Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Questions (1008)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

1008. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the backlog in the issuing of felling licences will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6804/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I fully recognise the impact the current forestry licencing delays are having on the sector and I am in regular and intensive consultation with all stakeholders to resolve these issues. Along with Minister of State Pippa Hackett who is responsible for forestry, it is my immediate priority to deal with this backlog and to issue licences in the volume needed for this important sector to continue to contribute to our rural economy, that services both the local and export market.

You will be aware of the delays caused by changes to the licensing system, which means that a significant number of cases now need ecological input to comply with environmental requirements. We are tackling these delays by means of a systematic project plan. In 2020, we invested heavily in resources including the recruitment of additional ecologists, forestry inspectorate and administrative staff, with extra resources to be added this year. This has already resulted in an increase in the number of licences issued, and the last quarter of 2020 saw the highest number of licences issued last year. In addition, January saw the highest number of licences issued in any one month since July 2019.

The total number of licences which issued in 2020 was 2,592, of which 1,717 were tree felling licences. The total volume of felling licences issued for 2020 was just over 5 million cubic metres, of which almost 2m cubic metres representing 40% of annual output issued in the latter months of the year. This positive trend is continuing, with a timber volume of over 1 million cubic metres issued this year to date. The aim is to sustain and build substantially on that output and ensure the consistent high level of output that the sector needs.

We have also implemented changes to the functioning of the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) and acted quickly to propose and implement the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. I have significantly resourced the FAC and four appeals committees are now set up and hearing appeals. The FAC is now hearing an average of 60 licences per month representing an increase of 150 percent. The FAC, in consultation with the Agriculture Appeals Office, is currently reviewing ways in which greater efficiency can be achieved across the four divisions of the FAC.

I would like to reiterate my commitment to supporting the forest sector and to building on the recent progress, so that a continual improvement in delivery is achieved.