision made for that and how would the Dáil know this? How would the Dáil make an input into that and how would we know the Minister would do it? That is very important.
Amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 61 deal with the timing and type information that is to be given with regard to appeals. Will the Minister clarify what is wrong with the amendments and the reason he will not accept them? They are about providing information to people who make appeals, having information provided within a reasonable timeframe, notifying decisions across the board and making the decisions known to the public. These are vital amendments. What are the Minister's views on them?
I am here as a constructive member of the Rural Independent Group, which has been constructive and has submitted some very good amendments. This all takes time. The amendments are based on the views of stakeholders from around the State. We did not make them up. They are based on what the people who operate sawmills, the contractors, foresters and farmers are telling us. We represent those people. That the Minister is not accepting any of the amendments is very worrying and concerning because he has a duty to listen and to represent the ordinary people of the State. Deputies come from all parts of the State and we have brought forward very constructive amendments based on what the stakeholders have informed us are the obstacles.
It is undemocratic and flies in the face of democracy for the Minister to refuse to accept any of these reasonable amendments. I fully support Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment, which is very reasonable. We see timelines everywhere. Farmers are under pressure all the time to meet deadlines. Is it a case of one way traffic where the Department takes a heavy hand and tells people they have to meet deadlines but the Department can do as it pleases? That is the clear signal and message here, which is an absolute disgrace. We need to make sure there is a timeline built in to the legislation. This Bill does not instil confidence in anybody. Ordinary people viewing proceedings tonight will be shocked that a reasonable and basic request to include a timeline is being refused. We are hearing absolute nonsense, which does not justify that position. People are going to see through this tonight. The stakeholders who came to us from Kerry, Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, Offaly and Laois will see the messing that is going on. It has to stop. The Minister has a duty to represent the State. We have all been elected to do that. I ask him to review her decision on this reasonable amendment.
One of my constituents, Mr. John O'Connell of Glenasack forestry, made a number of important points in his submission to the Department on this Bill. I have no doubt it was discarded and thrown by the wayside. It appears the Department does not want to listen to anybody. The Minister and Minister of State need to listen to ordinary people. Mr. O'Connell has summarised very well the problems that exist, which emphasise the absolute necessity for a timeline for appeals. He has put forward reasons such as the ludicrous situation where Irish sawmills that export much of their produce are running out of raw material and will have to import timber to process, even though there are hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Irish timber being held up by appeals. It is beyond belief. Nobody would believe it. People in other countries must be asking what sort of a country Ireland is. We do not need to go too far to see countries that have efficient forestry systems, for example, Scotland and Germany.
Afforestation levels have dropped dramatically and the acreage of new planting this year is at levels not seen since the 1940s. Clearly, there is a problem. We need efficiency. Some forest owners are delaying construction of forest roads until clear felled and are not thinning their plantations, further eroding the supply of timber. Most importantly, landowner confidence in forestry as a viable enterprise is clearly non-existent. Many forest owners have stated they wish they had never become involved in the first place. Other landowners who were considering forestry as an option have been put off by their neighbours' experiences in dealing with the forestry services.
The considerable efforts of various Governments over the last four decades in promoting forestry are being lost here tonight. It is difficult to see how landowners will commit to planting new land or how the annual planting target of 8,000 ha under the climate action plan will be realised. The Minister needs to go back to the drawing board and be more constructive with us. We showed good faith and allowed the Bill to proceed in good faith, which was the right thing to do. The fact is that the Minister is closing every door that should be opened and incorporated in the Bill. We did not make up these amendments. They came from constituents and we represent rural constituents. I ask the Minister to do the same. He has a duty to represent constituents in rural Ireland.
One of the benefits of democracy, when it works at all which is not that often, is that one learns things. Even better, people are watching and are hearing the debate, which I am certainly learning from. They then bring to bear facts that impact on the debate we have heard. I have received one communication that is very interesting in that regard. It challenges very strongly the rationale behind the Bill and the rationale of many of the Deputies who have spoken in favour of this amendment. The rationale behind the Bill is that all these blackguards are appealing felling licences and this has caused a huge problem with people employed in the forestry sector sitting idle. To be honest, listening to the debate I thought maybe this is the case. I thought that maybe I had missed something because forestry is not huge where I live, although it is substantial enough in County Wicklow, which is not far from me. Of course, the Government has more or less been saying the same thing. The rationale is that we need to fast-track the appeals process, albeit not as fast as some Deputies want, but there is the problem of a massive backlog, and also that somehow these two things are connected. There is a backlog but is it connected to what we have heard here, factually? The Minister has not provided any evidence. However, somebody has helpfully provided a little bit of evidence which blows the argument completely out of the water. Let us have a guess as to what percentage of afforestation licences in 2019 were appealed.
What about 2020?
Let us have a guess. Seeing as all these blackguards are out there causing uproar, somebody must have a rough idea of the percentage of afforestation licences were appealed. The answer is 1.1%.
Whoever told the Deputy that was telling him a story.
That is fake news.
It is fake news.
What percentage of felling licences were appealed? It was 2.77%. In 2020, just over 1% of afforestation licences were appealed and 75% of felling licences were not appealed. There was a jump in the number of appeals in 2020 but it is still considerably less than one would be led to believe from the argument that there is a massive load of blackguards out there, clogging up the system.
What might explain the clogging up of the system is the Department, not the blackguards-----
In the Department.
We have been hearing a lot of rhetoric about blackguards, presumably environmental blackguards.
I must be getting somewhere-----
I must be touching a nerve now; that is all I can say. I must be touching a nerve.
The decisions being made by the Department, not the appeals, are way down.
There are laggards in there.
Decisions issued by the Department on felling up to the end of August were way down, from nearly 3,500 at the end of August last year to just 1,040 this year. The issue of the supply of timber to sawmills lies at the door of the Department, not the environmental blackguards or the appeals committee.
If the Deputies can provide me with alternative statistics, I invite them to do so. I listened very carefully to everything they have said. If they have statistics that challenge those I provided on the appeals percentages, I would be happy to hear them. I am an open minded person and I listen.
The Deputy is a tree hugger
What is wrong with hugging trees? Deputy Mattie McGrath might do it to calm himself down occasionally.
This suggests that the problem lies with the Department, not with blackguards or the appeals process in particular. If these facts-----
What is the Deputy's source?
What is Deputy McGrath's source, other than references to blackguards? There are lots of blackguards out there, unnamed.
I never used that word.
They're living 200 miles away from what they are appealing.
Let us try to find agreement here. Would empirical evidence be useful in this debate? I think it would be quite useful. Maybe the Minister or Minister of State can provide us with some empirical evidence about the extent of the appeals against afforestation and felling licences. We need numbers on this. Is the problem being referred to by the Deputies here - and obviously there is a problem - to do with appeals or with a very dramatic drop in the ability of the Department to make decisions?
It is both.
Let us find out. That is the Deputy's opinion but we need facts. Let us have evidence-based decision making.
The Deputy was not listening to us.
I listened very well.
There were 144 objections by one objector-----
The Minister of State should provide empirical evidence to back up her arguments. It would be short-sighted, without that evidence, to in any way short-circuit, limit or narrow the basis upon which people can, for good reason, object to or appeal licence decisions. According to my source, the Department's ability to make decisions has dropped off because it was found that the method of appealing licences was not in compliance with EU law. That is actually what has happened. Compliance has required a considerable slowing up of the process. We have a dysfunctional forestry model and the EU has found us out. As a result, we have had to put a hell of a lot more resources into processing licence applications and that is what is slowing the process down. What do we do about that? It seems that we have to comply and we need to put the resources into complying with a sustainable forestry model while also clearing the backlogs and so on. We must do so in a way that is not environmentally damaging or in breach of environmental directives, laws and obligations.
With no deadlines.
A deadline would be reasonable if the resources were made available and if the Department could guarantee that there was full compliance. If we just ram a decision through in an arbitrary eight weeks and are not in compliance, we will be in court the day after anyway because somebody will take us to court for having breached the directives. What we need is for the Department to put resources into ensuring that we are in compliance and that we change the forestry model so that we do not find ourselves in these difficulties again in the years ahead.
A person can only listen to so much. I hate referring to Deputies directly but I must do so after Deputy Boyd Barrett's outburst. He is completely contradicting himself.
We are dealing with the amendments.
Yes, I am coming to that but Deputy Boyd Barrett was allowed to make statements here tonight and he must be taken to task on them. He must be asked whether he accepts that there is a crisis in our timber industry at present. Why are we debating this? Why is the Bill coming in here at all? Why have party and non-party Deputies agreed to facilitate the passing of this legislation in the first instance without pre-legislative scrutiny? It is because we all recognise that there is a crisis in the timber industry. Why is there a crisis in the timber industry? It is because the whole system is choked up. The felling licences that are required are not being processed in time and here is Deputy Boyd Barrett standing up, just because somebody sent him a tweet in the last ten minutes. He read it and is taking it as gospel from holy God. He is so confused that he had to hold his tablet in his hand in case he was misreading what was sent to him. He had facts there ten minutes ago that he did not have 20 minutes ago. He is now taking what came to him through his bloody iPhone as the gospel truth, according to God in heaven above. One would swear He sent the Deputy a message directly. Is Deputy Boyd Barrett trying to deny that there is a crisis in the forestry industry? Is he trying to deny that we will be importing timber this week from Scotland because if we do not do so, our sawmills will fall silent? God help our sawmills, our farmers, contractors and lorry men. They would be relying on a very sad individual in here tonight to help them if they were relying on what has come out of Deputy Boyd Barrett's mouth in the last 20 minutes. The sawmills would stay completely silent and they would be silent for a long time. I have often heard Deputy Boyd Barrett talking about the working man but he would not know a day's work if it came up and hit him between the two eyes. I do not like being personal about anything but when I hear fellows talking rubbish, I get annoyed. Just because some unknown person sent the Deputy a tweet, he puts it on the record of the Dáil as if it is the gospel and he is denying the fact that we have respectable people telling us that the sawmills do not have timber coming into their yards. The Deputy is coming out here tonight with drivel. What he has just said is drivel.
The Deputy should stick to the subject of the amendments.
I am coming back now to the subject at hand and will address the Minister and Minister of State but I could not let Deputy Boyd Barrett away with that. He cannot come in here, talk rubbish and get away with it. I will come back now to the Minister and the Minister of State's performance and response. For God's sake, I must challenge them for coming along and saying that they will deal with this afterwards and that we can put in timeframes afterwards. That is nonsense. In actual fact, the display the two of them put on tonight would be worthy of an episode of "Father Ted". It was hopeless to give that response to us after we genuinely put forward these amendments. We worked at them, we believe in them and a lot of people around the country are relying on them to be enacted. We begged the Minister and Minister of State to give a good, sensible response as to why we could not do this now. I would have no problem if they said that they would accept this amendment but not that one and give us reasons for same. Equally, they might want us to vary or change our amendments, by consensus or agreement, working together.
However, they did exactly the opposite of what I asked them to do earlier. I stood up in good faith. I wished them well and I told them we were willing to work with both Ministers. What do they do? They throw it all back in our faces by telling us that every bit of work that has been done, and a lot of work and time went into these amendments, will be thrown out of the window - it is a case of “our way or no way”. That is what the Ministers are saying here tonight. One would swear to God they were infallible and that they had a monopoly on being right. No one of us has a monopoly on being right. I will be wrong ten times a day but I hope I am right some share of the time as well. I know I am right in putting forward our amendments and in supporting respectable politicians like Deputy Fitzmaurice, who is talking nothing but common sense, talking from the heart and he knows what he is talking about.
How many of those in this Chamber worked in forestry? I worked for a long time in forestry and when I started out in forestry, it was not a machine or anything else I had, but a horse called Billy, and Dan Casey with me, a good sound local man, and the two of us working our hearts out every day, supplying timber to Grainger’s Sawmills. We worked damn hard pulling out timber every day for a long time, on hot, roasting days and on freezing cold days, breaking down into the ground to try to pull out tonnes of timber onto the side of the road. I feel like I am entitled to talk about the industry because I worked in it and I know what it is about from the ground up.
Here we are, in a position to legislate for the good of the timber industry and, instead, the two Ministers spoke for only a very short length of time. The reason for that is they had nothing to say, certainly nothing good to say. They only gave a bare, minimal response. As I said, it is fit for an episode of “Father Ted” because it did not make any sense. One would swear to God it was a joke by them because they are not taking this seriously at all. They are not doing anything to affect the timber industry in a positive way. We could spend the night talking about it. All I want them to do is to say they will work with us, but they will not. They are throwing the whole lot in our faces - every one of us here.
On another point, where is everybody? I know the Acting Chairman and many of those in his party are genuinely interested and I am not personalising this to him. However, I am asking the question. Look around us. Where are the people who are interested in the forestry industry in Ireland? Where are they right now? Why are they not here to debate this and to support us? It is very disappointing. I would ask the people who are going to be relying on this and who will feel the negative effects of this next month or next year, the people who will not have employment because of the inaction of this Government, to look around this Chamber as I am looking at it up on the screen. We could all fit into the back of a bad motor car. Where is everybody and why are they not here to fight and to stand up for the people, the small farmers who might have a small amount of ground? They want to see it being harvested but it cannot be, and we are trying to rectify that here tonight. It is an absolute shame.
There are enough Deputies here to continue the debate, as we have already noted. I call Deputy Martin Kenny.
There are many amendments to this legislation. It is quite unusual to see them running into the hundreds, and many of them are sensible and are trying to improve the Bill.
The forestry appeals committee does not just deal with clear felling and it also deals with the issues of plantation of timber. Many of the objections come from people in my community who have a problem with so much land being planted that they cannot get that land to farm it, and there are issues in that regard. However, we are dealing with the legislation that is before us. There is a crisis. There is a huge backlog and what we could almost call a blockade has been established.
I have heard an awful lot of talk about blackguards putting in objections and so on. Everyone who puts in an objection is not a blackguard. Many of them do that for very good reason. They are entitled to do so and that entitlement has to be upheld as well, and I hope that will be done in this legislation. They have an absolute right to be able to say their community has a right to survive and prosper.
There are also, of course, issues where people work in the forestry industry. I have many in my area who go out and draw timber, and the hauliers who bring timber to the sawmills, and they also want to make a living and want to get something out of this. There are many sides to this debate.
Deputy Boyd Barrett was correct in one thing, that is, a large part of the reason we have this problem is that the objections that have come in during the last six months to a year are focused on a part of the legislation which was not focused on as intensely in the past. They are forcing the Department through the wringer when it comes to looking at these appeals. This is why this needs to be broken up so the appeals can be looked at faster, and I understand that. More resources need to be put into the Department to ensure that. Some of the amendments are to make sure that the correct expertise is there to deal with this issue, and that experts are in place to look at biodiversity and all of those issues, in order to ensure we get the correct outcome for everyone concerned.
It is clear, given the nature of this debate, that we are not going to have a situation where we vote on the first set of amendments, then move to the second set and have a lengthy debate and then move to the third set and have a lengthy debate. It is very clear by the way we are moving along that there will be very little discussion on the other blocks of amendments.
The broad point is that the forestry industry creates a lot of jobs and does a lot of good, but it also has a lot of problems. Those problems need to be addressed but many are not addressed at all in this legislation. I certainly hope they will be addressed very soon because if they are not, we will have more communities around the country very disillusioned with this situation.
The point was made by many speakers that small farmers want a waiver in order to cut their few trees on a couple of acres of land that is in forestry so they can get an income. That is true and there are many like that. However, for every one like that, there are many more with probably ten times more trees standing in forests that belong to corporations and companies that bought land from under farmers’ noses that those farmers were not able to buy. That is a sore point and it is why forestry has got such a bad name in many parts of the country. Where I am from, and I have spoken to people in Sligo, Mayo and other places, we have seen a corporate takeover of what was farmland. We see whole parishes practically gone and taken over by big companies that now own the land and plant trees on it to get grants from the Government and get tax-free income on everything that comes from it - tax-free for the premiums, tax-free for the money they get for the forestry, tax-free all the way through. However, a farmer who has a few cattle and is trying to make a living by milking a cow pays full tax on any profit made. Farmers feel aggrieved at that.
There are huge imbalances in all of this. Part of what this Bill is trying to do is to get some of the balance right in regard to appeals and how that can work. However, the other imbalances, the big ones, are not dealt with in this Bill. Those imbalances need to be dealt with very soon or else we will have even more revolt in rural Ireland around this forestry issue.
The points made about the small farmer and the ordinary person out there trying to survive, and the timber industry trying to get timber, are all very valid and we need to see the timber industry prosper. However, unfortunately, the whole focus has been on that industry and not enough focus has been on the communities that have been displaced by it. That needs to be addressed. The Minister was with me on the agriculture committee in the past and we often discussed this issue. It is an issue that has been left behind, totally abandoned, and it needs to be addressed.
I know people who work in the timber industry. I spoke recently to a contractor who employs 12 or 14 people. He has trucks on the road, harvesters and forwarders, and he is trying to make a living, meet big repayments to banks, look after his family and look after the families of all the people who work for him. He is very annoyed that all of this situation with appeals is blocking that from happening. He also acknowledges much of what is going on in that other sector, where a lot of the land that has been planted is planted by people who have come from outside the area, and he understands why people feel aggrieved.
It was emphasised that this is all marginal and poor quality land. That marginal and poor quality land produced the finest of people in the past. The best of people came from those communities when they were communities, but they are no longer communities. That is a crying shame. We need to get a bit of perspective into this. I understand what the Ministers are trying to do and I understand what that is all about, but I also believe that many of the amendments are worthy of being accepted. I suggest to the Ministers that they look again at this, and work and co-operate with others in this House, from all parties and none, who have co-operated with them to bring it this far. They should look at the amendments and although some of them may not be acceptable, most are reasonable and they need to be looked at and brought to a conclusion.
At the end of all of this, I would absolutely say that unless we get a forestry policy that works for communities, then we are going to have more and more problems with this issue. It cannot be all about the timber industry. It has to be about the people who used to live and, hopefully, will continue to live in those areas.
If large areas of the country are to be planted, alternative employment must be ensured for the people who once lived there. I will certainly not stand over something that results in more and more people being driven out of rural Ireland, more schools closing and more football clubs having to amalgamate. There will be no more families living in these areas and nothing will be produced in them. Timber will be grown before being drawn 100 miles away to a sawmill somewhere. That does nothing for the rural communities that once lived in those places. We need to get back to that.
The reason this issue animates people is that sawmills have fallen silent. I got notice this evening that there are no more logs at the Murray Timber sawmill in Ballon, County Carlow. The staff of this sawmill are now without employment because there just are not any logs at that particular sawmill.
I have listened to the Ministers' contributions. They made the valid point that there is a backlog and that an opportunity to address that backlog is needed. I understand their argument that the introduction of a strict timeline would cause a problem but I have a solution to that problem. I tabled amendment No. 61, which is very simple. It allows 60 days for the processing of an appeal. I have listened to what the Ministers have said, however, and I suggest that they put a commencement order on the provision so that the time limit of 60 days might only come into force in, for argument's sake, 12 months' time, when the backlog will have been dealt with. This would address the concerns we all have as to appeals being dealt with expeditiously but it would also deal with the immediate problem in respect of the backlog.
Deputy Boyd Barrett is absolutely correct that there is an issue with regard to this committee being resourced by the Department. It has not been putting the necessary resources in. People have called this evening for the facts to be made available to them. The response to Parliamentary Question No. 925 of 30 July, tabled in my name, will give them the facts. All of the data are there for people to read. In 2017, two appeals a month were submitted to the appeals office. There were 12 appeals per month in 2018 and 25 appeals per month in 2019. In 2020, there were 43 appeals submitted per month. That does not take away from the point Deputy Boyd Barrett has made, as one appeal currently before the committee was lodged more than two a half years ago and a decision has still not been made on it. That comes down to a lack of resources being put in by the Department. That is why this legislation in itself will not address the problem. It will deal with the anomaly whereby one individual has to consider every single appeal made, which is unsustainable and which is why this legislation needs to be reformed and changed. These changes are in the interests of applicants for licences and, as I said earlier, in the interests of the homeowners, who will have had this cloud hanging over them for three, four or five years. They deserve a quick and definitive decision on appeals.
We also need to ensure that a definitive deadline for the processing of applications will be introduced once the backlog is dealt with. I ask the Minister of State to accept my amendment No. 61, and to put a commencement condition on the provision so that it will not come into force until the backlog is addressed.
I want to make two final points because, sadly, I do not think we will get to the other amendments. The first is that, as Deputy Boyd Barrett has correctly stated, there is a very significant backlog of licence applications to be processed. My amendment No. 28 would help deal with that. At the moment it can take as many as 900 days to get a decision on a licence application.
Deputy Martin Kenny is correct that we need to address the imbalances within the forestry sector, particularly with regard to communities across the country. I represent these communities, as does Deputy Martin Kenny. That is why I tabled some amendments to this Bill, which we will unfortunately not get the opportunity to debate, that would introduce balance and put power back into the hands of those communities. I ask the Ministers not to dismiss those amendments purely because they come from the Opposition. They would introduce some balance in this regard and would bring some needed fairness into the system. I ask the Ministers to consider some of those amendments and not to dismiss them out of hand.
I can see reason in this amendment but I cannot support it because, while we need certainty with regard to appeals, the amendment completely ignores the facts on the ground. I find it difficult to accept the Government's role in the narrative being portrayed here. I was under some pressure in respect of time earlier on and I would like to take a few minutes to go back on some of the points I was making.
I absolutely believe in having a thriving woodland industry, which we need. We need it for jobs, for sustainable life and development in our rural communities, and to deal with climate change. We have declared a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency. This should be a positive debate and, if the Government had led, it would have been. I understand some of the comments made by Deputies who describe themselves as "rural" Deputies although, as I have already said, I represent a substantial rural area.
The forestry programme comes to an end this year but there is no sign of a new one. There has been no discussion of the Mackinnon report. Perhaps the Ministers might tell us why that report was commissioned if the Government was going to ignore it. What did that cost? The two steps forward I mentioned earlier related to the Government. One of these asked the Government to publish its views on this report given the urgency of the situation. I acknowledge what Deputies here have said, which is that we do not realise there is an emergency and a crisis. I acknowledge there is a crisis. The Government needs to lead on that and we need to support it if it shows good leadership.
Mr. Mackinnon said, "There is a clear need to establish greater impetus and momentum on woodland creation." He used the term "woodland creation" deliberately. He continued, "The Department should, therefore, aim to publish its views on the Review and how it plans to take forward the findings within 6 weeks of the submission of this report." The Minister of State has not specified whether this was done. Mr. Mackinnon acknowledged that not all actions may be accepted but he wanted the Government to make clear what actions it proposed to take and gave some other target dates. He talked about, "Right Tree/Right Place/Right Management/Right Objectives."
I am really tired of divisive debate and the division between the rural community and city life. I am in the privileged position of representing both and I want to see the rural areas thrive. It is not good to develop our cities out of all proportion. The Ministers cannot, however, come here tonight and wash their hands of their role in this divisive debate. They cannot ignore Mr. Mackinnon's findings and the issues he has clearly set out. I will not use the word "blame" but my analysis of what he has said is that he identifies an absence of leadership by Government. He asks for a clear guideline from the Government.
I will read out some of Mr. Mackinnon's report but I will limit my comments as I am due back in the Chair. He said, "A consistent theme emerging during the Review was the lack of political commitment and priority from the Irish Government to woodland creation." He compared and contrasted it with the situation in Scotland and said, "The forestry sector in Ireland does not exude a similar confidence and optimism although there is clearly an ambition", although there is no backing of that ambition. He identifies, "a failure to tackle the problems with licensing", and also notes that the system is "overburdened with paper".
He went on to say, "The impression gained during the review is that State bodies are not as engaged in helping deliver the afforestation programme as they could and should be". He also stated, "The number of inspectors has remained constant" although he noted the complexity of their work has greatly increased, including the obligations under the habitats directive. He noted how a number of inspectors feel isolated and refers to 14 locations throughout the country where many feel isolated and not sufficiently supported. He further stated, "It was suggested that the inspectorate were too focused on individual site appraisal and had lost sight of the bigger picture in relation to forestry's role", which I understand perfectly, particularly in view of the pressure on them.
At total of 22 issues were raised and recommendations were made, but there has been no reference to them tonight. Instead, we have a divisive debate on people who would go to the trouble of putting in submissions - not objections. We are utterly reliant on them. We passed whistleblower legislation because of the value of the ordinary person in telling us what is wrong. The courts, which are not known for their radical nature, have told us of the vital role of the ordinary person in the planning process and in this process. Yet, tonight we are talking about a multiplicity of objections when there is absolutely no evidence of this. Like Deputy Boyd Barrett, I call on the Minister and the Minister of State to provide the evidence. I am a pragmatic, practical woman. I am willing to look at evidence and change my mind if that is necessary. However, the Minister and Minister of State have not done that. They have disingenuously allowed this type of debate to develop when really we should be having a positive debate on the wonderful asset that is our forestry. We should discuss the question of how, in 120 years, we have gone from 2% to 11%. That is a scandal, not to mention the under-resourcing of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Then, the Government brings in this legislation and we blame the people who have done their utmost to alert us to what is wrong.
I appeal to the Minister and the Minister of State to let sense prevail at some stage in the Dáil - the seat of democracy - in respect of this matter. All these amendments were tabled by us in goodwill. Neither the Minister nor the Minister of State has looked at one of them or taken one on board. One could leave here tonight despondent, except that is a luxury we cannot afford. Having declared an emergency on climate change and biodiversity and given the necessity of this industry to jobs in rural areas, I cannot go out of here despondent. I appeal to Deputies to unite instead of dividing and carry out an analysis of what is needed. In that context, I cannot support the specific amendment, although I fully understand from where the Deputy is coming.
On a point of order, do Deputies have to speak to the amendment?
We are dealing with amendments Nos. 1, 59 to 63, inclusive, 66 and 108.
I am aware of that, but we have been here for hours and we are still on the same amendment.
Many Deputies spent a great deal of time putting forward amendments and we have not got to them as a result of this. We did not go to that trouble to come here today and listen to the Healy-Rae Deputies having an argument with Deputy Boyd Barrett. I am wondering if we can move on.
The Deputy asked me a question. It is the luxury or suffering of it that Deputies on Committee Stage are entitled to go back and forth once there is no repetition.
Do they have to speak to the amendment, specifically? That is not happening. Can we move on to the next amendment, please?
They are to speak to the amendment and to the section. I am sorry I do not have that. One more speaker has indicated. Then it is up to the Minister and the Minister of State. I have the intention of putting the amendment if there are no other speakers. Everyone in the Chamber who has indicated has spoken. The final speaker who has indicated in this round is Deputy Michael Collins.
I will be speaking to the amendment once again. I will be pointing out to Deputies Boyd Barrett and Connolly that the whole point of the amendment tabled by Deputy Fitzmaurice is that we would speed up the appeals; it is not that we would not have appeals. Many appeals are quite questionable, but that is not what his amendment is for. It is clear what his amendment is for. It is to speed up the process.
People can read all the percentages in the wide earthly world about how many appeals are being made or how many are not. We can argue here until the cows come home, as we used to say long ago, about how many appeals are being made, but the fact is that Deputy Fitzmaurice was clear in his amendment. It states that we should speed up any appeals that are being made.
The Minister stated that it will now be the Minister of the day's decision. There was an old saying when I was growing up that doctors differ and patients die. The current Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine can agree with this fact: there have been four agriculture Ministers in this Government. This Government is new but there have been four agriculture Ministers. It may be the Minister of State today but it may not be her in several months' time. Who knows? Basically, every Minister who comes in makes a decision on the length of time that an appeal or a person held up waiting to have a forest felled or cleared will be allowed. It will be at the behest of the Minister of the day. If he or she has a different agenda to another Minister, it could be speeded up or delayed. That is a crazy situation. It should not be the case. The amount of time that an appeal will be allowed and the timing of it should be clear, in black and white.
I made a submission when this was put before the people maybe one month or six weeks ago. I did not say that people did not have the right to appeal. I will not have it thrown at me down the road that people are not allowed to appeal. As I said, there are many suspicious appeals but I put forward a strong submission that would weed out many fake appeals.
My concern is for anyone who is going to plant forestry. As we can see, the Government will not meet its targets this year. The Government will be far short of the targets this year, as I said earlier. We are trying to appeal to farmers to look at different ways of farming. In my constituency of Cork South-West, it is becoming more and more difficult to carry out types of beef farming and many farmers are looking at forestry. I do not believe it is an attractive option at the moment given the way this is being handled and the way things are going on. There is talk of a REPS coming along under the new CAP. Certainly, better funding for the planting of trees has to be considered, but will it be an option? The first question to be raised will be what if farmers can plant but cannot fell afterwards. It will be up to the Minister of the day. If one Minister is more extreme than the next, it may slow up the entire process and make it worse.
There are 22 pages of amendments. It looks like we can discuss them all right, but we are all wasting our time because the Minister and the Minister of State have their minds made up. I think all 22 pages will be thrown in the bin. Maybe they will correct me if I am wrong but it certainly looks like that.
I want to go back to the main point. Deputy Fitzmaurice's amendment is clear. I am surprised that the Minister and the Minister of State will not take it on board. They have their minds set that it is their show or no show. I do not think that is the right way to do it. They were looking for the goodwill of the Dáil but they have really turned it against themselves. I will certainly still be supporting the amendment. I plead with the Minister and Minister of State to reconsider. Deputy Denis Naughten gave them an option some time ago. They might consider that option.
I want to speak in support of the point Deputy Cairns made. I find it bizarre and incredibly frustrating - I imagine the same goes for people watching - that the Opposition has essentially let the Government off the hook. We will not hear how the Government will respond to the vast majority of amendments. These are important amendments that have been put in following consultation with communities and the sector in respect of: the membership of the forestry appeals committee, the period that individuals, organisations and community groups have to appeal and deficiencies that have been pointed out to us in the Bill.
We have spent more than three hours on amendment No. 1. If that amendment is put to a vote, it is very likely we will not reach even amendment No. 2 and certainly not the third group of amendments. I want to record my frustration and the disappointment that many people will have because we have effectively filibustered ourselves out of the opportunity to make our points to the Government on these important matters.
To clarify, 1 million tonnes of timber are stuck in the appeals process at the moment, which is 25% of the independent requirement. Another 1 million tonnes are stuck at the application stage. Deputies, including the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, asked about statistics, so I will outline a couple. In the past four years, the FAC has heard only 33% of the appeals that have been put forward. In the middle of the greatest crisis the industry has ever seen, the committee has held no hearing since 31 July. What message does that send to the industry? The total number of appeals is 739 and the total number heard is 239, leaving 500 outstanding.
I will not name anybody, but is it not extraordinary that 80% of those appeals were made by two individuals? That is not right or normal. It is similar to what happens in a local authority. Deputies spoke about people's right to make objections and I could not agree more. People have the right to make genuine objections. If a person is affected detrimentally, whether because a house or a forest is being built, and if it will impact on the person or his or her family or community in some way, he or she should absolutely be entitled to make an objection or appeal. How could it be normal, however, for two people to have made 80% of the appeals clogging up the process? How could that be right or acceptable? We have to legislate against such behaviour, in the exact same way that a local authority deals with objections to planning applications. Is it not the same thing?
The majority of normal people go through their lives without ever having to object to someone else's planning application, yet there are serial objectors who continually hound their friends - if they have friends - their neighbours and the people in their communities by lodging objections to planning applications. That is not normal behaviour. I know of individuals who at this minute have five, ten or 20 objections pending on people's planning files. Nobody will ever convince me that is normal or acceptable behaviour. I agreed with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle earlier when she stated people have to have the right to appeal and object. She is 100% correct, but it is 100% wrong that there are serial objectors. That is not normal behaviour. It is not right and it does not make common sense for any one person or two persons to choke up a whole industry and hold it to ransom. That is not right. It does not make sense.
I hope the Deputies who gave false information during the debate, because of some stupid tweet they read on their computers, will listen to the facts I outlined a moment ago about the millions of tonnes of timber that are standing in forests and that should be processed. The forests have gone beyond the time in which they should have been harvested, and damage is being done to them because they are not being thinned or clear-felled in a timely fashion.
For the information of Deputy Boyd Barrett, 203 appeals were submitted in 2019, whereas 303 have been submitted in 2020 to date. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae hit the nail on the head. We have no problem with appeals. We understand the planning process, as was noted earlier. There has to be a right for people to protect their property, families and communities, but 80-plus appeals should not be lodged by one person. Surely these people are educated and smart; we will not take that from them. They have found a major deficiency in the legislation. We tried to amend it by providing for penalties but we have not even got to discuss that.
To pick up on the points made by Deputies Carthy and Cairns, I will not take lectures from either of them. We saw, during the debate on the first amendment, that the Government was dead set against any amendments being accepted. That is why we are stuck on this. It is not a filibuster; we are so horrified. Deputy Carthy made the excuse that he had not been in the House for the past day or two. In the Seanad again last week, the Minister of State said two amendments of 103 would be accepted. We knew, therefore, that we would be wasting our time here, so we might as well dig in our heels here and do what we have done. It is shocking. We represent people too. Sinn Féin is not the only Opposition party. In fact, I wonder whether it is part of the Government at the moment. I am putting that point to Deputy Carthy.
I understand Deputy Cairns's frustration, but these circumstances were set up the moment the Government tried to ram the Bill through. It was always going to happen that we would be in this situation, which is why I kicked up about it on the Order of Business yesterday. The normal process of pre-legislative scrutiny would have meant we would have dealt with much of this earlier. We would have dug into the detail earlier, as well as the debates and the proper consultation that should have happened, and it would have been sequenced. There would have been time between each Stage. That is what is needed for proper legislation. The Government, however, wanted to ram this through and it was always going to be a mess.
Our group has tabled more amendments than anybody, so I am just as frustrated as Deputy Cairns. We are dealing with a group of amendments, and if I were her-----
Will the Deputy come back to the amendment?
I will. I am dealing with the amendments.
We are on amendment No. 1.
It is a group of amendments.
That is okay. I do not mean to interrupt the Deputy but he should speak to the amendment before us.
It is a group of amendments.
All the amendments in the group centre on the same subject.
Every amendment in the group centres on the same question, namely, whether we should rush things through and short-circuit the process or instead protect the process by which citizens can appeal. That is what the debate is about and it is what all the amendments in the group are about. Our amendment in the group is amendment No. 59, so that is what I am speaking to, but I am also speaking against the idea that solving the problems that have been highlighted will be done by introducing an arbitrary timeline of eight weeks. That will not solve them.
To respond to Deputy Mattie McGrath, the figure he mentioned is a reasonably significant number of appeals, and if somebody is lodging all of them, that is a bit much. I do not know who the person is. It is interesting, however, that 61% of those appeals were accepted, so there is a problem. I reiterate that rather than us tearing out one another's eyes over this legislation, which is a set-up, we should look over at the Government. I disagree with Deputy Carthy, who blamed us for this. That is wrong and he is wrong to back the Government on this. The legislation will not solve the problem and it will not address-----
I am not backing the Government.
That is the Deputy's opinion and I disagree.
The Deputy is spinning it.
No, the Deputy is trying to spin it.
He was having a pop. That is what he was doing.
For the information of Deputy Mattie McGrath, the decline in output in the processing of applications by the Government dwarfs the figure he mentioned. It is a decrease of 2,000.
I know that.
The Deputy wants to know why there is currently a backlog in the industry. It is not the few hundred appeals he referred to, although I do not deny that is an issue; it is the decrease of 2,000 in the processing of applications, most of which would not have been appealed. They would have gone through but they are not being processed, and that is the problem.
Will the Minister of State and the Minister consider any of the amendments or are we wasting our time?
Senator Pippa Hackett
As I mentioned earlier, many of these amendments are duplicates of those that were tabled in the Seanad last week. I am disappointed we are not getting an opportunity to debate them fully and in time. If Deputy Cairns is concerned about one particular amendment she tabled that is essentially the same as an amendment in the Seanad last week, then the debate is there and my views and those of the Government still stand. We will not have changed our views on those duplicate amendments from last week to this week.
I will go back to the points on the timing. Even if there was a fixed time in the Bill and even if an appeal had not been heard, it would not fall and it would still exist. All we would do is put pressure on that FAC and open it up to scrutiny that it would not be able to cope with at this stage. Deputy Pringle asked where the provision was in the legislation. Section 14E(1)(f) provides for a statutory instrument to be written to insert a time limit if we deem it necessary. That would not be for one particular appeal or another. It would be across the board.
To go back to Deputy Boyd Barrett's comments about appeals, all forestry licences can be appealed. It is not only for afforestation, felling or roads. If they are appealed, they all go through the same committee and the committee does not determine which appeals it will look at. The same FAC will hear all of those appeals. If it is of any use, we are willing to offer that once the Bill is hopefully enacted, after six months we could submit a report to the Oireachtas based on how the six months of the subdivisions of the appeals committee has functioned, perhaps in advance of any statutory instrument on applying a time limit for how quickly the appeals would be made and conducted.
The purpose of this Bill is to make the forestry appeals committee more efficient and effective and the main provision for that is to subdivide it. We currently have one committee examining all appeals. If more than 400 appeals are sitting in the FAC and waiting to be heard, the current legislation only provides for one appeal to be looked at. The most significant aspect of the legislation is to allow that to subdivide. If we can populate the FAC and subdivide it into groups of two for each committee, we could have three or four committees. That would be a fourfold increase in the number of appeals being heard. Hopefully, the FAC will hear multiple appeals within a week.
We can discuss the timeline being three months or six months but we should give the process a chance. If it is not working, we will have to review it, and I do not want it to get to a stage where jobs are lost in the forestry sector. This is ultimately why we are up against it in terms of time and why we do not have the time to discuss the Bill properly. It is a crisis and it is emergency legislation.
Seven Deputies are indicating at this point and I am afraid we will not reach them all, though I will do my best. I will go to Deputies Cairns and Carthy. I want to let them know I will interrupt them mid-sentence because we will run out of time.
I did not make my question clear enough. My question was not about whether the Government would take amendments from the Seanad. I know that has happened. Will the Minister or the Minister of State consider any amendments that Deputies have put forward this evening or are we wasting our time?
I regret that the Minister of State's response clearly implies that out of the 111 amendments that were put before her by this House in respect of this Bill, not a single one will be accepted by the Government because the Minister and the Minister of State have been asked on a number of occasions to clarify whether there are any amendments they are willing to accept. I reiterate my assertion that this is incredibly disappointing. It shows a bad faith approach, not by the Minister of State because I accept that she is new to this and she wants to get this legislation over the line, but the Department has failed in forestry.
The reason this legislation has been brought forward at the eleventh hour is the Department has been incompetent when it comes to dealing with this issue. Did the officials in the Department not know a year ago what everybody else knew? Is there not somebody in the Department who reads the Irish Farmers' Journal, if for nothing else than to see whether there is an issue coming down the line? I sometimes wonder about that because when we table parliamentary questions in respect of issues that are being raised by farmers, the first instinct of the Department is to deny there is any issue at all. The Department always waits until we have no fodder, prices have hit the floor, farmers are outside factory gates or some other issue such as 40 outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat factories before it will accept there is an issue at all. There is a sense of infallibility that runs through everything the Department does that needs to change. Departmental officials need the Minister of State and the Minister to tell them that there needs to be a change of attitude, and not only in how they deal with Opposition parties because we are just politicians at the end of the day. Crucially, there needs to be a change in how they deal with people at the coalface of our rural heartlands, whether that be farmers, those involved in the forestry sector or those communities.
I entirely accept the right of people to raise objections. In fact, seeing some of the forests and the disasters that have been foisted on communities in places such as Leitrim, I respect and admire those who stand up to some of the bad decisions that have been made and who see it as their job of work to frustrate. However, I also take on board the criticisms and anger Members have over a small number of serial objectors who are simply playing games. My previous commentary was not to have a dig or to try to deflect attention from the Government. We would have been better served collectively if we forced the Government to outline its position on a number of amendments because some good amendments have been tabled, not just by Sinn Féin but by every Opposition group. It is shameful that the Government has not, and will not, consider a single one of those.
The Minister of State has implied on a number of occasions that the amendments were copies from the Seanad. I refute that on behalf of the Rural Independent Group. We did not even look at the Seanad amendments because our amendments had to be submitted by 10 a.m. last Friday and the Seanad debated its amendments on Friday. We have enough intelligence to put forward our own amendments.
Deputy Michael Collins mentioned that many people, including farmers, sawmill workers, haulage contractors, timber contractors and builders have told us what the problem is. It is as plain as the noses on our faces. It is the inept Department and the management who are still in charge. If that was not bad enough, when we had the situation at the gates of the factories last year, who did the former Minister, Deputy Creed put in charge? He appointed a retired Secretary General of the Department to be an independent arbiter. Who is codding who here?
The Government cannot see the wood from the trees here, if Members will pardon the pun. The Government is going nowhere. Tosach maith leath na hoibre ach droch-thosach ar fad atá anseo. It is a disaster for the Government. Deputy Fitzmaurice made reference earlier to the pride of being elected representatives and the privilege of being in government. The Minister and the Minister of State should have the self-respect to tell these managers to get back in their boxes, deal with the work they should be doing and not persecute farmers.
There are deadlines for everything farmers want to do. There are slurry deadlines, which are ridiculous, yet we cannot have a deadline for decisions on applications to cut trees. The Government is codding nobody. There are deadlines for everything, including slurry spreading, lime spreading and ploughing. There are regulations on whether one can plough up a hill or down a hill. It is farcical how many deadlines there are and the Government is paying fines to its friends in Europe as well but we cannot have a deadline here. I do not buy that at all. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to clarify those points.
What will the Government do about the two people who are making 80% of these objections? What will it put in legislation to deal with serial objectors? What will be put in place?
Have they an ulterior motive? If they do, what will be done about it? There are two people holding this industry to ransom and they are being accommodated by the Government.
A number of speakers are still indicating, including the Minister of State and Deputy Pringle. It is now 9.30 p.m. and I must bring the debate to a close. I apologise but I must do it. The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 29 September: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in committee; the Title is hereby agreed to in committee; the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment; Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."
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- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Quinlivan, Maurice.
- Rabbitte, Anne.
- Richmond, Neale.
- Ring, Michael.
- Ryan, Eamon.
- Ryan, Patricia.
- Shanahan, Matt.
- Sherlock, Sean.
- Shortall, Róisín.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Smith, Duncan.
- Smyth, Niamh.
- Smyth, Ossian.
- Stanley, Brian.
- Stanton, David.
- Troy, Robert.
- Tully, Pauline.
- Ward, Mark.
- Whitmore, Jennifer.
- Wynne, Violet-Anne.
- Barry, Mick.
- Boyd Barrett, Richard.
- Collins, Joan.
- Kenny, Gino.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- Murphy, Paul.
- Pringle, Thomas.
- Smith, Bríd.
A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.