The Forestry Act, 2014 amended the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001, to make provision for the establishment of a statutory forestry licence appeals process and the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC). SI 68/2018 laid down the detailed provisions and the FAC commenced hearing appeals in 2018. The Deputy should be aware that the FAC operates independently of my Department.
The FAC requests documents on appealed decisions from my Department, organises their schedule of oral hearings and issues their decisions on the appeal. An appeal decision may be to cancel, vary or uphold a decision on a forestry licence application.
In addition to the establishment of the FAC, the Forestry Act 2014, provided for public consultation on all forestry licence applications. Details of applications are published on my Department’s website. Site notices are erected at tree felling sites, to inform the public that a valid tree felling licence is in place.
All forestry licence decisions are subject to appeal by those dissatisfied with the decision, that is applicants and third parties. 28 days is provided in which an appeal should be lodged in writing to the FAC. Most appeals have been in connection with our Appropriate Assessment (AA) procedures. The Habitats Directive (Article 6.3) requires that where a plan or project is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura site, either individually or in-combination with other plans or projects, it must undergo an appropriate assessment of its implications for that Natura site.
AA procedures have been amended to introduce a robust and workable system which will address the issues now faced. Introducing this system involved the recruitment of additional ecological expertise and changes in procedures for the forestry inspectorate. Interviews have taken place for additional ecologists under a recently advertised competition and I expect that the successful candidates will be deployed early in the new year. Forestry district inspectors have undergone training and are continuing to receive support in delivering the new procedures. A categorisation of files affected by these requirements is underway in order to best assess further action needed and by whom. Officials of my Department have met bilaterally with forestry companies, to examine the applications on hand and to assess their backlogs with a view to moving applications forward.
Furthermore, three additional administrative staff were recently assigned to the Agriculture Appeals Office to give administrative support to the Forestry Appeals Committee in view of the increased workload.
The Deputy should be aware that notwithstanding the above, my Department has issued over 4,000 tree felling licences so far this year, which is an increase of 15% on the same period in 2018.