Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2

Amendment No. 1 in the names of Senators Norris and Craughwell and amendment No. 2 in the names of Senators Higgins and Boyhan are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 26, after “Oireachtas.” to insert the following:

“A copy of the report will at the same time be made available to the public on the Government of Ireland website and the Government Publications Office.”.

I am concerned that we have not received a list of the groupings of amendments and it would be helpful to have one. I certainly did not get one. Some Members did and others did not. I have not got one yet.

We have in the past few minutes got a list of the amendments that have been ruled out of order. The list was incomplete and only the Senators who sent in the amendments were told their amendments were out of order. We do not have a comprehensive list.

Amendment No. 75 is in my name. It has been ruled out of order under Standing Order 41 of the House because it created a charge on the Exchequer. I have been contacting the responsible groups to complain about this for the past number of years. There is a feeling around the House that this Standing Order should be got rid of. I would like to ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to ensure that this matter is taken up speedily and resolved.

I will absolutely bear the Senator's comments in mind. The Senator is aware that, normally, only the movers of an amendment are informed if their amendment is ruled out of order. That is normal practice. I have heard the comments that the Senator has made.

It would have been helpful and I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

My amendment proposes that "a copy of the report will at the same time be made available to the public on the Government of Ireland website and the Government Publications Office.". This is a fairly straightforward amendment and I do hope very much that the Government will be able to accede to it. This is all in the light of fostering public debate and public inquiries into the question of appeals.

I would like to reiterate what I said the other day because this is very much in line with the United Nations Forest Principles, Article 2(c) of which state, "The provision of timely, reliable and accurate information on forests and forest ecosystems is essential for public understanding and informed decision-making and should be ensured", which is fairly strong. The principles recommend in Article 2(d) that "Governments should promote and provide opportunities for the participation of interested parties ... in the development, implementation and planning of national forest policies.". I cannot think of a greater inducement to public debate than to publish the information so that the public can have access.

Public participation increases public awareness of forests and forestry, enhances social acceptance of sustainable forest management and shares costs and benefits in a fair and equitable way. It can contribute to the reduction of forest conflicts and nurture a positive relationship. Participatory forest management has become a widely accepted solution to forestry problems.

The amendment is positive. I cannot see arguments against it and I hope that the Government will be able to accept the amendment.

It is regrettable that again we find ourselves running through several stages of a Bill. I understand that a large number of people in the forestry industry depend on the legislation getting through. I understand urgencies of all sorts but running through Committee, Report and Final Stages of a Bill does not do the public any service whatsoever.

In terms of the amendment, as my colleague, Senator Norris, has said, information is power and the public have a right to know the decisions that are made. Our amendment is quite simple and should not cause the Government any great problem. It is only right and proper that citizens of the State are aware of everything. The best place, to which people are being pointed day after day, is the Government's website where one will find everything one needs to know about Covid-19 and anything else. Let us just put this little amendment into the Bill; I think the Minister of State is favourably disposed to doing so. I ask that in future she does not let people bamboozle her into a situation where she is running all Stages of a Bill through this House or any House because we need time to scrutinise legislation and the public have a right to have that done.

I will take the movers of amendment No. 2 first and then Senator McDowell.

I am happy to withdraw amendment No. 2 in favour of amendment No. 1 tabled by Senators Norris and Craughwell because it more clearly achieves the same goal, which is ensuring that the information given to the Minister is made available to the public.

It might be useful that when the Minister of State indicates her position on amendment No. 1 she also indicates what the mechanisms of response will be to the report. For example, what will happen if we find that a very large or anomalous number of licences are issued within a short period or, indeed, appeals processed?

Interestingly, there is talk that there will be a report on the activities every six months but we should bear in mind that the political climate will be very different in six months time due to Brexit. My amendments regarding the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill are in respect of Brexit. They have been ruled out of order and I believe that decision is incorrect. We are looking at a situation where 80% of the current market for forestry goods and wood will be gone. There has also been a lot of talk about jobs. I tabled the amendment because next January to March we will again face crises in respect of jobs and all of those parts of the forestry industry, which will not have been solved by this Bill. This Bill will allow a very large amount of licences to proceed thus resulting in the felling of a large amount of trees; afford investors an opportunity to cash out of the industry; allow replanting where required; and, as planting licences will move speedily through the new process a lot of planting will take place under the previous regime.

What happens in the next six months may shape the reality of hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest and forest ground in Ireland for the next ten years because the decisions will stand for up to ten years. That being the case, amendment No. 1, which asks that within six months a report be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, published online and made clear for all of us to discuss, is very reasonable. I look forward to the debate in six months, by which time I think a lot of very interesting facts and indeed anomalies will have come to light.

I support the amendment and wish to make a few general points. I support what has been said about the pace with which the Bill has been brought through. The problems, the arrears and the backlog must have been developing for far longer than the past few months, and it is an awful pity that this problem was not addressed earlier. I am also conscious of the fact that the crisis that has taken place in the forestry business and forestry sector, with the destruction of saplings and so on, is a sign of weak administration, unfortunately.

I support the principle of the Minister's Bill. We have to balance the rights of the Irish community as a whole to pursue its afforestation targets with the rights of some people who assert the right to object to or to obstruct the implementation of this. In November last year a much-missed former Member of this House, Marie-Louise O'Donnell, queried what the then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, was fixing as afforestation targets. He said 250 million trees would be planted in Ireland by 2030. He made this commitment in 2018. Now we are amending that slightly. We have pushed the goalposts out to 400 million trees by 2040.

They will be busy in the forests.

It should be remembered that the target of the then Minister involved the planting of 69,000 trees every day.

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise.

If weekends are taken out of that, it is 90,000 trees per day, every day. The present programme for Government has set not quite as ambitious a target: the trees can be planted over 20 years rather than ten years, and the metrics are slightly more relaxed. However, and this is the fundamental point and the reason I support the Bill, this country, if it is to engage in major afforestation, needs to get serious about it. We need to make it possible to comply with the targets we are setting. There is no point in wandering off to Paris conferences or UN conferences saying we have a plan and then saying, "Hold on a second, though. There are four objectors here and five objectors there." Then the plan just collapses for want of implementation.

It is not just a dog's dinner but a teddy bears' picnic too.

The reason I support this amendment is that I believe the public has to understand the target and the process, and understand that not everybody can live surrounded by a bare landscape if we are to plant 400 million trees over the next 20 years. The Wicklow Mountains will change. The land in Roscommon and Leitrim will change.

Views we used to have will no longer be there. We must get serious if we are going afforest this country. Senator Boyhan gave me a book about the history of afforestation policy in Ireland, going back to Count Plunkett, Sean MacBride and several others who were determined to transform this country with serious afforestation. It creates jobs. We live in a world where the consumption of meat from sheep and cattle is in decline and there are constraints on that form of agriculture. Afforestation is hugely important, and in supporting this amendment, I ask that we remember full transparency regarding the reports being received is a good idea to bring the people with us in this process.

I want to be clear that is not to assist those minorities who want to hold up the process of afforestation. I believe in afforestation, and if we are telling people the truth about the 400 million trees over 20 years or 250 million trees over ten years, we must get serious about this and stop the codology and stop the capacity of people, including people who do not even have to pay a fee, to get involved in afforestation plans and proposals which have very little to do with them. I am supporting the amendment, but I am much more supportive of the Bill.

I wish to clarify that I am speaking on amendment No. 2, which is grouped with this amendment. I also seconded this amendment, just to remind the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It would be good to get this process and the speaking order right from the beginning. Senators who propose and second amendments are supposed to speak first and second. I remind the Chair that he had indicated that-----

With respect to Senator Boyhan, there is no attempt to prevent him speaking.

No, I know that.

The procedure when amendments are grouped is that the Senator who proposed the amendment speaks and then the floor is open to the whole House.

That is fine. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for providing that clarity.

There is certainly no intention of reducing Senator Boyhan's speaking time.

No, I would not suggest that at all of the Leas-Chathaoirleach. One of the reasons I voted for him is that I have much confidence in him.

(Interruptions).

I welcome the Minister of State and I acknowledge that it is not an easy time to be in that role. It is certainly not an easy time to be a Minister of State from the Green Party in this portfolio and I acknowledge that as well. I know the difficulties and also something of the tensions involving environmentalists and environmental activism. Many of such activists joined the Green Party and remain happy there, but there are always going to be challenges.

I am conscious of that and I want to keep this argument to the issue. I want to also put on record that the Minister of State acquitted herself exceptionally well in the Seanad last week with her responses. It is worth saying that, because I mentioned it to other people, I believe it and I am saying it to the Minister of State directly now. Let us just stick to the core issues.

I support forestry and I have said that before. I do not give blanket support to the Bill, however, as that is not my style. I support much of what is in this Bill. I support a vibrant forestry industry, and all the associated businesses that go with vibrant silvicultural, horticultural and arboricultural sectors. I know the perils and difficulties associated with the importation of wood and what effects that could potentially have on our forestry due to various beetle infestations, infections and diseases. There are challenges and issues in that area. I know the qualities of wood required for the manufacture of chipboard, microboard and inferior pallets. They are all important, and I support a pallet industry. I support jobs, rural Ireland and the vibrance of rural communities. Everyone here does and it is important to state that.

I came in to hear what the Minister of State has to say. This is her opportunity to put on the record her rationale for her response to each of these amendments. That is how I intend to do my business today. I am in favour of the withdrawal of amendment No. 2, as is the proposer, Senator Higgins, with the consent of the House, in favour of amendment No. 1, which was drawn up by my Independent friends and colleagues, Senators Norris and Craughwell.

That makes common sense. I have yet to hear whether the Minister of State thinks that is good or if she is happy with it. I look forward to hearing her response.

I commend Senator Boyhan on his contribution. We should accept his bona fides and those of Senator McDowell. In the time I have got to know her, I have found the Minister of State to be one of the most honourable people in politics. The backdrop to this Bill relates to what she said about having the right tree in the right place. If we are serious about afforestation, let us listen to what the different groups and sectors are saying. Let us listen to what Fórsa said about representing the workers in the forestry sector. Some 12,000 jobs will be affected. The sector contributes €2.3 billion to our economy. Senator McDowell was right about former Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's contributions in the previous Seanad. During my time as Leader, I was the victim of those contributions on the Order of Business on a number of occasions, and there was confusion over the number of trees and the programme. The Minister of State has, to paraphrase herself, inherited this Bill and been handed it.

I was struck by the contributions of IBEC - although I would not necessarily follow everything it says - and Imelda Hurley, who spoke about the need for a properly resourced forestry appeals committee. If we are to meet our obligations under European directives and acknowledge where we are meant to be, this Bill needs to be progressed, notwithstanding the genuineness of the contributions and the amendments. Some of the Members shedding crocodile tears about taking all Stages of the Bill will come in here on their own Private Members' time and demand that all Stages of their legislation be taken or they will write to all Senators and state that theirs is the only way. One would swear that some of them are on the Via Dolorosa from the way they behave, but we will come back to that. I understand the sincerity of Members in this regard.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach will remember a previous Government - I am not sure whether Senator McDowell was part of it but I do not think he was - which gave money to farmers to plant trees on their farmland. The Minister of State's comment is pertinent because this is about planting the right tree in the right place. Senator Boyhan is also right about balancing these measures with the Greens and environmentalists. We must get that right. This is good legislation.

Before I call the next speaker, I note that we allowed some initial latitude as propositions were made and so on. I ask Senators to now speak specifically to the amendment, which proposes that an annual report be issued. We will also speak specifically to the subsequent amendments and in that way we will have an efficient debate. I call Senator Mullen.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. This is my first opportunity to congratulate him on his appointment. I wish him the very best.

Like Senator McDowell and others, I am supportive of the amendment and I am also supportive of this Bill. The need for an annual report speaks to the lack of transparency in terms of what has gone on. Many people have experienced considerable frustration, including: those who have invested money in forestry and made investments over a period of years who then find they are unable to get a return on their investment; people working in forestry who are now going on three-day weeks; and people in construction who cannot access six-by-three pieces of timber, to which Senator Lombard referred on Second Stage. It is very important, in the context of this Bill, that the Minister of State takes the opportunity to give people a precise idea of how long it will take for normal service to resume.

The Minister of State spoke eloquently on Second Stage about the new arrangements for the hearing of appeals, the subdivision of the commissions and the addition of new forestry staff at the Department, including ecologists, administrators and so on. That is very good, but we need to know how long it will take for normality to return. In recent days I spoke to somebody who had committed a very small holding of perhaps 10 ha to forestry some decades ago. The application went to the Department in April 2019. This person had spoken to somebody who was to manage the felling process. Apart from a letter from the Department acknowledging the application for a felling licence and warning about all the things that were not allowed now it had been lodged, nothing has been heard since. The person concerned contacted me and I made some initial inquiries with people in the Department. I was basically told that nothing would happen quickly on this case because the Department would deal with the bigger players first. People deserve more reassurance than that about how long it will take for this problem to be solved. I realise that the massive number of outstanding appeals is impacting the system as a whole. The Minister of State has spoken about her hope that these appeals can be dealt with more expeditiously and in greater numbers, but we need targets. Just as Senator McDowell spoke earlier about targets for afforestation, we need a target for the time it will take to return to normal.

I mentioned Scotland on the last day. The Minister of State noted that Ireland is one of the few countries that allow appeals while Scotland does not. Senator Lombard noted that firms are importing wood from Scotland because native timber is not available. Scotland has multiples of the forested acreage Ireland has. We seem to be afforestation laggards, if I may use a term that might recommend itself to some in this House.

I ask the Senator to speak to the amendment.

In trying to please everybody we are in danger of doing our economy and our social fabric serious damage. This is not a crude debate between the economic needs of various sectors of society and environmental and social considerations. It is more involved than that. Foresters have spoken to me about needing to thin their forests but being unable to do so. This has an environmental impact. Biodiversity on the forest floor is impacted because there is less light. There is a greater risk of trees falling due to wind. It may seem laudable to lodge objections based on environmental concerns or the quality of people's social lives if trees are growing near them, but these issues have had unforeseen consequences. I will conclude by saying that I support the need for annual reports. That is part of the transparency which is necessary in this whole area. However, I hope that in the course of today's debate we will get reassurance about the time it will take for normal business to resume. Large and small players are being affected by the current situation.

I do not want to delay the House, but I must address the allegation of crying crocodile tears or wanting to prevent legislation from passing through all Stages in the House. I am shocked that the former Leader of this House, a stickler for procedure whom I have always admired as a parliamentarian, would refer to Senators' wish for legislation to go through all Stages in a proper and considered way as crocodile tears.

The Senator must speak to the amendment.

I support the Bill fully and, as the Minister of State can see, so do most of my group. There are no crocodile tears here. We just wish to do the public the service we are paid to do.

I thank Senators for their suggestions and comments. The fostering of public debate and transparent communication is very important. The forestry appeals committee currently publicises the results of appeals on its website shortly after a decision is made. That said, I think the suggestions and statements proposed in amendment No. 1 would add to the transparent communication which is vitally important, especially when it comes to environmental issues and people participating in that process, having all the information and understanding why and how decisions are made. With that in mind, I am happy to accept amendment No. 1.

I will briefly address some of the queries and comments that were made. I cannot give a precise timeline for how quick the licensing system will be, but I am hopeful that if the Bill is passed, it will bring about a significant improvement in the efficiency of appeals. Ultimately, the forestry appeals committee is there for appellants. It was put in place for people who were unhappy with decisions made. That is the purpose it serves. It is important to remember that it is there for people who wish to appeal. It has always been open to any person to appeal a decision and that will continue to be the case, which is important.

On the concern relating to Brexit, that is a matter that also was of concern to me, but the timber sector is one of the most protected industries in terms of Brexit because the tariff rate, particularly to the UK, is approximately 5%. I do not have the exact figure to hand but I know it is a low rate compared with the rate on beef, for example, which is far higher at approximately 70%. Timber will potentially be a strong sector if there is a bad Brexit. It is good to know that that sector, which secures many thousands of rural-based jobs might be quite secure in the case of a bad Brexit. That is an issue which Senator Higgins raised on Second Stage of the Bill and I checked it out in the meantime. I was pleased to find out that the timber sector is among the most protected industries.

I am happy to accept amendment No. 1.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly has indicated.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for allowing me to speak and I thank the Minister of State for returning to the Chamber. Some Senators have suggested she may be bamboozled. I think it may actually be the case that many of the Members are allowing themselves to be bamboozled. My experience of the Minister of State is that she is rarely bamboozled. We are losing sight of the fact that this is an extra level of appeal that does not exist in other jurisdictions. Some quite misleading comments made on Second Stage suggested that people would not be able to follow the normal appeals process through the courts. That is completely untrue. It is important to put that on the record in order to avoid that kind of scaremongering.

No Senator made such a comment in the House.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly should withdraw that remark.

(Interruptions).

On a point of order-----

Senators may raise a point of order if they so wish, but that is my understanding.

On the amendment, there is a case to say-----

On a point of order-----

-----I cannot sit here in the Parliament and hear a Senator suggest untruths. It is a very serious allegation to make.

It was not personal at all.

It was not directed at the Senator personally.

I am not stating that the allegation was aimed at any of my colleagues on any side of the House. I wish for it to be withdrawn.

Otherwise we will have to seek a remedy. We have the Official Report and the recordings. It does not sit well to suggest, and if the Senator is going to make an allegation, she should substantiate it. Otherwise, withdraw it.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly will have to withdraw the word "untrue".

Unless somebody would like to say that he or she made that statement, I do not have to hand all of the comments that were made. I will withdraw it. I will look again at the issue.

I thank Senator O'Reilly. It certainly was not directed at anybody.

It certainly was not at all directed at the Senator who has just spoken. However, we need clarity for the public. We need to make sure. This amendment will afford people the clarity around that appeals process.

My main point was to put on the record that there is no intention that I can see behind this Bill to stop people's appeals further beyond this. It is just an additional measure.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for accepting this amendment.

I was briefed on this extensively by a constituent, Ms Sabrina Joyce, who is a great grand-niece of the writer, James Joyce. She will be very glad to hear that this amendment was successful.

I appeal to the Leas-Chathaoirleach to revisit his judgment about amendments Nos. 101 and 102 in the name of Senator Higgins because the Title is the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. That takes in everything connected with forestry. There is no conflict. I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to look again at this because it is rather a pity.

It is a good day's work. It is great to start off and get amendment No. 1 through. It is another example of the Seanad working in a collaborative manner with the Government.

In light of the acceptance of amendment No. 1, I will withdraw amendment No. 2.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 3

Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 10, 95 and 97 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"(1C) The Minister, in making appointments to the Forestry Appeals Committee, shall consider the skills and experience necessary to undertake appeals of forestry licenses, and shall ensure it has members with experience and skills particularly in respect of biodiversity, water quality, climate change, and environmental legislation.",".

These amendments are in the name of myself and others.

This matter relates to inserting that the Minister, in making appointments to the forestry appeals committee, shall consider the skills and experience necessary to undertake appeals of forestry licenses, and shall ensure it has members with experience and skills particularly in respect of biodiversity, water quality, climate change and environmental legislation. This speaks for itself. I would be interested in hearing the Minister of State's response. It is my intention, if it is not acceptable to the Minister of State, to call a vote on it.

As I said, I do not want to elongate the debate. It is self-explanatory.

I support this amendment. It seems eminently sensible. What we need is expertise. One does not want people who know nothing about forestry on these committees. What is needed are people with skills and experience in the area of forestry; this and another amendment lists biodiversity, water quality, climate change and environmental legislation. This is eminently sensible. I cannot see any argument against including expertise.

These are the people we want, not simply passengers.

Before I speak on the amendments tabled in my name, I echo my colleagues on the rushing through of this legislation and the manner in which it has been conducted.

That is an order of the House made previous to the debate.

I will speak to the amendment in a moment but this is important. We are talking about forestry workers, no one wants to see them lose their jobs, and we want to see their conditions protected. We also need, however, to have the conditions of the people working in the Bills Office respected. They are not being respected in the manner in which this Bill is being pushed through.

That is a point well made and repeated.

They are under incredible pressure and working from home as well. On amendments Nos. 3, 5 and 10, we understand the necessity around subdividing the appeals committee to try to speed up the process rather than their having to meet together. Will the Minister of State explain her objections to our amendments which simply call on the Minister of State to ensure that when the appeals committee is subdivided, there will be expertise in each of those subdivisions? There will be two individuals proposed in each subdivision and it is critical that they have the background in the environmental and forestry legislation and are cognisant of the water framework directive and the implications for felling, particularly on water. Will she accept these amendments, and if not, will she explain why she feels she cannot?

We are repeatedly told that this is about alignment with the planning process. An Bord Pleanála has expert bodies that can make nominations to the expert panels. My amendment calls for the expert bodies and agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Heritage Council and An Taisce, to be able to nominate people to sit on those subdivisions as is the case with An Bord Pleanála.

The amendment provides the opportunity to speak on a couple of issues that will exercise the appeals committee. I have spoken to people on this. We accept that it is contentious and there were many submissions received by the Department on foot of the public consultation. Some of the more contentious issues have been resolved, but forestry is something that will dominate the discourse in many local communities for a time to come. Some of the reservations that local people might have that could be an issue for the appeals committee are ones that I dealt with when I served on a local authority. They include issues of access to and from an area where a forest is being harvested and the structure of roads. Local people feel very aggrieved when trucks and lorries use access points, do not make proper repairs and leave the place in a terrible state when they eventually leave. Locals are not informed when it will happen or for how long. It would be right and proper for local authorities to have a greater role in this, where companies should inform the local authority when they intend deforesting and harvesting, the roads they intend to use, and that they would be obliged to make proper provision to repair the inevitable damage afterwards.

People have noted to me that when people use land for forestry, it is difficult to revert its use to agricultural. That is a big commitment for a farmer and it is something that worries a lot of people and puts them off making such a commitment. There might not be as many appeals if issues around local roads and amenities and the impact on local communities were dealt with.

I am sorry I only dealt with amendment No. 3 when I should also have spoken on amendments Nos. 5, 10 and 95. Senator Boylan put her finger on the matter with a very good suggestion about a panel system.

This is about giving confidence to people and, in particular, the environmental pillars, which have been active. We saw the number of submissions that they sent as individuals and collective organisations to the Government's public consultation on the draft heads of the Bill.

Someone from An Bord Pleanála could be nominated. An Bord Pleanála is the national planning regulator, yet there is no mention of it in this legislation. It has a State remit. The national planning regulator is a very powerful office that gives guidance and regulation. That is important. What people do not want to see is a load of people from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine being given the jobs. We need people who are exceptionally qualified in ecology, forestry, biology and the diverse sciences involved. There should be representation from all communities. There is forestry up the road from where I live. It is a forestry partnership of South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councils. This is not a rural versus urban issue. We have wonderful forests ten minutes in the car from here. The Minister of State should invite people to submit nominations.

This must be an open and transparent appeals process. I have every confidence that she will support it as well as the idea that people should be qualified. No one can sit on the appeals board for more than two terms, which is standard corporate governance practice in most bodies.

We have discussed amendment No. 3, so I will now discuss amendment No. 5, which states,"The Minister shall establish panels of expert bodies to propose nominees for appointment as members of the Forestry Appeals Committee, similar to the panels used to appoint members of the Board of An Bord Pleanála". I do not have a difficulty with this, and neither should the Minister of State. According to the amendment, such panels would consider input from "the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, An Taisce: the National Trust for Ireland, the Environmental Pillar [the Minister of State's party is strongly aligned to it and has given it endless political support to date, which I hope continues] and the Heritage Council." Surely the Minister of State would support this amendment. I hope she does. I would not like to think that a Minister of State would oppose it in Seanad Éireann, given how much logic there is in it. Notwithstanding that, it is important that, as Senator Boylan stated, people with expertise in biodiversity, water quality, climate change and environmental sciences be involved.

I will leave it at that. I find it difficult to believe that the Minister of State would oppose these amendments, so I want to hear her rationale.

I am grateful that people have developed a great relevance to the amendments in their statements.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, which address a similar theme, have been ruled out of order, but much of what they sought is covered by amendments Nos. 3 and 5.

I am glad the Minister of State accepted amendment No. 1. I hope that, throughout the debate, she will be able to accept other amendments that progress the Bill. The amendments tabled on this section are such amendments. Members spoke about being serious about afforestation. It would be disingenuous to suggest that there are those of us who are in favour forestation and those who are not. Every Senator who is present, contributing to the debate and tabling amendments is serious about afforestation. Being serious about afforestation means treating it as a serious issue with serious nuances. For example, a figure of 440 million trees has been mentioned. I want to see 440 million trees, but it was acknowledged at the Joint Committee on Climate Action that, while a tree might be used for building, burning as fuel, sequestering carbon or serving a biodiversity process, the same tree is not going to do all of those things. This is about taking seriously the balance, the purposes involved and the question of how to ensure that our afforestation process and policy genuinely serve us.

As part of that, it is vital that ministerial appointments to the forestry appeals committee and, if amendments Nos. 95 and 97 are accepted, the future review of existing appointments to it should ensure that there are persons with the expertise to deal with the serious and complex issues of forestry.

For example, we should take account of the fact that we have a twin crisis in terms of climate change and biodiversity and that our strategies in respect of one should also address the other. We must consider our water quality directives and the issues around all of the birds and habitats directives. It is really important to set the record straight here, as was said by Senator Chambers earlier. It is to be hoped that if we get things right within the system, there will be fewer appeals. That is really important. I hope the Minister of State will apply the principles that are in these amendments not only to the forestry appeals committee but also to the licensing process. We should be really clear about why we are in this situation and why we are here today. The reason is that Ireland was not serious about its afforestation policy. The European Court of Justice, the High Court and others-----

That is not relevant in the context of these amendments.

It is extremely relevant. One of the expertises sought in this group of amendments is expertise in environmental legislation. Both European and national courts have found that Ireland was not compatible in its licensing processes. That was admitted in the Oireachtas by the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Calleary. He said that the EU had required Ireland to put new, appropriate assessment procedures in place for forestry licensing. In July this year the Minister said that Ireland had been told that it did not have proper processes in place in respect of appropriate assessments in forestry licensing. He said that in the Dáil. It is clear and it is on the record.

Last Tuesday the Minister of State told us that the crisis we have been hearing about was not so bad before July. Until July about 30% of applications were being appealed but that has now risen to 100%. I would respectfully suggest that we have seen a massive increase in appeals in the last couple of months because Ireland is acknowledged as not having a proper process in place. There are measures and amendments to be discussed later which might allow us to have a better process. Nobody is saying that we must stop forestry. What people are saying is that we must do it right. This amendment and the idea of having people with real expertise in environmental legislation and in biodiversity would move us forward substantially.

It should be noted there have been no amendments from this side of the House on subdivisions. Nobody has objected to the subdivisions or to fewer numbers being involved. There are no amendments in respect of the key efficiency measures proposed in the Bill which will speed up the process, including multiple hearings happening at the same time, deputy chairs and chairs both functioning, lower numbers and so on. The amendments that are being put forward are qualitative amendments around the quality of the process and I hope the Minister of State can accept them.

I thank the Senators for their contributions on these amendments. What is being suggested here is already in place in practice. The chair of the forestry appeals committee selects people with specific expertise on environmental law and appeals. The current chairperson has significant experience and competence in matters relating to planning appeals. Again, we must remember that this Bill is not about afforestation or licensing but about the appeals process. We must keep coming back to what this legislation is about.

All members of the forestry appeals committee are required to operate in an independent and impartial manner and agriculture appeals officers appointed to the committee are so bound by the Agriculture Appeals Act. Members chosen to sit on the committee will bring a range of skills - they currently do and future members will - and their competencies will be suited to the role. It is open to the committee to seek expert advice.

The committee can invite additional expertise to discuss particular appeals if it needs to, and that provision is already available to the committee. Many of the issues in these amendments are already the case with regard to the forestry appeals committee. With regard to An Taisce and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, they already input into the licensing stage, and that input is invaluable and it is good we have it.

To go back to forestry licensing decisions, they must take account of EU directives on the environment and they must be in full compliance with all appropriate assessments and EIA requirements. In making determinations on licences, the forestry appeals committee is determining that no errors were made in the issuing of the licence. That is its role. In circumstances where the forestry appeals committee decides to undertake a screening for, or conduct, an appropriate assessment or an EIA, it will need to have regard to the definitions of "screening for environmental impact assessment", "environmental impact assessment", "screening for appropriate assessment" and "appropriate assessment", which are provided for in section 14B(10)(b) to be inserted in the Act by section 4 of the Bill.

While I acknowledge and can understand the concerns of the Senators in regard to the independence of the forestry appeals committee and the people on that committee, I can assure them the forestry appeals committee operates independently of the Department and it has currently and will continue to have the required skillset to discharge its functions. With that in mind, I will not be accepting these amendments.

That is exceptionally disappointing. If the House agrees, we will have a vótáil because this is now critical to the issue of confidence and a belief in standing firm with the environmental pillars. Of course, regrettably, we are still awaiting a response from the Minister of State's Department to an email in regard to the index of the submissions. I apologise to the thousands of people who will be listening to this, because I know many are tuned in to these proceedings, including many of the Minister of State's party colleagues and councillors. We are not in that position - unfortunately, I would say to the people outside this Chamber - because we have been denied a copy of each of the public consultation submissions by the Department. The Minister of State has not been forthcoming in providing them to me, having had requests yesterday and today, and since last Thursday on behalf of the House, given I asked the Leader last Thursday to secure them.

That has nothing to do with the amendments.

It is critically important to this. It relates to amendments Nos. 3, 5, 10, 95 and 97.

On a point of order, the Senator is referring back to the issue of not getting sight of submissions. That has nothing to do with the proposal before the House. I ask that the House deal with the proposal before it, rather than Senator Boyhan going back and digging up stuff that has nothing to do with the amendments. I am sure he will find adequate time in the next three, four or five hours to deal with that issue.

I call Senator Boyhan strictly on the amendment.

I will refer to the just transition submission that we did not get, but which relates absolutely to this matter and has been signed off by members of the Minister of State's party. It relates to amendments Nos. 3, 5, 10, 95 and 97, for the purposes of keeping everyone on focus. The members of the environmental pillars have asked us to pursue this matter. The Minister of State tells me nothing has changed and she tries to reassure us that this is all covered in the Bill. If it is all covered in the Bill, better to have double indemnity. If that is the case, why is she opposing it? My case rests. This is what people who are members of the Minister of State's party and members of the environmental pillars want. I want to pursue it on their behalf and I want it on the record if the Minister of State is going to oppose it.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 26.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Wall, Mark.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Norris and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 4 has been ruled out of order as there is a potential charge on the Exchequer. Will the Members who are leaving the Chamber do so quietly?

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"(1C) (a) The Minister shall establish panels of expert bodies to propose nominees for appointment as members of the Forestry Appeals Committee, similar to the panels used to appoint members of the Board of An Bord Pleanála who determine appeals in planning matters.

(b) Such panels should comprise input from expert bodies and agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, An Taisce: the National Trust for Ireland, the Environmental Pillar and the Heritage Council.

(c) The Minister shall consider the nominees proposed in making appointments to the Forestry Appeals Committee.",".

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 26.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Boylan and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 have been ruled out of order as they form a potential charge on the State.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.

Amendment No. 8 is also ruled out of order as it is in conflict with the principles of the Bill. Amendment No. 9-----

I accept the ruling on amendments Nos. 6 and 7. I am curious about amendment No. 8. Why is this amendment in conflict with the principles of the Bill? This amendment states that this Bill would be in force for 12 months. We have heard that this Bill has been introduced in the context of there being an emergency that needs to be addressed. My amendment would simply put a sunset clause on the provisions. I would think that this amendment is very much in line with the Bill, the subject of which is the operation of the forestry appeals committee.

The reason for that decision is that the purpose of the Bill is to address the severe backlog where there is currently a two-year delay, and if the committee is only set for 12 months, it may not actually clear the backlog for which the core principle of the Bill is-----

Excuse me, but the principle of the Bill is the issue as just described by An Cathaoirleach, which is one of timing and of a current backlog.

My amendment refers to a period of 12 months. It sets out, as my opinion, what should be the period of time in which to address that backlog and, with respect, is clearly within the subject matter of the Bill. It is not simply a matter of opinion. It is a matter of subject matter and I would argue that the subject matter in this case is appropriate.

Twelve months may not be a long enough time in which to do it and there is a two-year backlog. The amendment must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 154 as it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill.

I do not believe that is the case.

Amendment No. 8 not moved.

Amendment No. 9 in the name of Senators Boyhan, Higgins, Boylan, Gavan, McCallion, Ó Donnghaile and Warfield is also ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(2G) Notwithstanding anything in this section, the Minister shall ensure any and all divisions of the Forestry Appeals Committee organised to hear any appeal, include members with skills and expertise particularly in the fields of biodiversity, water quality, climate change, and environmental legislation.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 11 to 18, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 12 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 11, amendment No. 14 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 13, and amendments Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 15. Amendments Nos. 11 to 18, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 4, line 38, to delete “28 days” and substitute “60 days”.

Section 3 proposes to insert a new subsection (4)(a) in section 14A of the Act. The new subsection states: "Where a person is dissatisfied by a decision made by the Minister under an enactment or statutory instrument specified in Schedule (2) (referred to in this section and sections 14B and 14D as a 'decision') he or she may, within a period of 28 days beginning on the date of the decision, appeal to the Forestry Appeals Committee against the decision." I do not want to keep ping-ponging across the floor of the House but rather get straight to the point. I would like to hear the Minister of State's response to the amendment following which I might speak again.

As no other Senator is offering, I ask the Minister of State to respond.

I appreciate Senator Boyhan spoke only to amendment No. 11. If the other Senators do not wish to speak to their amendments, I will address them as a group.

All of the amendments in the group relate to the time limit for appeals. A number of suggestions have been made to me on the side to the effect that the length of time is too long and should be shorter. However, I consider that 28 days is a sufficient time to allow for the lodgment of an appeal. It must be remembered that a time period of 30 days is given in the first instance for interested parties to make a submission regarding the application. From the point at which a licence application is submitted, there is a two-month period within which a submission can be made. If people are very concerned about an issue at the point the licence application is made, they have up to two months to collect data and information and determine their view in respect of the licence. They can potentially appeal after that. Extending the time period for lodging an appeal beyond 28 days is not appropriate or in line with objective, timely decision-making, which is important. We have to consider the applicants also. The criticisms of the Bill are from one side but we also have to take a balanced approach.

Decisions on licences are published promptly on the Department's website to afford the public the opportunity to appeal. The date from which the appeals period of 28 days applies is the date of the decision.

Plans for the introduction of an online portal are well advanced. That will provide the public with more information than is currently available. I have been assured the portal will be available within the next number of weeks.

I hope that might address some of the issues that currently arise regarding the information available. As a result, a period of 28 days is sufficient and I will not be accepting the amendments.

I have heard what the Minister of State had to say. We will see whether others wish to contribute.

Amendments Nos. 11 to 18, inclusive, are being taken together. All of them relate to timing. With regard to access to justice and people's rights, under the Aarhus Convention and other instruments, it is important that nothing effectively obstruct participation in an appeals process. The proposal of 60 days is reasonable. Forty-two days at least goes beyond a single month in terms of applications, which is good. The question of notification, which is covered in amendments Nos. 14 and 13, is important. A decision may have been made but the question is whether a person will have received notification of it. The proposal simply suggests a period within 28 days of a person who previously engaged in the process being notified of the decision. There are many cases where people assume and hope the licensing authorities will make a responsible decision that will reflect all the various environmental factors and that they are not, in fact, planning at an early stage. It is expected that an application will be rejected if it proves to be out of line with our biodiversity or environmental criteria and it may be only at the point at which one is notified of a decision of the licensing authority that one seeks to launch an appeal and take on the considerable burden, as a concerned individual or member of a group, of challenging a decision. In the majority of cases, most individuals would like to believe the State would do that work. Therefore, it is not the case that individuals appeal from the very beginning. People will expect the best of standards and sometimes find they have to step in by way of an appeal.

On amendment No. 15, the Minister of State said 28 days is enough. A major concern is that the amendment provides that it might be only 14 days. The provision is that the Minister of State may narrow the period in which somebody may make an appeal to 14 days after a decision. With the greatest of respect, a period 14 days is too short. If people ever have a holiday again, a period of 14 days will be regarded as longer than that. Realistically, especially when the period is not combined with the requirement on notification, somebody might receive notification only a week before the deadline for lodging an application or concern. Irrespective of whether the Minister of State wishes to accept the amendments that expand the period from 28 days, amendment No. 16, in my name and that of Senator Boyhan and others, simply suggests that the Minister might allow for the expansion of the period. At the most basic level, the Minister of State could choose to delete the provision that narrows the period but, ideally, she should accept amendment No. 16, which states that she may prescribe a longer period in certain circumstances. The current lockdown is such a circumstance in that there are entire counties people cannot enter or exit. What might that mean for persons who might be interested or who may have to check, connect or work with others in making an appeal? Many rural counties with many afforestation plans will be affected by such measures. In those circumstances, the Minister of State should be able to extend the period. I hope she will ensure it is not narrowed. I do not believe there is a proviso in the Bill for extending the period and that in may only be narrowed. Could the Minister of State clarify whether she has the power to extend it in certain circumstances?

Amendment No. 17 is possibly one of the most important in that the Minister of State talked about the importance of a portal. We were asked to change the name of the Bill to the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which should mean it could be anything to do with forestry. I am referring specifically to the portal and the need for persons to have access to appropriate information.

Amendment No. 17 suggests that the measures outlined here should not take place before there is an online portal in order that people can definitely see them. The Minister of State has said measures are published on the website but this is not the same as an online portal. The Minister of State has acknowledged, through seeking to add in the Bill measures regarding an online portal and seeking to change the name of the Bill to recognise this, the importance and need for a more appropriate information source and information portal. Surely it would be appropriate that this would be in place because one of the key issues as to why 28 days is not enough for people is that many persons may be seeking through a freedom of information request access to crucial environmental information that may be with various public and State bodies and that would allow them to make their submissions. We will have later amendments on which we will discuss this specific issue.

With the new requirement that all paperwork relating to an appeal be submitted at the exact beginning point of the appeal, the Minister of State is not simply requiring, unless she chooses to change provisions that appear later in the Bill, that people would express and lodge their appeal within 28 days, she is requiring them to have every piece of paperwork they might need in respect of it within 28 days, which is likely to be unduly burdensome.

Senator Higgins has made a very good point on amendment No. 16, which intends to insert in the Bill that "The Minister may, having regard to the public interest and fairness of procedures, prescribe a period which is longer than the period specified in paragraph (a), in order to ensure wide access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee, and in light of the cumulative effect of decisions of the Minister on the burden of the public in engaging with the review mechanism."

This will be very difficult. Many of these are individuals who do not have the might, finances and resources of big corporates, conglomerates or those who will benefit through ripping out much of this natural asset of ours. There may be some serial objectors, and I do not necessarily support all of that, but there are individuals who have rights and who feel they need to voice their concerns in some way. It would be important. This would be at the discretion of the Minister of State and I do not think she can have a difficulty with it. I hope she does not.

I would like to think that when the Minister of State came into the Chamber today, she did so with an open mind and not a typed script that someone handed her while telling her to stick to the line on all of this, to go in and do a good job and that she will be a good Minister of State if she delivers for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. She will be a good Minister of State if she delivers what is the right thing, having taken advice internally and externally, and she has plenty of that coming her way. I would be interested to hear her response to amendment No. 16 in particular because it is a reasonable compromise and it is what I hope she will favour.

I will speak against the amendments. The basic principle of what the Minister of State is trying to propose here is very positive with regard to streamlining the actual appeals process itself. Moving from 28 days to eight and a half weeks does not make logical sense. When we are looking at legislation that is trying to make sure we can get licences through the system, extending this period would have a knock-on effect on the entire industry.

With regard to the comment on serial objectors, it is important to note that one objector accounted for 57% of the previous submissions to the board. Senator Boylan does not accept this and that is unfortunate.

I have not even come in on this amendment.

I apologise, not Senator Boylan.

I did not say it either.

It is all about the 28 days. In other jurisdictions this is the time in which to appeal planning permission. If someone was to appeal a planning permission to An Bord Pleanála tomorrow it would be a 28-day period. It has worked very well in this matter for a long time. We need to stick with a steady timeline that can help everyone. It can help the people who want to make an objection and have their feelings heard and, on the other side, ensure the process is timely. The knock-on effect is that decisions, whether for or against, can be made in a timely manner.

I also disagree with the amendments. While I can accept the genuine thrust behind them, we must all accept we have a planning process with which most people are familiar and the same timeframes are applied in respect of a planning process.

This point in the engagement is not the first time the appellant has engaged with the process. He or she is well aware of the process and will have made the original observation with regard to the file. For that reason, I think 28 days is an adequate provision.

I wish to make two other points about the wait for the portal to be ready. I have had many discussions at committee meetings with Senator Boyhan, who is in the Chamber, about An Bord Pleanála and its lack of a portal for making information available to the public. I do not believe the legislation can wait until a portal is ready because I have my fears that it could be a good bit down the road. It is frustrating from the point of view that we have an exceptionally good planning portal available in all our local authorities. I cannot see why these systems cannot be copied and pasted over to different Departments.

Senator Higgins mentioned an emergency. Clear guidance was given during this emergency. Extended periods for observations and submissions were allowed during the initial Covid-19 lockdown of three months. As every planning application was more or less put on hold, the same timeframes were given plus that three-month period. Even in the case of a pandemic, like we are going through now, there are mechanisms that allow the Minister to step in through emergency legislation to make sure everybody has a fair and equal opportunity to make an observation or to appeal a process.

I wish to make two points. If the Minister of State is saying that 28 days is an ample period of time, that is one thing. It is another thing, however, to accept that the Minister has the powers to reduce that period to 14 days. Most people would say that 14 days is a short period of time, especially given that it can take up to six weeks to get access to information, as my colleagues have pointed out. We are concerned that the combination of all of these points is putting in place a barrier to getting access to an appeal.

I wish to take up the point around the serial objector. While the individual has not been named, it has been repeatedly suggested that one or two individuals are taking all of these cases and that this is somehow vexatious. I would like to read something to the House:

You must consider what the complaints are about. If you de-legitimise them it will just infuriate a whole group of other people. It's not literally just two or three people; I know they are the instigators of the complaints but they represent broader groups on the ground and communities on the ground.

That is a quote from Minister of State. It is unfair for somebody to be referred to as a serial objector when the Minister of State has identified that the people who are putting in the objections are doing so on behalf of communities frustrated by the current forestry planning system. The Minister of State might address her colleague and disclose where the variance is around whether she supports the individuals taking these cases on behalf of communities.

I thank Senators again for the discussion on these amendments. I accept the concerns behind the people making appeals. I believe there is a genuine reason in the vast majority of cases. We must appreciate that appeals have been made against licences issued for things like woodland creation, before being withdrawn when they have been highlighted. One must consider and be aware that a certain percentage of appeals fall into this category.

The information that will be available on the online portal will be invaluable in terms of public communication and transparency. People will be afforded information that is currently more difficult to access and that will make things easier. Therefore, when somebody sees a licence application go up in his or her local area, as per the planning authority, he or she can click on the link to see who is making the licence application and what it entails. If such a person is concerned about certain issues, he or she can arm himself or herself from that point. If his or her concern relates to the proximity to a waterway, for example, he or she is already armed at that stage.

Licences are issued after 30 days and the results of licences from the Department are published three times per week on its website. As such it would be two days at the slowest. If a person has been looking out for it, he or she will see it, and if a person misses it, he or she might consider how concerned he or she was about it in the first place. I believe 28 days from that point is sufficient time.

Again, we must remember the other side of the argument here. I have been contacted by farmers who are frustrated because they want to plant a small area of broadleaves on their farms. There is only a certain window of opportunity to do this in the year as this planting is a seasonal thing. They are ringing me up and asking why they cannot plant and who is appealing their broadleaf plantations. They are saying they are running out of time and that if they have to wait 28 days, it will push them into next year. I have had many conversations with different farmers in my constituency and throughout the country who are frustrated by the delay when they are trying to do things the right way. They are doing what we have been asking them to do, namely, to plant the right tree in the right place, and they are then subject to appeal or are being delayed in the granting of their licence because of the backlogs.

With that in mind, 28 days is sufficient. The information, although it may not be fully there now, will be available and I am satisfied we will be able to improve the system, its transparency and public participation in it. I will not be accepting any of these amendments.

I wish to clarify something with the Minister of State. I asked her a very specific question. Senator Casey suggested the Minister of State would have the capacity to extend the period from 28 days in certain circumstances, and it was pointed out that for planning, the period was extended. As such I would like to check this because as I read the Bill, the Minister of State is precluded from setting another period longer than 28 days. Is it the case that she would not be able to extend the period from 28 days at her discretion in circumstances where she felt it necessary?

Perhaps I misspoke at the time. The Government brought in legislation that allowed the planning system to extend it by three months. I did not mean to say that this legislation gave the Minister of State this power. There was emergency legislation, however, and part of that legislation took the planning Act into account. It also took into account that individuals were not in a position to make observations on submissions and extended that period by three months or whatever the appropriate period was. I did not intend to say that that was in this legislation.

I wanted to ask if the Minister of State could clarify that. I thank Senator Casey, however.

On the clarification, I will have to check. I will certainly look back at that part of the Bill and check what flexibility there is for me to extend the period in question. I appreciate the Senator's concern and will certainly look into that, if that is okay.

A number of these amendments would certainly allow the Minister to have that discretion, whereas the Bill currently says the period shall not be more than 28 days, which may in fact narrow the Minister of State's discretionary powers. I suggest amendment No. 16, amendment No. 18 or any one of these amendments that the Minster of State might accept would deal with that concern. It would still allow the Minister to prescribe such times as he or she may wish.

I take that on board. The Senator might give me time to reflect on that

I have spoken to the Minister of State about an issue brought to my notice which concerns appeals. Section 26 of the Forestry Act 2014 makes provision for a replanting order by the Minister. There is no provision in the Bill for a right of appeal of such an order, part of an order or conditions attached to it, which is quite unusual. It leaves an individual with only one option, which is to challenge a replanting order through the courts system. I will send details on to the Department and ask the Minister of State to look at that. It is not a common situation but it means that if someone cannot appeal, he or she must seek recourse in the courts. If we have an appeals system set up, it should be used. Will the Minister of State look at that?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 4, line 38, to delete “28 days” and substitute “42 days”.

We have the numbers. The Tá's outnumber the Níl's.

The amendment is defeated. The Senator can call a vote.

(Interruptions).

Senator Boyhan knows it is not the number who are in the Chamber at the time.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 4, lines 38 and 39, to delete “beginning on the date of the decision” and substitute “from the notification of the decision”.

It is at the discretion of the Cathaoirleach to determine if the House has, in fact, accepted an amendment. It is the prerogative and right of Government, if it disagrees, to call a vote. It is not necessarily on the Opposition to call votes. If the Government may lose a vote, it can call a vote and change the record in that sense. Perhaps let us not over-extend what is needed.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 4, line 39, after “the” where it secondly occurs to insert “notification of the”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 5, to delete lines 1 to 6.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, to delete lines 1 to 6 and substitute the following:

“(b) The Minister may, having regard to the public interest and fairness of procedures, prescribe a period which is longer than the period specified in paragraph (a), in order to ensure wide access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee, and in light of the cumulative effect of decisions of the Minister on the burden of the public in engaging with the review mechanism.”,”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 26.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Boylan and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne..
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 5, to delete lines 1 to 6 and substitute the following:

“(b) The measures in paragraph (a) may not take effect before the completion of an online portal referenced in section 14E(1)(l).

(c) The Minister may, having regard to the public interest and fairness of procedures, prescribe a period which is longer than the period specified in paragraph (a), in order to ensure wide access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee, and in light of the cumulative effect of decisions of the Minister on the burden of the public in engaging with the review mechanism.”,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 5, lines 1 to 6, to delete all words from and including “in” in line 1 down to and including “(a).” in line 6 and substitute the following:

“, prescribe a period which shall not be less than 28 days to be a period longer than referred to in paragraph (a), within which an appeal may be brought under that paragraph (a).”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 19 to 21, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 19.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 5, to delete lines 7 and 8 and substitute the following:

“(e) by the substitution of the following for subsection (6):

“(6) The decisions of the Forestry Appeals Committee can be subject to judicial review in the High Court.”.”.

This amendment relates to the fact that the forestry appeals committee's decision can be the subject of a judicial review in the High Court.

Before I talk further about the amendment, I am conscious of time, Members, votes and constructive debate. Some people in the House are aware of the Minister of State's intentions in respect of these amendments. I am not. I do not think anyone on this side of the House is. I say this to be constructive. Perhaps, with the Minister of State's agreement, a list of the amendments she intends to oppose could be circulated. Perhaps she is open to change, though, so I do not want to tie her hands in that regard. It would be helpful to everyone if we had some understanding of her intentions. If she is not going to accept the amendments, that is her prerogative, and I accept that, but such a list might speed up the whole process for everyone.

I return to the amendment.

This is an important amendment and people have a right to recourse to natural justice and law. I refer to the courts and the separation of powers and the importance of that concept in our system of democracy and governance. I do not see why the Minister of State should have a difficulty with this amendment. Many of the members of her own political party have been successful in judicial reviews. As a matter of fact, I have given evidence and assisted many people with such reviews on planning and environmental matters.

The membership of the Green Party has a good, strong track record in this area. They would be disappointed if they were here today, because they are the environmental pillars who constantly go to the courts to vindicate their rights under the Constitution. It is an expensive remedy. Several eminent lawyers are among us, but recourse to law is a last resort for many people. It is a very expensive system, but it is there and it is an important one. I hope the Minister of State can support this amendment because it is important.

I call Senator Ruane. I think she had indicated next.

I am going to speak on my amendment in this grouping, which is amendment No. 21. It is the first time I have spoken on this legislation. I echo all the concerns raised in the last few hours regarding the amendments and the process itself. Regarding this proposed amendment to section 3 of the Bill, it is similar to amendments Nos. 19 and 20. There is a proposal to delete an important part of the Agricultural Appeals Act 2001 which allows for decisions of the forestry appeals committee to be appealed to the High Court on a point of law, if required. I am always wary of any attempts to remove the chance for higher legal recourse from Irish citizens engaged in any State planning process, but particularly in an area as important as forestry and the management of our shared land and resources. Access to justice and legal recourse is a human right and one we should safeguard, promote and strengthen rather than remove.

If a point of law needs to be clarified in a decision of the appeals committee, especially when the express aim of this legislation is to increase the speed at which appeal decisions are arrived at, it would be important for an appellant to at least have the option to seek review of the decision reached by the appeals committee in the High Court. I am concerned by the infringement of that option by the provision to delete this important access to justice and I would like to hear the Minister of State's rationale for its necessity.

I thank the Senator for an exemplary illustration of staying relevant. I call Senator Higgins.

I will be brief. I just want to add to the concerns expressed. There is a need for recourse, and that is why we all responded regarding the references to the High Court. There are concerns, however, about the deletion of those sections and that is why there are attempts to copper-fasten those in the Bill. In addition, from engagement with the Department of the Minister of State, when I asked about duplication regarding ministerial regulations with the statutory instrument put forward in 2017 concerning judicial review, the indication was that once this Bill was in place it was expected that the statutory instrument would no longer be continuing because we cannot have duplication and many of its provisions are in this Bill. If we do not, therefore, have a statutory instrument that refers to judicial review and certain sections are removed from this Bill, the Minister of State will recognise why we are asking her to address those concerns and clarify exactly how that will be done. This is a right, and I would like the Minister of State to clarify how it will be expressed in the legislation.

I thank Senators again for their engagement on this section of the Bill. I agree that it is right that people should have access to justice. This Bill, in its current format, does not prevent anyone from taking a judicial review based on the results of the forestry appeals committee. It remains open to appellants, or indeed applicants, who are unhappy with the review or appeal of an application, to apply for leave to take a judicial review following the decision of the forestry appeals committee, and without insertion of this provision. The whole point of the forestry appeals committee is to save people from having to go to court, which we all know is incredibly expensive and time consuming, but still an important process and it is available to people should they wish to continue to seek justice in that way.

It is the only route available to many people across Europe, particularly in Scotland, for example. If people there are unhappy with forestry licences, that is it. There are no grounds for appeal. We have inserted this provision and brought this forestry appeals committee into our forestry system, through the Agriculture Appeals Acts, to do just that. It saves people the hassle of having to bring their appeals to court, as would be the case in other jurisdictions. Essentially, the forestry appeals committee provides that option to people who are unhappy with a decision without having to seek justice in a court at that stage. However, anyone who is unhappy with the findings of the forestry appeals committee can seek judicial review. If that review is accepted by the High Court he or she can then go to court. The amendments are, therefore, unnecessary and I will not be accepting them.

Senator Boyhan has a supplementary point.

The Minister of State's response is disappointing. She keeps standing up and saying the amendments are not acceptable and that it is all in the legislation. Double indemnity is always a good thing. That is the Minister of State's decision but this is too important to let go. I will be asking my colleagues not only to vote for this amendment but to call for a full division on it. This is as much about setting a track record on the Government's delivery of this legislation as anything else. Our colleagues will have an opportunity to give it further scrutiny next week and based on my conversations with them today, I have every confidence that they intend to do so. What the Minister of State is saying should be on the record.

What is the rationale for this? When the Agricultural Appeals Bill was being drafted, it was felt that it was appropriate to reference other legal and judicial remedies. Judicial review was also referenced when the statutory instrument was being drafted in 2017. What is the rationale in breaking with that by not referencing those processes and legal remedies in this legislation? It is a change. It is not for us to suggest there is a concern, but a change must be justified. Why is that change in policy being put forward by the Government?

Until now, people could go straight to the High Court with their concerns. This is just another filter which would make it more appropriate to do so. One would seek a judicial review from the High Court and if the High Court deemed that necessary, one could continue.

Why does the text not reference the High Court and judicial review?

That is because the text of the Act just referenced the High Court. It did not reference the judicial review which is, in fact, available to people anyway.

Why not include it in the text? The Agricultural Appeals Bill existed when the statutory instrument setting out the forestry appeals committee's initial terms and functions was drawn up in 2017. At that time, even though the forestry appeals committee existed, it was considered appropriate to refer to judicial review processes. As we understand it, the statutory instrument will no longer apply because it has largely been replaced by the measures in this Bill and one does not want duplication. Perhaps that can be clarified. Why would the judicial review have been referred to in 2017 and not been included in this Bill?

I feel it is a better process to go to the High Court to seek a judicial review in advance of going to the High Court, instead of going straight to the court. That is the purpose of the removal of that particular section.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Boylan and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 5, to delete lines 7 and 8.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 25.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4

Amendments Nos. 22 to 31, inclusive, 51 and 52 are related. Amendments Nos. 24 to 27, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 23. Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 29. Amendments Nos. 22 to 31, inclusive, 51 and 52 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 5, line 20, after "Committee." to insert the following:

"Any such regulations have to be consistent with providing for fairness of procedures and in providing wide access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee.".

The Minister of State might like to outline her position on this.

I am happy to speak after the Minister of State has spoken.

The amendments in this group deal with issues such as fairness, wide access, non-inclusion and oral hearings. I agree there must be completely open and wide access to the review mechanism of the forestry appeals committee.

That is why I have retained the provision that anyone dissatisfied with the decision on a licence may appeal to the FAC. I assure Members that any regulations or rules introduced will observe the principles of fair procedure and natural justice.

The committee itself is best placed to determine whether it is necessary to conduct an oral hearing to properly and fairly determine the appeal, and will have its own clear procedures governing the manner in which it will make that determination. Such procedures will have regard to fairness and natural justice, and matters relating to notice and notification of oral hearings will be dealt with by means of regulations. As I am satisfied that these amendments do not add to the Bill, I am not accepting them.

I call Senator Boyhan.

I call Senator Higgins.

As the Minister of State said, these amendments concern the issue of fairness and ensuring there is appropriate participation. I will go briefly through some of the categories of these amendments.

Amendment No. 22 concerns the fairness of procedure and the provision of wide access. She has recognised that this should be one of the principles. This emerges from the context, as do several of the amendments to this section, and certainly those on which I am leading, of the very real concern regarding the category of relevant persons, of which she will be aware.

I commend her on one positive step contained within the Bill. I refer to categories and exclusions and the narrow definition that had initially been proposed in the original draft heads regarding who might be persons, categories of persons or entities able to take appeals. The proposed narrowing of that definition was one of the issues of primary concern. That was a direct obstacle in the context of the question of who was eligible. Indirect obstacles that we have discussed still remain, however, such as concerns regarding time and costs, an issue I will return to later.

The most direct concern, however, would have been the category of relevant person and I am glad that the Minister of State has excluded it from the legislation. I note, however, that there is provision in the Bill whereby the FAC may set its own rules as to the conduct of appeals, at a certain point. There is also provision whereby the Minister of State may set direction. My amendments, especially Nos. 26, 27, 28, 30 and 31, all concern the question of ensuring that any rules or directions, given either by the committee or by the Minister of State, shall "not set limits to the rights of all persons or categories of persons to make an appeal nor create obstacles to the vindication of those rights".

While the inclusion of narrow categorisation has been excluded from the Bill, I am still hearing concerns expressed by citizens and organisations, who had initially been alarmed by the proposed narrow categorisation of relevant person, regarding a fear of the remaining openness in the setting of rules and directives. I refer to the possibility that in the future the Minister could, through a direction, narrow or exclude a category of persons from making an appeal. Similarly, there is the same fear that the FAC, in setting its own rules, could do so in a way that would effectively exclude a category of persons.

My amendments are worded in several different ways. I recognise, for example, that the Minister of State may need to insert a proviso in the legislation, for example, specifying that reference is being made to a person resident, or normally resident, on the island of Ireland. Such provisions are normally contained in legislation. I wonder, however, if she can give us assurances, or explain how we could be assured, that not just the current Minister of State but also any future holder of her office will set a direction excluding a category of persons from accessing appeals under the FAC mechanism, and, equally, that the committee will also not be mandated in its rules to be able exclude any category of persons from making an appeal.

Those are two of the key issues. The others relate to trying to embed a principle of access to participation as a positive objective. I in other words, that wide access would be a goal of the work rather than an unfortunate consequence.

I am looking at my notes because this is quite a large grouping and we only received the list of groupings moments before the debate began. I am looking at amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 29. Amendment No. 29 relates to that same principle of ensuring fairness of procedures and providing wide access to the review mechanism. Will the Minister comment on the principle of fairness and wide access and on how we can be assured, and assure others, that there is no danger of categories of person being excluded through an indirect mechanism?

Looking through the amendments on which my colleague, Senator Higgins, has just been speaking, I note that she has gone into the minutiae of the detail, as is typical of her. She understands that, while the Minister can give all the assurances she wants - and I know she gives them in the best of faith - there is still the question of those who come after her. The Senator is trying to ensure that fairness runs the whole way through the system so that, when the Minister leaves her office - to move on to bigger and better things I hope - and someone else takes her position, that person or a chairman of the appeals committee will be bound by the fairness written into the legislation and there will be no wriggle room. I will support this amendment and I hope a division is called on it. This is typical of Senator Higgins. She tends to look to the long term and at how people might interpret things. I ask the Minister to take on board her amendments. They do not change the legislation; they just build in safeguards which the Minister, as a member of the Green Party, must want to see in place. I will leave it at that.

I will join in on this jingle-jangle of amendments. I will specifically speak to amendments Nos. 26 to 28, inclusive. When we were first spoke about removing the provision regarding the relevant person, I commended the Minister. I echo Senator Higgins's concern that this measure may find its way back in through another mechanism. The people who may seek to make an appeal in a given case include rural dwellers, environmentalists and others who have very real concerns about the environment, biodiversity, the sustainable development goals and a bazillion other things. These people all have relevant and valid concerns. They are ordinary individuals who have to live with the decisions the Department makes. I hope this Bill will be able to deal with frivolous or vexatious appeals or appeals that are without substance or foundation. I am led to believe that these are the correct legal terms for such things. I do not believe, however, that fees, restrictions or limitations on those who may make appeals are effective ways in which to deal with them. I know we will discuss fees at a later point.

The amendments tabled by Senators Higgins and Boyhan - as I have said, I am primarily speaking to Nos. 26 to 28, inclusive - ensure that there will be no attacks on democracy, on people's right to environmental information, on their right to participate in environmental decision-making or on their right to environmental justice. We must always uphold the right of local stakeholders to appeal Government decisions. I urge the Minister to consider accepting these amendments because we cannot deny democratic participation in decision-making. I would not like to see that happen in an accidental way. I urge the Minister to consider accepting the amendments to which I am specifically speaking, namely, Nos. 26 to 28, inclusive.

I will respond to a few of the queries that have been raised. I am glad the Senators were happy with the removal of the provision in respect of the relevant person. It is funny that, now that this has been removed, the Bill is still being challenged on the grounds that it restricts who can make an appeal and on the grounds of access to justice. The wording in the Bill is quite clear in that regard. No one is restricted. I am looking at the amendments but I cannot find the specific one I am seeking. It seeks to prevent people within the State from being excluded from making appeals.

That would be more imposing than the current wording in the Bill. At the moment, anyone can appeal from anywhere, whether they are a citizen of the State or not. That is open to them and I can assure the Senator that I have no intention of closing that. I hope that the Bill, as it stands, will be passed and will continue in that guise. I cannot control what legislation happens after my time but I say, in good faith, that I am absolutely not going to restrict that access. It is important to me that access to an appeal process is granted and people have it. I am satisfied that the Bill in its current wording addresses that.

I believe I will be providing a positive service when I ask for clarification. I recognise that there is not an exclusion in the Bill, but is there a point where there is an explicit inclusion per se? This is not about future legislation but relates specifically to section 14B(2) proposed to be inserted by the Bill. That subsection reads:

The Forestry Appeals Committee may make such rules in relation to the conduct of appeals as it considers appropriate and shall publish those rules on a website maintained by or on behalf of the Committee.

Separately, amendment No. 30 deals with section 14B(3). That subsection reads:

The Forestry Appeals Committee may, for the purpose of ensuring the efficient, fair and timely determination of an appeal, issue a direction in respect of the conduct of the appeal.

These amendments were specifically around ensuring that the Minister of State is absolutely confident about more than her intentions. Is she confident that it is not within the power and mandate of the forestry appeals committee to set a rule such as may exclude a category of person from accessing that process? Will the Minister of State give that assurance to the House? It would be useful because it will assure people. I will repeat that if there is a point in the Bill where there is an explicit inclusion that ensures and embeds the fact that all persons may make appeals, I apologise that I am not seeing it and it would be useful to hear where that is. I say again that I recognise there is no exclusion. I am trying to be constructive and to copper-fasten the legislation for the future.

I will briefly respond. The rules, directives and regulations made under this Bill cannot be used to narrow that right of appeal.

To do that would be a breach of the legislation. The rules and regulations cannot be used to narrow that right.

I thank the Minister of State.

Amendment put declared lost.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 5, to delete lines 21 to 23.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 5, line 22, to delete "as it considers appropriate" and substitute "as are appropriate".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 5, line 23, after "Committee." to insert the following:

"Any such rules have to be consistent with providing for fairness of procedures and in providing wide access to the review mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 5, line 23, after “Committee.” to insert the following:

“Such rules may not set limits to the rights of persons or categories of persons or entities to make an appeal.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 5, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“(2A) Rules made by the Forestry Appeals Committee under subsection (2) may not include any measures which exclude a person or category of person from making an appeal.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 5, line 26, after “appeal.” to insert the following:

“Any such directions have to be consistent with providing for fairness of procedures and in providing wide access to the review mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 5, line 26, after “appeal.” to insert the following:

“Such direction may not set limits to the rights of all persons or categories of persons to make an appeal nor create obstacles to the vindication of those rights.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 5, line 26, after “appeal.” to insert the following:

“Such direction may not set limits to the rights of all persons or categories of persons to make an appeal.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 32 to 35, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by the agreement of the House. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 5, line 30, after “grounds.” to insert the following:

“An appellant shall be allowed to furnish additional information to an appeal where the provision of that information has been compromised by delays in the processing of requests made under Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information.”.

The Minister of State wondered aloud why, after the category of relevant person had been removed, people still regarded the Bill as an obstruction. One concern is that while there may not be explicit exclusion of categories of person, and I am glad to hear the Minister of State's assurance that there will not be in the future and that the forestry appeals committee is not mandated to exclude certain categories of person, there are other obstacles. It has been recognised substantially in European case law that there are many other ways in which an effective obstacle to access to justice or to participation in a process might occur. We have discussed the issue of timing and we will shortly discuss the issue of fees, each of which have been acknowledged. There is proof on record of where those issues have been acknowledged as effectively acting as obstacles. There is another issue which I wish to highlight in this set of amendments.

These are not simply obstacles to persons in terms of their participation in the appeals process. They are also obstacles to due process in the forestry appeals committee and, potentially, obstacles to the quality of decision making of the committee. It is not simply an issue regarding individuals' rights, but an issue for everyone in the State, including the Minister of State, and for the integrity of the process. Specifically, I refer to the requirement in section 4(4) which states: "An appellant shall, when making an appeal, state all of the grounds upon which the appeal is made and provide to the Forestry Appeals Committee all of the documents and evidence upon which he or she intends to rely to support those grounds."

There are two concerns here. I have tabled an amendment which seeks to remove those lines. This is a new requirement or obstacle that has been inserted. I have also tabled amendments which seek to recognise that in many cases persons, especially given a 28-day or 14-day period in which to lodge an appeal as provided for in this Bill, may be awaiting information that they are entitled to under European directives giving access to environmental information. Putting a requirement on them to provide information in respect of an appeal when they are still awaiting that information through, for example, a freedom of information request or an access to environmental information request, would be inappropriate and could be questioned in regard to the Aarhus Convention and, indeed, to the access of justice as an unnecessary intervention in the process. This is yet another opportunity for the Minister of State to change the timing in exceptional circumstances, which, as we discussed earlier, she might need to do. There are many other circumstances.

Amendment No. 34 proposes: "Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing subsections, an appellant or party to an appeal or observer shall be allowed to furnish additional information to an appeal where the provision of that information has been compromised by delays in the processing of requests made under Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information." We have serious mechanisms, European directives, which require that people have access to environmental information which they can use to engage meaningfully in planning and decision processes. That is their entitlement, yet there is a provision in this Bill which potentially does not allow them to exercise that right fully. If the Minister of State accepts this amendment, she would go further towards ensuring that the Bill addresses the issues at hand, which are the issues of ensuring due process and that environmental factors are seen to be considered properly at every stage of the forestry process for licensing and appeals. I urge the Minister of State to accept amendment No. 34.

Amendment No. 35 is quite similar. Is amendment No. 36 in this group?

The group consists of amendments Nos. 32 to 35, inclusive.

I do not wish to stray to amendment No. 36 unnecessarily. Amendment No. 33 is a simple opportunity to delete those relevant lines. Again, this is not a provision that existed previously. It is an additional requirement being placed on appellants. The Minister of State has the right to remove it and it would be a better Bill if she did so. Amendment No. 32 deals with the same issues of directives.

Those are the issues, and I ask the Minister of State to address them. That part refers to the person's rights, but I wish to speak briefly about the second part. It is normal in any administrative process and, indeed, in any legal or court process, that decisions would be made on the best information available. It is the case, even in a court of law where there is a review, that where additional information that is particularly expedient and important becomes available, it is introduced. If, for example, information is returned which shows there are only two or three remaining of certain species, and that environmental information is only provided a day or two after the person has lodged his or her appeal, it is extremely relevant for the forestry appeals committee to be aware of it.

There may be serious biodiversity issues. There may be other issues of considerable social or public concern. Relevant information may arise in the course of an appeal. It would behove an appeals committee that is functioning properly to consider this. Such a committee should be entitled to the best available information when making decisions. By setting this preclusion on the appellant, the Minister of State is effectively allowing or forcing the forestry appeals committee to make decisions on certain occasions without the information it needs to make good and proper decisions.

Senator Higgins has laid out the key concerns and rationale behind amendments Nos. 34 and 35. Earlier, we pointed to the restrictions relating to the time and the 28-day period, as well as to the ability of the Minister of State to reduce the period to 14 days. We pointed to how it may take up to six weeks for people to get the information they require. Now, however, there is a barrier in their way. If they wish to submit appeals, they must have all the information to hand. As Senator Higgins pointed out, information may only come to light after that point.

Earlier, the Minister of State made reference to the information being published. When a decision is made, the only information that is actually published is that of a headline nature. The Minister of State should be aware of this. In fact, the Department requires that appellants submit applications under access to information on the environment legislation to gain the information they require. Again, we are asking the Minister of State to give this consideration. If she will not do it today, then she should do it in the Dáil. Our concerns relate to the 14-day and 28-day periods and the restrictions around needing to have all the information in and not allowing for someone to come forward with subsequent information.

I echo what Senator Boylan said. The whole thing about access to information in environmental matters is critical. As we debate, I cannot stop thinking about what a disadvantage we are at by not having the information about the public consultation. We have been seeking it during the a week but we cannot get it. I do not know how much it has influenced this legislation, but I will know and I will be delighted to remind the Minister of State when I get that information. Neither the Minister of State nor her Department have seen fit to provide it despite all these excuses about giving. This is about the information and the amendment. It is about the importance of this information. I do not know what investors put pressure on the Minister of State or the Department in respect of this legislation. I simply do not know and cannot speculate. I am not privy to what has been said. However, the Minister of State told us on Second State that she was mindful of the submissions. I am conscious of what was happening in Johnstown Castle on Friday night. I am conscious of several things from several people in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I do not tend to ask questions to which I do not already know the answers.

I am simply making the point about the importance of information. People may take litigation. We are here as parliamentarians and we do not have information. I hope the robust Deputies in the Dáil will have it next week. I am renewing my appeal to the Minister of State to give an undertaking to send me and other Oireachtas Members an index of those submissions. I understand the burden that is on the Minister of State with the work in her Department, and I accept that. I appeal to her to make available to us the index of the submissions so that we can make contact directly with those pillars and agencies to see what information they sent to the Department. I am convinced that we have not heard it all yet.

As I stated on the previous occasion, the Department is not withholding the almost 9,000 submissions. It takes time to redact them to make them compliant with the general data protection regulation. That is simply the process it is going through. At the outset, our initial focus was on examining the submissions. I agree it was late but we furnished Senators with an overall report. Once those submissions are all gone through the redaction process they will absolutely be on the website and anyone can look them up. I realise that Senators could ask how they are to know who has made submissions. In the case of the broad range of bodies, many of their submissions were publicly available.

I do not know what the Senator is implying about what industry or who has been influencing me. I take exception to that.

On the amendments, the relevant parties in any appeal, essentially the appellant, the decision maker and the applicant, are notified of appeals. Appellants are given all the information at the time relevant to a particular case, including all appropriate assessments, screening reports and, where it applies, appropriate assessment determinations. There is no need for anybody to use the access to information on the environment mechanism. That information is there and the file can be obtained. When we get the online portal up and running, that information will be freely available. The access to information on the environment issue is not an aspect of this.

The Bill's provisions reflect normal practice in other appeals bodies. It is not unfair, once an appellant has been provided with as much information as will be available to the forestry appeals committee, that it should be requested to furnish any additional information in advance. As we are bringing this in line with other types of appeals body mechanisms, I will not be accepting these amendments.

To clarify to ensure there is no misunderstanding, there are people lobbying and engaged with the Department and officials. I have no problem with lobbyists as they are covered under lobbying legislation. I looked at the register provided for in the legislation and I am fully aware of what lobbying took place with officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I know the names. They are legitimate and were put on the register. I am satisfied there was lobbying in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and other matters. There is no dispute about that. The Minister of State and I can see that. The individuals concerned can see it too, as they put the information on the register. There is no underhand suggestion by anybody which the Minister of State appreciates. I have no difficulty with that.

I gleaned some information from that, however, which I intend bringing to the Minister of State's attention next week. I will write to her and ask her to look at this because it is interesting and pertinent.

On the index, I accept the Minister of State may have to take out people's emails and contacts. What I do not accept is that she cannot give us an index. She has an index and I am aware of it. Again, as well as on behalf of the Seanad, I would like by Monday, because I am meeting with several Deputies next week on the Bill, the Minister of State or her officials to provide the index that exists. I am telling her I am aware it exists. Will she give just that simple commitment?

The Senator has made his point.

Then we can take our initiative and contact those politicians and others who also made submissions.

The point has been well made.

I am really surprised. The debate is to be on the amendments and the legislation. Instead, the Minister of State is getting attacked about what has come through in submissions. We know there have been over 9,000 submissions. There are over 12,000 people working in the sector who Senator Boyhan knows full well are waiting to ensure that they still have employment, that we get this legislation through and that we streamline and speed it up. Instead, we are listening to attacks on when we are going to hear about the actual public submissions which have been put through. The Minister of State will do so when they are available because it takes time to deal with 9,000 submissions in the Department. These submissions are from people finding out what will be their welfare in several months' time if this legislation is not passed. There are 12,000 people employed in the sector. The Senator's comments are out of line. We should be discussing the amendments only.

On the point the Minister of State made, I want to make sure she is correct. My understanding is that when a decision is made, only the headline information is made available to the person who has made an observation and such persons are then directed by the Department to make an access of information request for the further details. Is the Minister of State saying that is not the case? My understanding is from people who have made observations and then had to go on to appeal. They knew the Department has the information but it will not give it to them. It insists they make a freedom of information request under access to information.

I want to really nail that point. Is the Minister saying that is not the case?

We will have the Minister in a moment. Senator Carrigy will speak next, followed by Senator Murphy.

I feel I must come in here and support the comments of my colleague, Senator Dolan. Senator Boyhan made outrageous remarks to accuse the Minister of being influenced in putting forward this legislation today. He should withdraw his remarks because that is what he said.

This legislation has been put in front of the House because 12,000 jobs in the sector are at risk. The Minister already has stated that all the comments and the 8,000 submissions will be put in place when they are dealt with in time. It is important that this legislation is dealt with and we get this industry up and running again. I am disappointed in the remarks that have been made about the Minister being influenced by the industry with regard to this.

As people will be aware, I am fair to everybody this House. I understand fully that we must tease out legislation and I always respect that in this House. As I am a new Member, I sat back for a while without saying anything. I have to say, however, that having known Senator Boyhan as a friend for many years, I am upset by what he said. He is a man of generosity in many ways and if he is a man of generosity he should withdraw one part of that allegation regarding the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. I do not agree with the Green Party on everything but it is simply not correct to make the kind of allegation he made against the Minister of State. I am all for the discussion but I support Senators Dolan and Carrigy in this regard. We have four or five Dublin-based Senators decimating rural Ireland here this evening. Incidentally-----

(Interruptions).

I never interrupted Senator Higgins, so some respect please.

I did not interrupt the Senator.

She was speaking.

We are straying away from the amendment now.

This is important. Some 12,000 jobs are under attack. Small businesses have lobbied us because their businesses will be gone before Christmas. Ordinary families will not have a wage packet for Christmas. I am not saying that any Senators do not have the right to tease this out but something strange has been happening in this Chamber over the past hour and it concerns me. I do not want to say too much at this point.

If Senators believe in rights for everybody on this island, then please take into account why we are here late on a Friday evening doing this. It is emergency legislation to save the jobs of many people. As Senators Dolan and Carrigy have said, we must stick to the amendments and debate them. I accept that. I am not against that. I have not interrupted anybody in terms of discussing those amendments but there is another side to this story. This is emergency legislation.

The Senator has made his point very well.

To be quite honest, if the Covid-19 regulations were not in place, I would take Senators down to Ballygar where there are 200 such jobs and to Ballinasloe, where there are other such jobs. There is a small pallet-making business run by a family near me from Lanesborough- Ballyleague-----

The Senator is not speaking to an amendment. This is a point of order.

Please let Senator Murphy conclude.

Members of Senator Boylan's party, Sinn Féin, have been lobbied on this issue in my region as well and they know the story. I also mentioned Glennon Brothers in Longford and Masonite.

(Interruptions).

I will speak through the Chair. Throughout my part of the world, people are watching this debate. They are ordinary people whose livelihoods are threatened. This is why we are here. This is why the legislation is coming through. I am aware the Minister and the Government have given a commitment in the programme for Government that further legislation will be forthcoming to discuss the whole area of forestry.

I am sorry, excuse me-----

Can we have you after-----

When persons are referred to in this House they have a right to respond.

You were not personally referred to.

I was referred to as one of five Dublin-based Senators. First, I am from Galway. I may be living and working in Dublin now but I am from that area. Nonetheless, I also know that many of those who have spoken to me on this Bill-----

Let us take a grown-up approach to this. Thank you, you have made your point.

I am actually about to speak to the amendment.

We must return to the amendment, thank you.

We do not need Second Stage speeches. It is around this amendment-----

The Senator has made her protestation. We are returning to the amendment for the Minister of State to reply.

We will bring the Senator back in on the amendment then. I call the Minister of State on the amendment.

(Interruptions).

Sorry Senator Murphy, that is enough.

I was just going to respond to Senator Boylan. It is not necessary to submit an access to environmental information request; people just need to ask for the file. I have been given that assertion by the Department on the query.

I know the Minister of State said she checked this, but I have it on good authority from various people who have been forced to make access to information requests for that information.

Can we stick to the amendment?

I ask the Minister of State to give us a guarantee that will not happen in the future.

We need to move from this amendment and there is another amendment.

I ask the Senator to send those details on to me.

There is a question which relates directly to the amendment. Will people experience a delay from one part of our public system which will stop them from activating their rights under another part?

The Senator has made that point very well.

The specific question put by Senator Boylan was whether we can have assurances that anybody who seeks access to information on the environment that he or she needs in respect of lodging an appeal will be given information at the point that all information is initially attached to an original decision. Secondly-----

The point is well made.

-----can we guarantee if we are imposing a time limit and such a requirement of 28 days and indeed the provision of all information at that point, that there will be no instances-----

The Senator has already made that point very well.

No, I have not. I am asking the Minister of State now-----

The Senator did originally.

-----for an explicit assurance on that issue-----

The Senator asked for that.

-----of the information on the website but also on the question that if somebody is to lodge an access to environmental information request, that person will get that information in a timely manner-----

That is very clear.

-----to allow him or her to enact within a 28-day-----

I thank the Senator.

Some people mentioned me by name. One of the great things is there is a stenographer here and all this is recorded. We can all look at this in the calmness of tomorrow morning. I want to put the record straight. I am not that much of an eejit now. I made the point that lobbying is legitimate and a professional job. There is a lobbyist register. I said it is open for anyone to see. Just be careful. I looked at the register and I am satisfied in respect of a range of issues that there had been lobbying within the Department. That is all legitimate. I am just making that point.

Senator Boyhan is being repetitive. He said that already.

Sorry, do I need to say it again?

The Senator is making it clear that he is not impugning the Minister of State.

I am making the point.

Anyone can look at the register and I will look at it again. I have printed it in my office and I will circulate it if that helps to enlighten people.

I thank the Senator.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 5, to delete lines 36 to 40.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 5, after line 40, to insert the following:

“(7) Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing subsections, an appellant or party to an appeal or observer shall be allowed to furnish additional information to an appeal where the provision of that information has been compromised by delays in the processing of requests made under Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 5, after line 40, to insert the following:

“(7) The Minister shall make regulations to provide for the notification of appeals made to the Forestry Appeals Committee and to allow for the input from observers to any such appeal, in order to maintain consistency with the standard of appeal available in other sectors such as planning and aquaculture in that regard.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments No. 36, 39, 72 and 98 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 6, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:

“(10) The Minister shall make regulations in respect of the obligation in decision-making of the Forestry Appeals Committee in determining appeals, in respect of environmental obligations arising under Directives of the European Union, including, but not limited to:

(a) Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, as amended by Directive 2014/52/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014;

(b) Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, in particular articles 6, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16;

(c) Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds;

(d) Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy, (the Water Framework Directive), in particular in respect of Article 4.”.

This group of amendments relate to environmental impact assessments and appropriate screening. I think I have one missing but I will see how it goes. I agree that all environmental considerations must be taken into account in licensing forestry operations. To this end, all forestry licensing decisions must take account of all EU environmental directives that exist and must be in full compliance with all appropriate assessment and environmental impact assessment, EIA, requirements. In making determinations on licences, the forestry appeals committee determines that no errors were made in issuing the licence in question. It does not function as another licensing body.

Reference is made in one amendment to the water framework directive and this has been transposed into Irish law by means of a series of regulations. In these regulations, it is prescribed that, in addition to specific duties for particular public authorities, there is a general duty for all public authorities to exercise their functions in a manner that is consistent with the provisions of the directive and which achieves or promotes compliance with the requirements of the directive. This ruling applies no less to the forestry appeals committee.

There is no requirement to introduce regulations in this matter through these amendments. Provisions are already included in this Bill according to which the forestry appeals committee can decide to undertake a screening for appropriate assessment or EIA. As such, these amendments add nothing further to the Bill and I will not accept them.

I note the Minister of State's response to the amendments. In the interests of being helpful because I am conscious there will another day here for the Minister of State, I will proceed with amendment No. 36, if that is agreeable to the House.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 37, in the names of Senators Higgins and Boyhan, is out of order as a potential charge on Revenue. Amendment No. 38, in the names of Senators Higgins and Boyhan, is out of order as a potential charge on Revenue.

Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 not moved.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 6, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

“(aa) The Minister shall make regulations in respect of the conduct by the Forestry Appeals Committee with regard to:

(i) screening for appropriate assessment;

(ii) screening for environmental impact assessment;

(iii) appropriate assessment;

(iv) environmental impact assessment, and compliance of the Forestry Appeals Committee with Article 4 of the Water Framework Directive in respect of obligations to assess the impact on water quality and no deterioration in water quality consequent on its decision in respect of an appeal.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 40, in the names of Senators Boyhan, Higgins, Boylan, Gavan, McCallion, Ó Donnghaile and Warfield, has been deemed out of order as a potential charge on Revenue. Amendment No. 41, in the names of Senators Higgins and Boyhan, is out of order as a potential charge on Revenue.

Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 not moved.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 6, to delete lines 39 and 40.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 7, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

“(12A) Where an appeal is brought to the Forestry Appeals Committee against a decision of the Minister, and is not withdrawn, the Forestry Appeals Committee shall determine the application as if it had been made to the Forestry Appeals Committee in the first instance and the decision of the Forestry Appeals Committee shall operate to annul the decision of the Minister as from the time when it was given; and the Forestry Appeals Committee shall apply at least all the considerations set out in legislation for the decision of the Minister in making the decisions in the first instance, subject to any necessary modifications necessary to comply with European law.”.

Does the Minister of State wish to comment?

I would like a brief comment from the Minister of State.

I am not willing to accept amendment No. 43. I believe the provisions now in the Bill make it clear that the options available to the forestry appeals committee in making determinations in respect of licences appealed exist. I believe these are appropriate and sufficient.

The forestry appeals committee can decide to affirm, vary and allow the appeal and set aside the decision. It may also remit a decision of the Department. I note that if such a decision is then altered, it will be published and may be appealed. The forestry appeals committee may also substitute a decision of the Minister.

It is open to the forestry appeals committee in certain circumstances, and when it considers it expedient or necessary, to carry out screening or conduct an appropriate assessment or an environmental impact assessment.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 24.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Boylan and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 7, to delete lines 10 to 13 and substitute the following:

“(b) and—”.

The amendment seeks to remove lines that narrow the circumstances under which the forestry appeals committee might reject an appeal. The Minister of State might clarify the position.

It is entirely appropriate that the forestry appeals committee should be satisfied whether a serious or significant error, or a series of errors, was made in making the decision that is the subject of the appeal. I will not be accepting the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 45 and 47 to 49, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 7, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

"(c) When notifying an appellant of a determination, the Forestry Appeals Committee will include a report on how-

(i) Ireland’s commitments and targets on climate change and biodiversity,

(ii) the Sustainable Development Goals,

(iii) relevant EU directives,

(iv) the need or otherwise for an environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment, and

(v) a National Forestry Programme,

have been considered in the Forestry Appeals Committee’s determination.".

Amendment No. 46 relates to the timeliness of the publication of decisions. Amendment No. 47 relates to the question of notifications and what information is included in decisions, and amendment No. 45 is similar. Due to the ruling out of order of amendment No. 40, we did not get to tease out this question that is also addressed in amendment No. 45. In amendment No. 45, I ask that a number of factors would be reflected and included in the information concerning a determination that is made by the forestry appeals committee. I am only going to focus on the most important one, which is that when it notifies an appellant of a determination, the forestry appeals committee should indicate to that appellant how it has considered the need or otherwise for an environmental impact assessment, EIA, or appropriate assessment. This goes to the heart of amendment No. 40, which, unfortunately, was ruled out of order.

There is a real concern that, in the Bill as it stands, there is no requirement on the forestry appeals committee to consider whether an environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment is needed. Of course, it may decide, and it is its prerogative to say, that an environmental impact assessment or an appropriate assessment is not necessary, but it should at least consider it. At the moment, the Bill only requires that it may screen for an EIA or conduct an EIA, or may screen for an appropriate assessment or conduct an appropriate assessment.

I am not suggesting that there should be an EIA or an appropriate assessment in every case. However, when we talk about why this Bill is happening, one of the reasons is that there has been a large increase in appeals. One of the reasons for that is because, in July, the then Minister, Deputy Calleary, admitted in the Houses of the Oireachtas that the licensing decisions that had been made had been found not to be delivering properly in regard to the habitat of birds and all of the various environmental directives. We had European courts telling us we were not doing the licensing process right. That obviously spurred a spike in people putting in appeals, because they are concerned about licences, given it has been admitted they had not perhaps been conducted with due regard to environmental factors.

Now that we have an appeals mechanism, please let us not make the same mistake and let us not have this appeals mechanism challenged because it also does not give due consideration to the question of whether EIAs or appropriate assessments are needed. At a minimum, the forestry appeals committee, whether it takes one minute or five minutes to do it, should consider whether we need an EIA or appropriate assessment. That is the basic point: not to do those assessments, but to consider whether they are needed. If an appellant has put in an appeal and may be deciding whether he or she wants to take a case to the High Court, for example, the appellant should know whether the forestry appeals committee has considered the question of EIA or appropriate assessment.

Senator Higgins has set out her concerns very well and I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's response.

I agree on the absolute need to ensure that the licensing system is robust enough in the first instance. If everything were right and fitted the bill at the start, there would not be any appeals. I acknowledge and appreciate that but it is not the job of the forestry appeals committee to examine and reissue licences. The role of the committee is to ensure that the licensing process has been conducted in an appropriate manner. It has the ability to, and surely will, examine whether it needs to have an appropriate assessment or an environmental impact assessment, or screen for those. That is part of the process currently. I do not believe a direction in that regard needs to be inserted. What is proposed is part of what the forestry appeals committee undertakes so I will not be accepting the amendment. I concur, however, that we must ensure the licensing system is robust enough to meet the requirements. I am hopeful that, in years to come, there will be a falling off in the number of appeals because we will have got this right.

The reason a large number of the licences are being appealed is concern that the committee has failed to address the issue of properly considering whether environmental impact assessments or other appropriate assessments are required at the licensing stage. I am not going to labour my point about the committee but I really urge the Minister of State to re-examine it before she brings the legislation to the Dáil. There is a risk. The legislation currently states that where the committee considers it necessary and expedient in making a determination, the committee "may" screen for an assessment. It may not do so, however, and that is why it is important that the Bill address this. Given the concerns over the first part of the process, and that the challenge led to the major appeals backlog, as acknowledged by the Minister of State, it behoves us to make sure we get it right at this stage. This is worth addressing and considering further in the Dáil. I recognise that the Minister of State cannot accept my amendment now. As the former Minister, Deputy Calleary, said in July, one of the drivers is that the process needed to be changed and improved. That is the nub of the problem. It would be a pity, therefore, if we were to embed an ambiguity where we could have clarity. I recognise that the Minister of State may not be able to accept my amendment now but I appeal to her to consider this matter before the legislation goes to the Dáil because it will strongly improve the legal robustness of the Bill.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 46, in the names of Senators Boyhan, Higgins, Boylan, Gavan, McCallion, Ó Domhnaill and Warfield, is ruled out of order because of a potential charge of the State.

Amendment No. 46 not moved.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 7, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"(15) The notification and publication of a decision of the Forestry Appeals Committee shall contain information on the entitlement to pursue a judicial review in the High Court of that decision.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 7, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"(15) The notification and publication of a decision of the Forestry Appeals Committee shall contain information on the entitlement to pursue a judicial review in the High Court of that decision, and that such a review shall be subject to no lesser standard of protection against costs than envisaged for applicants for judicial review under section 3 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, in order to ensure wide access to justice.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 7, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"(15) When notifying an appellant of a determination, the Forestry Appeals Committee will inform the appellant of their right to challenge the Committee’s decision in the High Court.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 7, line 30, after "appeal." to insert the following:

"Where, after a vote of the sitting Committee, the majority of the Forestry Appeals Committee is of the opinion that an oral hearing should be heard in relation to an appeal the Chairperson shall, as soon as may be, fix a date and place for the oral hearing. In the case of a tied Committee vote the Chairperson of that Committee will be the deciding vote on the holding of an oral hearing.".

Not unlike the first amendment we proposed, this one is about setting into the legislation the transparency required in the context of oral hearings.

I note there is a facility in the legislation for oral hearings, etc., but we are seeking to underpin that where a request for an oral hearing is made, it will be put to a vote of the committee. We have gone as far as providing that in that if there is a tie on the committee, the casting vote of the chairperson would come into play. This is, at least, a transparent way of deciding whether an oral hearing would take place. We believe this will improve the legislation and make it more transparent. I ask the Minister of State to take it on board and I am interested to here her feedback on it.

I will not be accepting these amendments. The committee will determine whether it is necessary to conduct an oral hearing in order to properly and fairly determine the appeal. This does not mean there will not be oral hearings. We will leave it to the independent committee to determine that. The committee will have its own procedures governing this matter in which it will make that determination. Such procedures will have regard to fairness and natural justice and matters relating to notice and notification of oral hearings will be dealt with by means of regulations.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 12; Níl, 24.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne..
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 7, line 34, after “Committee.” to insert the following:

“Such rules shall ensure fairness of procedures and wide access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 7, line 38, after “formality.” to insert the following:

“Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing, the chairperson or deputy chairperson of the Forestry Appeals Committee shall, in the conduct of an oral hearing, ensure fairness of procedures and wide access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 8, to delete lines 3 to 5.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 54 to 71, inclusive, are related. Nos. 55 to 71, inclusive, are physical alternatives to No. 54. Amendments Nos. 54 to 71, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 8, lines 15 to 26, to delete all words from and including “(1) The” in line 15 down to and including line 26.

This amendment would delete the proposed section 14D, which allows the Minister to direct the forestry appeals committee as to how to prioritise different appeals or classes of appeals over others. I cannot see how the claim can be made that the appeals committee is meant to be independent in its functions, in how it organises its own work and in dealing with the appeals if the Minister of State is giving herself the option to tell the committee which appeals are important and which are not.

I am sorry to interrupt, but Senators who are not participating in the debate should give their colleagues an opportunity to discuss the issue.

This seems an inappropriate political interference from a Minister with the independence of the committee and unfortunately in circumstances where a directive was made under this section, I believe it would call the integrity of the process into question. If the whole point of this Bill is to restore confidence in an overloaded forestry appeals process, anything which might delegitimise its decisions or the processes it uses is a cause for concern. The Bill would be strengthened by not having this section in it, which is why I am proposing that it be deleted. I hope the Minister of State will consider accepting the amendment.

I am totally opposed to this amendment, purely on the grounds of what I have been hearing from the industry. We have close to 1,000,000 cu. m of forestry tied up in the appeals process at the moment. This legislation is about trying to get a large volume of that timber out very quickly. The applications, which are more than 500 in number, involve everything from roadways to smallholdings to large holdings. The industry and the people I have been talking to, particularly in west Cork, need to have actual product. They are going to start importing from Scotland in the next few weeks. As such, unless we can get out of the way and ensure that we can get large licences approved whereby large amounts of product can be felled in a short period, the jobs I am talking about in west Cork will be lost. These jobs are in Grainger Sawmills, where 500 people will be moving to a four-day week from 1 October. That will then go to a three-day week and to a two-day week and we will have a decimated part of rural Ireland because we will not have an industry going.

It is a practical part of this Bill. It is there to protect the jobs in rural Ireland that need to have this protection put in place because, unfortunately, the product is not there to keep those jobs going. I am against the amendment. I have been talking to many families this morning and they spoke about this amendment in particular because there is genuine concern that this amendment could have an unfortunate knock-on effect that the livelihoods I am trying to protect tonight might not survive. That is why I am making this plea on this amendment.

As I understand it, we are addressing amendments Nos. 54 to 71, inclusive, together. On amendment No. 54, my main concern does not relate primarily to the idea of the Minister giving policy directives. That may be appropriate and it may allow for an evolving policy so I am not strictly against the Minister giving policy directives. There may be call for it and that is why I supported that amendment. My main concern is the removal of that section if section 14D(2) was still in play. Section 14D(2) is my real concern. Section 14D(1) indicates that the Minister may give general directives to policy. Section 14D(2) narrows, however, and says what must be prioritised in that. With respect to Senator Lombard and others, I agree that there are times when there will be economic priorities and particular issues and concerns around particular classes of appeals in relation to economic issues or a need for a larger turnover or volume of product, for example. However, this Bill is not simply for one group of people in one month or in one six-month period. It is for the setting out of how our forestry appeals mechanisms will work and it is for the Minister to set policy. There are many policy priorities and there will and should be times when other policy priorities might be set. It would be inappropriate if a single goal were specifically placed over others as it is at the moment. I put in 17 variations of amendments to this section because of these two lines in section 14D(2). I do not know if they were asked for by industry, as mentioned by Senator Lombard, or where they came from but we know they were not in the heads of the Bill-----

To clarify, I did not say industry asked for that.

That is fine. I thank the Senator for clarifying that.

If Senator Lombard wants to interrupt, he has to ask for permission.

I apologise to Senator Lombard if I made a wrong suggestion. I was simply saying we do not know where they came from. As we know that 99% of those who made submissions in favour of the Bill did not mention any policy issue, we know that such a suggestion can only have come from 1% of the 81% of those who submitted in favour of the Bill. That is less than 0.81% as a potential source for this recommendation. However, that is by the by. What really matters in this House is the legislation and the powers of the Minister going forward. As has been said, for all of us who care about forestry and who want Ireland to become a country with more than 11% afforestation and with a target of 30% afforestation, what matters is that we have good forestry policy. The proposed new section 14D(2), as it stands, suggests that when making any policy directive to the FAC on how it prioritises appeals, the Minister "shall have regard to the need to ensure an economically and environmentally sustainable yield of forest goods and services in the State". Again, this places the idea of a productive yield, which points to felling trees and producing forest goods and services, as a single goal or the main goal. This is extractive language that talks about sustaining the levels of commercial product as something that must be considered before anything else may be considered. That is really dangerous. Section 14D(1) gives the Minister the power to make policy directives. There are times when there may be an economic imperative to give such policy directives but there will also be times when there will be a biodiversity imperative.

It may be a biodiversity imperative that does not give us an economic benefit, even an economically sustainable economic benefit, but that is about the fact that, for example, 63% of our bird species are on the red and amber list. If we get to a point of having only five remaining hen harriers in Ireland, the Minister of State may wish to ask the FAC to prioritise such appeals as relate to the concerns about hen harriers. That is an example. Luckily, while there are concerns, we are not at that point with hen harriers. At times the Minister must be able to talk about a social, biodiversity and environmental imperative that is not about an environmental product, service, commercial entity or commercial product. At some time in the future, such considerations may be a priority for the Minister or another Minister. I inquired about these two lines because I was concerned about the way they appeared in the Bill, as they were not in the heads of the Bill, and I was told that it was thought to be useful to set out principles.

I have a number of amendments but I will only talk about three of them; I do not want to take the full day to do so. Each of them took thought and reflected genuine, positive approaches to the giving of policy directives to the FAC and the kinds of principles that should or might be considered when deciding to issue those priorities. I will read one example because I have lists, and they are variations, but I genuinely try to reflect even the priorities of the Government. In amendment No. 57, I suggest that the Minister of State, when making a policy directive, might consider "(a) the Sustainable Development Goals, (b) the climate change and biodiversity crisis, (c) Ireland’s targets in respect of emissions reduction, (d) biodiversity, [which is part of the Minister's remit and part of her title as Minister]" or any one of the EU directives, and I will not list the numbers, in respect of birds' habitats and wildlife. The Minister might have regard to principles of the national pollinator plan and the idea of just transition. I reiterate that what will be needed in the forestry industry is just transition to a different model of forestry industry as the old model will change with the change in markets internationally and the change in climate criteria. In my amendment I suggest the promotion of broadleaf planting and continuous cover forestry, which are two stated goals that have been talked about and very slowly introduced into our forestry policy. It refers also to social impact and public amenity. Finally, and this is one of the crucial points, we have a forestry programme that will expire in four months. When the Minister of State is considering giving policy to the FAC, she should look to this national forestry strategy that all of us will develop together. A basic point should be that she should look to whatever those agreed principles in a national forestry programme are and that that will guide her in giving directives so that, for example, the FAC will consider appeals in a way that is complementary to our shared forestry strategy, which, I hope, will contain environmental, economic, biodiversity and social elements.

That is an example of some of the principles that could be brought into play. The Minister of State may not be able to accept any of the variations of those principles so I outlined versions that took out some, left in others, changed directives, and took out anything that was not in the law and put in everything that was in the law. I tried to keep to established policy; nothing that I wish for myself but issues that have been agreed as national policy. Failing that, I ask that she would delete that section, bearing in mind that she still has the freedom to give directives, if required, in respect of large-scale felling, thinning licences and so forth. She can give directives as she wishes under section 1. She should not tie her hands, the hands of a future Minister or the hands or the credibility of a future forestry national programme by curtailing her capacity to give directives by placing one issue above another.

The Mackinnon report pointed to the fact that there is a tension between some of the commercial purposes and the climate purposes we require from our forests.

The text in the Bill makes that call very clearly on one side of what has in the Mackinnon report been recognised as a very difficult balancing act. If the Minister of State cannot accept these amendments, I ask a small thing: that she could consider either amendment No. 61 or amendment No. 71, which very mildly remove the most egregious language in the Bill, which is "yield". This is the core of an extractive language. We are talking not simply about economically and environmentally sustainable practices, industries or products but, with the world "yield", about the physical produce. With that language, "yield", in the Bill, it would become difficult for the Minister of State to prioritise thinning over clearfell, for example, because thinning would result in less of a yield in very blunt terms when we talk about an economically continuous yield. It would result in less of a yield or a more prolonged yield. I would like the Minister of State to indicate if she might be able to support any of these 17 amendments.

I call Senator Ruane.

Senator Higgins has covered it.

The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. It is a pleasure to have a Minister of State appointed from the Seanad. I have listened with great interest to the debate. I do not wish to prolong matters this late in the evening, and my colleague, Senator Hoey, has admirably put forward the Labour position on the Bill. Looking at this very substantive group of amendments, and in particular the amendments Senator Higgins debated, amendment No. 57 and related amendments, it illustrates how unfortunate it is that we have seen the Bill rushed through with such tight timing and without the adequate time we should be able to give to debate these very important principles. I know that many others, like myself, were contacted late last week by the Irish Environmental Network and other non-governmental organisations. In recent days these organisations have expressed real frustration at the lateness with which the Bill text was produced and expressed concerns about aspects of it. These concerns and the very real issues that have been raised deserve far more time than we can give in this truncated, rushed debate on a Friday, with Committee and Report Stages taken together. I know that that point has been made quite a number of times, but looking particularly at amendment No. 57 and the very important issues that have been set out by Senators Higgins and Boyhan in the amendment, which we in the Labour group support, we see the importance of specifying what issues the Minister should have regard to, such as a just transition, which is so crucial, the sustainable development goals and so on. Senator Higgins has tabled variations of the amendment, and I urge the Minister of State to at least take on board one of the variations and the sentiments and very sincere reasoning behind them in light of the rushed nature of the debate. We should at least have been able to put something in the Bill that would specify these priorities.

I call Senator Boyhan.

I will wait to hear the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senators. I thank Senator Bacik for the welcome. I appreciate the effort Senator Higgins has made in putting together the amendments and the thought she has put into them. I should clarify the intention of this provision. It is that the Minister may ask the FAC to prioritise in certain circumstances a certain class of appeal over others, not necessarily one individual appeal over another individual appeal. All appeals will, of course, be processed, but there may be specific circumstances in which there are grounds for prioritising one type over another. To be clear, there are only three classes of licensing: afforestation, felling and licence granted for roads. They are the only three classes with which the appeals section can engage. Thinning licences are covered under felling licences. They are not a distinct class in the current model. I believe this provision would be lightly used. It is found in other examples, including in the planning Acts. Furthermore, it would be a fully transparent process, which is essential. Any directive issued here will be publicly available and laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

Several submissions sought clarity on the basis and circumstances on which the Minister may issue a general directive as to the policy. I appreciate the submissions. The provisions offer that clarity but I take into account the particular terminology in the provision. Having looked through the array of amendments and options, amendment No. 61 struck the right balance as it softens the language somewhat but also opens that up. I am happy to accept the amendment.

I greatly appreciate that the Minister of State has decided to take the amendment on board as it will replace the language of yield with one of support and reads: "When making a directive ... the Minister shall have regard to the need to support economically and environmentally sustainable forest goods and services in the State." While it does not fully address my concern about non-economic issues regarding biodiversity, I recognise that this is a great improvement and I thank her for putting it forward. I will still call votes regarding removal as my preferred option. Amendment No. 57 puts down a little marker as to what I think are the full list of issues that should be considered. In light of the Minister of State kindly accepting amendment No. 61, I will withdraw the other amendments with the consent of my colleagues who co-signed them.

I am a co-signature to the amendments and I am happy to go along with that.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 8, between lines 15 and 16, to delete insert “, having regard to the matter specified in subsection (2),".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 8, to delete lines 22 to 24.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 8, to delete lines 22 to 24 and substitute the following:

““(2) When making a directive under this section, the Minister shall have regard to—

(a) the Sustainable Development Goals,

(b) the climate change and biodiversity crisis,

(c) Ireland's targets in respect of emissions reduction,

(d) biodiversity,

(e) EU Directive 92/43/EEC,

(f) EU Directive 2009/147/EC,

(g) EU Directive 2000/60/EC,

(h) the National Pollinator Plan,

(i) Just Transition,

(j) the promotion of broadleaf planting and continuous cover forestry,

(k) social impact and public amenity, and

(l) such other priorities as might be set out in a national forestry programme subsequent to the expiry of the current Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020.”.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 24.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne..
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 8, to delete lines 22 to 24 and substitute the following:

“(2) When making a directive under this section, the Minister shall have regard to—

(a) the Sustainable Development Goals,

(b) the climate change and biodiversity crisis,

(c) Ireland’s targets in respect of emissions reduction,

(d) biodiversity,

(e) EU directives on birds, habitats and water,

(f) Just Transition, and

(g) such other priorities as might be set out in a national forestry programme subsequent to the expiry of the current Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 8, to delete lines 22 to 24 and substitute the following:

“(2) When making a directive under this section, the Minister shall have regard to—

(a) the Sustainable Development Goals,

(b) the climate change and biodiversity crisis,

(c) Ireland’s targets in respect of emissions reduction,

(d) biodiversity,

(e) the National Pollinator Plan,

(f) Just Transition,

(g) the promotion of broadleaf planting and continuous cover forestry,

(h) economically and environmentally sustainable forest goods and services in the State, and

(i) such other priorities as might be set out in a national forestry programme subsequent to the expiry of the current Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 8, to delete lines 22 to 24 and substitute the following:

“(2) When making a directive under this section, the Minister shall have regard to—

(a) the Sustainable Development Goals and the climate change and biodiversity crisis,

(b) the National Pollinator Plan,

(c) Just Transition,

(d) the promotion of broadleaf planting and continuous cover forestry,

(e) social impact and public amenity,

(f) such other priorities as might be set out in a national forestry programme, subsequent to the expiry of the current Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 61:

In page 8, to delete lines 22 to 24 and substitute the following:

“(2) When making a directive under this section, the Minister shall have regard to the need to support economically and environmentally sustainable forest goods and services in the State.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 62 to 71, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 72 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 72 not moved.

I move amendment No. 73:

In page 9, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:

“(1A) Where the Minister makes such a regulation under subsection (1), they will lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on such regulations for consideration.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 74 in the names of Senators Ruane, Higgins and Boyhan and amendment No. 75 in the names of Senators Norris and Craughwell have been ruled out of order as they impose a charge on the Revenue and are a conflict to the principle of the Bill. Amendment No. 76 in the name of Senator Boylan and others and amendment No. 77 in the names of Senators Bacik, Hoey, Moynihan, Sherlock and Wall have been ruled out of order as potential charges on the Revenue.

Amendments Nos. 74 to 77, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 78 to 82 inclusive, and amendments Nos. 84 to 86, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed. Agreed.

I move amendment No. 78:

In page 10, line 6, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

Our amendments Nos. 82 to 86, inclusive, all relate to the power the Minister of State intends to give herself to set new fees for making appeals. It is a new power and centres on the part of the Bill which is a cause of real concerns among the citizens and environmental groups.

I apologise for interrupting the Senator. There are discussions ongoing at the back of the Chamber. We need the Members in possession to be the only persons is talking in the Chamber, please.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. The concern is that any new fees will be set at a level that will discourage the making of appeals. Based on the Minister of State's own admission that the appeals system is overloaded, this is a concern for individual citizens who may be on low incomes or for groups with an interest in the environment or forestry who may make multiple appeals at the same time and who may struggle with the cumulative cost attached to such appeals. Our concern, therefore, is that the cost of the appeals will not be set at a level that is appropriate or proportionate to the cost of actually processing the appeal, which is why we have tabled these amendments today.

As the Minister of State will be aware, under the Aarhus Convention, we have an obligation to facilitate and indeed encourage the access of citizens to environmental planning, and it is specifically stated in Article 9 of the convention that countries that are party to it shall provide "adequate and effective remedies, including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive". As the Minister of State will see from our amendments today, we have drawn directly some of the language from the text of the convention. I hope that, purely on those grounds, she would consider accepting them.

In the amendments in this group we have tried to provide the Minister of State with a number of options on how she might improve the fees section. If she were to accept even one amendment, it would provide key reassurance to the stakeholders involved that she is listening to their concerns.

Amendment No. 83 would require the Minister to provide for a full refund of an appeal if the appeal was eventually successful. I am not sure if amendment No. 83 was ruled out of order. In amendment No. 84 I have drawn language straight from the Aarhus Convention to ensure that any fees that are set would be fair, equitable, not prohibitively expensive and would not discourage the making of an appeal in the first place.

In amendment No. 85 I have set out a number of key points that the Minister should consider when setting the level of fees, including the importance of promoting public participation in the forestry sector, our international obligations, the importance of public involvement in environmental planning, the public good afforded by experts, and the public being able to make appeals. This is a particularly important amendment due to the extraordinary lack of detail the Minister of State has provided on how she will set the level of those fees. As she will be aware, it has been affirmed in multiple decisions in our courts that when the Oireachtas gives a Minister power to set key regulations, such as fees via secondary legislation, the Oireachtas must set out the principles and policies that underlie how the power is exercised.

In this section 14F the Minister of State has not set out any factors that will influence how she will set these fees. Without such detail, any fees she sets under the section could actually be struck out by the courts on such grounds.

It would therefore be in the Minister of State's interest to accept an amendment in this vein and I urge her to do so. If accepted, amendment No. 82 would give the Oireachtas a role in approving the proposed fees. I should be clear that I do not want a circumstance where every single fee has to receive our approval in the House but where the Minister of State has set out no limits, principles, policies or oversight mechanisms for these fees, it may be one of the few options remaining. Finally, amendment No. 86 provides that along with prescribing fees for appeals, the Minister of State would also prescribe a scheme that would allow for a waiver of the fee where the appellant was in circumstances of financial hardship and could not afford the fee as a result. It seems a reasonable ask on behalf of those who are worried about their access to environmental justice on the grounds of cost, and would prevent inability to pay from being a barrier to participating in the forestry planning system. We have given the Minister of State a number of options, along with the amendments tabled by other colleagues, for how to proceed on the fees issue and I urge her to accept even one of them to indicate that she is listening to the concerns and how they could create a barrier to participation in this important sector.

Senator Ruane has set out the concerns we have around fees and the requirement under the Aarhus Convention for them not to be prohibitively expensive. We are not aware of what the fee will be. If it is to be aligned with the planning process, starting at €220, the cost would accumulate very quickly. Appeals on forestry are very different from appeals on planning permission and the costs can quickly add up. That point was made on Second Stage on Wednesday and I am reiterating it today. We do not want any set of fees to be prohibitive of accessing justice.

I would particularly like to make a point on amendment No. 81, which is around the role of environmental bodies and decision-making. I think everyone would agree that the environmental NGO sector in this country has done incredible work carrying out the job the State should be doing in upholding our obligations under environmental law. Given the situation with Covid, every charity, NGO and organisation is crippled in terms of finances and membership fees. I ask that the Minister of State give due consideration to the exemption of environmental NGOs from the fees process. I am sure nobody in this House would say that environmental NGOs are putting in appeals of a vexatious nature. They are fulfilling a very important role and are hard pressed, especially at the time of Covid, and having to lay off staff. I ask that the Minister of State as a Green Party Senator give due consideration to an exemption from fees for environmental NGOs.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I refer to amendment No. 79:

In page 10, line 7, to delete "in specified circumstances" and substitute "where an appeal is upheld, or where it is consistent with justice and in the public interest to do so".

I would be interested in hearing the Minister of State's response.

I thank the Senators. While I appreciate the sentiment that fees should not be applied, there is a necessity to strike a balance between recouping some level of the cost while allowing access to the appeals system. This is in line with other planning processes. It is our intention to set reasonable fees that are not prohibitive and will represent only a fraction of the cost of conducting an appeal. The initial submission fee will be set at a very low level so the public also has a chance to engage at that stage, before it even gets to the appeal. People really should be getting involved with making a submission at the start of the process when the notification of the licence is made. There is a month there for decisions to be made. That does happen but not always. Some people just jump straight in at the appeals stage, when the licensing body has not had the chance to understand some of the concerns.

I would urge everyone to make a submission if he or she is concerned about any particular forestry licence application. I will not be accepting the amendment but I thank the Senator for his input.

Senator Boyhan has a supplementary comment.

Throughout this process, the Minister of State has always talked about there being a low fee. Can she give us some indication of how much that fee is? Is she talking about €5, €10 or €20? What is a low fee? It would be helpful to know that. Many people are wondering if it is hundreds or thousands of euro or €20.

The Senator has made his point.

Can the Minister of State give us an indication of that?

The fees will be set in the regulation. I would be thinking, approximately, of something in line with An Bord Pleanála's fees of €20 for a submission and in the region of €200 for an appeal. That will have to be set in the regulation and the Houses of the Oireachtas will ultimately determine whether those fees are acceptable.

I thank the Minister of State for the clarification. That is important-----

The Minister of State has given Senator Boyhan a clear answer.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 24.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Boylan and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 80:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“(3) In prescribing under subsection (1), the Minister shall consider the necessity to provide wide access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee, and the cumulative impact of decisions of the Minister on fees arising for appellants.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 81:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“(3) In prescribing under subsection (1), the Minister shall consider the important contribution and role of environmental bodies in environmental decision-making and the necessity to provide for access to the appeal mechanism of the Forestry Appeals Committee, and the cumulative impact of decisions of the Minister on fees arising for such appellants.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 82 not moved.

Amendment No. 83 is deemed out of order because it involves a potential charge on revenue.

Amendment No. 83 not moved.

I move amendment No. 84:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“(3) In prescribing under subsection (1), the Minister shall set fees at a cost that is fair and equitable, that is not prohibitive and which does not discourage the making of an appeal.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“(3) When prescribing under subsection (1), the Minister shall have regard to the following:

(a) the importance of promoting public participation in the forestry sector;

(b) the obligations of the State under the Aarhus Convention, other international obligations, and the need to encourage the involvement of the public in environmental decision-making; and

(c) the public good provided by individual citizens, experts, groups with expertise or interest in forestry and the environment being able to make appeals under the Act.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 86:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“(3) When prescribing under subsection (1), the Minister shall also provide for a concurrent scheme whereby an appellant may apply for a fee waiver on the grounds of financial hardship and a consequential inability to pay.”.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 87 to 89, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 87:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“Right to appeal

14G. No rule or direction made under any part of this Act shall allow for the exclusion of a person or category of person in Ireland from making an appeal under this Act.”.

These issues have already been discussed. They relate to ensuring that no category of person should be disadvantaged.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 88:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“Right to appeal

14G. No rule or direction made under any part of this Act shall allow for the exclusion of a person or category of person ordinarily resident in Ireland from making an appeal under this Act.”.

Is the amendment being pressed?

With the permission of my co-signatory, I will withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 89:

In page 10, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

"Right to appeal

14G. No rule or direction made under any part of this Act shall allow for any new exclusion of a person or category of person from making an appeal under this Act.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 5

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 10, to delete line 19.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 91 and 99 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 91:

In page 10, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

"(d) in section 22, by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (9):

"(10)(a) The Minister shall provide for and cause the publication, on a website maintained by or on behalf of the Minister, of the substantive decision of the Minister on a license, including the reasons and considerations for the decision, any conditions imposed and the reasons and considerations for them and any assessment or reports relied upon or produced, or information relied upon in making the decision, within a period of three days after making the decision.

(b) The Minister shall make regulations necessary to comply with paragraph (a)."."

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 5 agreed to.
SECTION 6

I move amendment No. 92:

In page 10, line 33, to delete "on or after" and substitute "after a period of 28 days after".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 93:

In page 10, line 37, after "continue" to insert ", only for a period of two months,".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 94:

In page 10, line 37, after "continue” to insert ", only for a period of 12 months,".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 95:

In page 10, after line 39, to insert the following:

"(4) The Minister shall revisit the appointments to the Forestry Appeals Committee in order to ensure the independence and requisite expertise and experience of the Committee, particularly in respect of environmental legislation, water quality, biodiversity and climate considerations, within a period of two months of the coming into operation of section 3 and/or section 4.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 96 is in the name of Senators Boyhan and Higgins.

I move amendment No. 96:

In page 10, after line 39, to insert the following:

"(4) The Minister shall cause a report to be laid before the Oireachtas within two weeks following the new appointment to the Forestry Appeals Committee and support a debate in the Oireachtas on the matter.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 97:

In page 10, after line 39, to insert the following:

"(4) The Minister shall revisit the appointments to the Forestry Appeals Committee in order to ensure the independence and requisite expertise and experience of the Committee, particularly in respect of environmental legislation, water quality, biodiversity and climate considerations, within a period of 12 months of the coming into operation of section 3 and/or section 4.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 6 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

Amendment No. 98 is in the names of Senators Boyhan, Higgins, Boylan, Gavan, McCallion, Ó Donnghaile and Warfield has already been discussed with amendment No. 36.

I move amendment No. 98:

In page 11, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"Regulations supporting conduct of Forestry Appeals Committee

7. The Minister, prior to the commencement of section 3 and 4, shall provide for regulations necessary to support the conduct of the Forestry Appeals Committee with regard to: (a) screening for environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment; (b) environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment; (c) ensuring compliance by the Forestry Appeals Committee with its obligations under Article 4 of Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy, to ensure assessment of the impact of their decision and avoidance of deterioration of the water quality of a water body consequent on their decision, in accordance with Article 4.".

This amendment relates to the regulations supporting the conduct-----

As this amendment has already been discussed, all the Senator can do at this juncture is move it formally.

Okay. I would like to hear the Minister of State's response.

It has already been discussed.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 23.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McGahon, John.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Boylan and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 99:

In page 11, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"Publication of licencing and appeals decisions

7. The Minister, prior to the commencement of section 3 and 4, shall provide for the establishment of a mechanism to publish, on a website maintained by or on behalf of the Minister, the following:

(a) the Minister’s licensing decisions, including the reasons and considerations for the decision, any conditions imposed and the reasons and considerations for those conditions, and any reports and assessments produced or relied upon in making that decision;

(b) the decisions of the Forestry Appeals Committee on appeals, including the reasons and considerations for the decision, any conditions imposed and the reasons and considerations for those conditions, and any reports and assessments produced or relied upon in making that decision.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 100 and 104 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 100:

In page 11, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"Review of operation and effectiveness of Act

7. Not later than 30 January 2021, the Minister shall—

(a) review the operation and effectiveness of this Act and the effect of its provisions, including:

(i) considering the effect of any fees imposed on the accessibility of the appeal mechanism;

(ii) detailing the rationale for any fees imposed;

(iii) any issues encountered with the provisions;

(iv) the status of regulations provided for under this Act;

(v) proposals in relation to commencement of provisions;

(vi) appointments to the Forestry Appeals Committee;

(vii) the conduct of appeals;

(viii) the numbers of appeals processed;

(ix) the number of appeals subject to judicial review,

(b) before preparing such a review, conduct a public consultation on the effect of the Act and in relation to any concerns arising, and include such submissions and a summary of them in the review, and

(c) lay before each House of the Oireachtas a report of his or her conclusions from the review, and support a debate in the Oireachtas on the matter.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 101 to 103, inclusive, have been ruled out of order as they are not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 101 to 103, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 104:

In page 11, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"7. Not later than 30 January 2022, the Minister shall—

(a) review the operation and effectiveness of this Act and the effect of its provisions, including on consideration of the effect of any fees imposed on the accessibility of the appeal mechanism; detailed rationale for any fees imposed; issues encountered with the provisions; the status of regulations provided for under the Act; proposals in relation to commencement of provisions; appointments to the Forestry Appeals Committee; the conduct of appeals; the numbers of appeals processed; the number of appeals subject to judicial review,

(b) in preparing such a review the Minister shall conduct a public consultation on the effect of the Act and in relation to any concerns arising and include such submissions and a summary of them in the review, and

(c) lay before each House of the Oireachtas a report of his or her conclusions from the review, and support a debate in the Oireachtas on the matter.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 7 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I very much thank my fellow Senators for their contributions this evening and for staying on so late on a Friday evening.

I welcome that there has been a great deal of engagement on this legislation and that it has progressed. I was happy to accept those amendments I accepted.

The Bill addresses the need for an efficient appeals system for forestry. There is an urgent need for the changes proposed in this Bill. The crisis in the sector deserves no less.

I am confident that this Bill with its new amendments, together with improvements to the licensing process, will lead to significantly more licences being issued. This is a first step in resolving the issue we face. We can then turn our attention to the new forestry programme and our forestry strategy going forward. It will need to deliver a model of forestry that serves the environmental, social and economic needs of our society. I am committed to consulting widely to put such model in place.

I thank Members for their time and wish them a safe journey home.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Wednesday at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.16 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 September 2020.