Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Questions (987)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

987. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he address a matter (details supplied) regarding forestry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6542/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

A 20% cap per application was placed by the Department on planting on unenclosed land in 2010 in addition to grant and premium reductions. This was informed by EU Commission observations on Irish forestry policy at the time and was implemented due to environmental, economic and value-for-money reasons. There were many concerns at the time around the failure of plantations on unenclosed land to develop and produce a viable or commercial crop. This was the silvicultural and value for money rationale behind the introduction of the 20% rule.

The Department re-examined this issue in 2016. In order to address the key concerns regarding planting unenclosed land, (productivity and environment) the Department developed two documents in consultation with stakeholders. These were:

(1) Land Types for Afforestation: a vegetation classification system that aims to make classing land more objective.

(2) Environmental Requirements for Afforestation: an environmental Framework that when applied will determine whether the land has an environmental issue or not.

Both documents are now in use and inform DAFM forestry policy.

In April 2016, a Public Consultation process took place around both the new Environmental Requirements document and the case for the removal of the 20% rule. There was no agreement amongst stakeholders to removing the 20% rule and it was maintained.

To attain state aid approval for the current Forestry programme, an outline of the schemes and associated rules had to be approved by the EU Commission. The 20% rule and its proposed review were included in the current Forestry Programme. The Commission indicated subsequently that they were not in agreement with the possible invcrease in planting on unenclosed land. It is a condition of Ireland's state aid approval that the inappropriate planting of sensitive habitats such as certain peatlands and wetlands must be avoided.

The issue of land eligibility has been flagged in the MacKinnon report and Ms Jo O'Hara has been commissioned to advise on the implementation of this report. This report is expected shortly.