I propose to take Questions Nos. 1021 and 1022 together.
I fully recognise the impact the current forestry licensing 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 Senator 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. So far this year 494 licences have issued, which is an 18% increase on the same period last year.
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.
The table below shows the status of private licences on hand by type and county. Please note that this excludes Coillte licences currently on hand for processing. It describes the number of forestry licences that have been provisionally screened in and are awaiting assessment by an ecologist. Most files referred to Ecology require an Appropriate Assessment. The remaining licences are either in the early stages of processing ahead of any screening assessment, or post screening assessment and awaiting further consideration, which could involve for instance a request for further information from the applicant or has been referred to the forestry inspector for final decision.