Forestry Sector: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:


— that Ireland has the second lowest forest cover in the European Union (EU) at 11 per cent, compared to a European average of 30 per cent and that the majority of the forests are monocultures;

— that the State forestry policy has been predominantly based on a rotation, clear-fell and replant cycle using monoculture;

— that the extent of hedgerows declined massively during the 20th century but has since recovered slightly;

— that having started from a forest cover of 1 per cent in 1923, the State and the forestry industry has grown substantially, and afforestation has brought major positive benefits including the development of a forestry sector and forest products industry that currently employs 12,000 people;

— that aspects of the current afforestation model, in particular the emphasis on largescale monoculture have, in some cases, had negative impacts on local communities, biodiversity, water quality and landscapes;

— that in the light of the need to address the challenges of the climate and biodiversity emergency, now is the time to move to the next stage in Irish forestry;

— that it is desirable for the forestry system to provide a range of services in a way which strengthens local communities, provides employment for a new generation of foresters and access for the public to more varied woodlands, which are rich in biodiversity;

— that there is a potential for higher value, higher quality wood products from Irish forests, including a potential for long-lasting products as low carbon inputs for construction and other sectors and as stores of sequestered carbon for the lifetime of the buildings and products;

— the declining populations in certain rural areas, the high average age of farmers, and the developing crisis in Irish agriculture; and

— the inappropriate nature of current land use in many parts of Ireland, including the inability to make a living from current farming models and the difficulty for young people who might want to work on the land to get access to land which they do not directly inherit;


— the impacts of biodiversity loss and the loss of ecosystem services, and the consequent economic losses and risks we face globally and in Ireland;

— the gravity of the global biodiversity crisis, including the loss of species, the loss of important populations of species and the undermining of ecosystem services;

— the vital role of land use in the hydrological cycle, managing flooding and drought, maintaining water quality and dealing with pollution and the role which changed land use practices must play in meeting the objectives of improving water quality in line with the EU Water Framework Directive;

— the vulnerability of even-aged monoculture plantations, e.g. to disease, fire and windthrow, especially given the increasing dangers of climate change;

— the role which changed land use practices must play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in sequestering and storing carbon, and in providing resilience to the effects of climate change;

— the essential role that afforestation, land use and soil carbon management must play in Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) 2021-2030, which is to be drafted by the end of this year; and

— the commitments Ireland has entered into, in the context of the Natura 2000 network and the EU Birds and Habitats Directives to protect habitats and species, and the fact that Ireland is failing to meet those commitments and that biodiversity loss is continuing, as demonstrated in Ireland’s reports under Article 16 of the EU Birds and Habitats Directive;


— that Ireland was once covered by great forests and that our mild climate and the influence of the Gulf Stream make for one of the best habitats for trees in the world;

— that the Irish population wants to spend more time in nature and the public health benefits of enabling them to do so;

— the economic value of ecotourism and associated economic activities; and

— that the success of rewilding initiatives in other countries, and the plans for a recognised wilderness area in the Nephin range, as well as Coillte’s recent recognition of the amenity value of forestry in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains; and

calls on the Government to:

— make a fundamental change in forestry policy away from a narrow vision of 30 year cycle to a permanent woodland approach that would provide greater and more diverse social, environmental and economic benefits to society as a whole;

— move away from large-scale monoculture of fast-growing species such as Sitka spruce on ‘marginal land’ towards mixed, diverse forestry, with a wider range of forest types (short rotation, longer rotations, agroforestry, semi-wild) delivering a range of services and benefits and forest products;

— rebalance the premiums and payments made for planting and thinning to support this strategic change in Irish forestry;

— start the restoration of large areas of natural woodlands, formerly the dominant terrestrial ecosystems of Ireland, including the productive use of much of them through a system of continuous cover and close to nature forestry;

— begin a national programme of transformation of existing young, even-aged monoculture forests to continuous cover forestry;

— implement the recommendation of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, accepted and endorsed by the Dáil on 9th May, for a review of land use to inform a national land use plan;

— establish a system of local forestry plans, developed in an open participative process including all parts of civil society, in each county, informed by the national land-use plan, which would form the framework for Government support for small-scale afforestation in the county;

— use Strategic Environmental Assessment to develop these local forestry plans, to ensure the meeting of objectives, including carbon sequestration, water quality and hydrology, biodiversity protection and restoration, landscape and public amenity;

— provide for these local forestry plans to include financial support for small-scale afforestation with mixed woodland with a high proportion of native species in all parts of the country;

— provide budgetary support to enable every registered farm holding to plant a hectare of natural woodland on their land within the next five years, on agreed sites within the farm which minimise the effect on farm operations and maximise the biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits;

— develop opportunities for community ownership of and community investment in afforestation within national forestry policy and local forestry plans;

— reorient national supports and incentives for afforestation in line with the local forestry plans in the direction of forestry closer to nature;

— provide better support for the restoration and planting of new hedgerows to provide biodiversity corridors, carbon shelters and nutrients in our agricultural system;

— engage local authorities and local communities in a radical expansion of urban tree planting and neighbourhood and community forests and for urban trees and forests;

— resource the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the National Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD) and forestry non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at a level appropriate for them to carry out all of their functions and develop new areas of responsibility;

— review the objectives and legal structure of Coillte to establish a new mandate for the company which delivers multiple benefits from forestry, including environmental and community objectives as well as the production of high-quality timber;

— establish better educational infrastructure and funding to support apprenticeship programmes in forest management in line with the new forestry policy;

— increase investment in higher and further education and training as well as for the modernisation of equipment available for craft apprenticeship provision to conduct such a transformation of existing strands; and

— promote the use of high-quality wood materials in new building construction, including by amending building regulations, and to encourage Irish enterprise agencies to further support the development of local enterprises which develop a wide range of products to use natural wood material.

I will share time with Deputy Catherine Martin after 15 minutes. This motion is introduced as part of what I believe our response should be to the climate and biodiversity crisis this House declared before the summer break. Completely changing, upgrading, modernising and reinventing the model for forestry in Irish woodlands is the biggest way in which we can tackle the climate crisis. We need to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and the best solution technologically, economically and in a variety of ways is the planting and growing of trees. As we see in reports under Article 12 of the birds directive and Article 17 of the habitats directive - not Article 16, as cited in the motion - we are also in the middle of a biodiversity crisis. Changing the model of forestry is one of the best ways to address that crisis. I will set out the reasons for that view in my opening contribution.

I move this motion while holding in high regard everyone in Irish forestry down through the years. They have achieved a transition in our country. At the foundation of the State only 1% of the country was covered in native forestry, mostly in very inaccessible locations. We have increased that to approximately 11%. That, however, is a fraction of the covered area in most European countries. The average European forest cover is approximately 30% of land area. We have significant room, particularly as a country with some of the best growing conditions for trees in the world, to increase that cover to help us tackle the climate crisis. How this is done will be critical in tackling the biodiversity crisis.

I recognise the foresters who have worked in this industry over the years. They have done so with real intent and with proper motivation. They were engaged in a proper public service. We need to recognise a number of things, however. First, the level of afforestation carried on in the country has been declining dramatically for the last 25 years or so. In 1993 we were planting in the region of 23,000 ha of forest. Last year that was down to approximately 4,000 ha. There has been a continuous downward spiral over that 25-year period.

There are 12,000 people working in this sector and they are critical to our rural areas and the country in general. While I recognise and appreciate the work of everyone who has been involved in the forestry sector I believe that, looking back, we do need to change. We have already changed but we should recognise that the change was a mistake. Much of our initial forestry, particularly State-planted forestry, was carried out on marginal uplands. These could be got at a low price, which may explain why they were chosen. These were not the right places to afforest. This choice had massive consequences with regard to the drainage of our soils, often in wet peatlands, and with regard to biodiversity loss in those areas. We often created forests that are relatively inaccessible, difficult to harvest, and not in the right place to gain the full benefit from them.

The second thing we need to recognise is that the emphasis on plantations, particularly monocultural plantations, was also a mistake. I hope the Government recognises this but I fear its reported opposition to this motion shows it still does not. It was a mistake for a variety of reasons. The first is the loss of biodiversity it entailed. This is a complex issue. The science in this regard is interesting. It is very interesting to read, "The role of planted forests in the provision of habitat: an Irish perspective" by Cormac J. O’Callaghan, Sandra Irwin, Kenneth Byrne and John O’Halloran of University College Cork and University College Dublin. It sets out in great detail the complex interactions in these plantations. In some of these monoculture plantations some species have thrived. The red squirrel survives at the top of conifers in a way the grey squirrels cannot.

That has helped them to come back. It is the same with the pine martin. The monocultural forests we have planted may have been good for midges or aphids, but they have been really poor for other insects, including spiders, and for birdlife. We want that biodiversity back in our forestry model. Even where we have made changes, requiring a mix with 10% native trees or hardwood trees with conifers, the analysis from the academics is that the monoculture plantation system is still not rich in biodiversity. At the heart of the change we make in forestry must be putting nature first and returning to close to nature forestry management that restores biodiversity in every way possible.

The recent study of the UCD department of forestry and others examined the socio-economic impact of forestry in Leitrim. Some of the statistics on the current model were particularly interesting. All our attention is on lumber and producing timber, but if we ask how much carbon storage occurs, we learn that half the timber is effectively turned into sawdust, woodchip or bark. The latter products are used immediately, meaning they have no carbon storage potential. Of the wood that is processed, about 22% is used for fencing and 24% for pallets. Only one quarter of the wood we are growing is for timber products used in the construction of buildings or in other areas where the carbon is stored for a period. Other forestry systems around Europe, which have more continuous cover and are long term, achieve much higher value and get much better wood products. That is the third reason I believe we need to change.

That is what this motion is about. It is not about criticising those currently involved in forestry. It states it is now time for us to make an evolutionary leap. I want to set out how I believe that could take place. First, we need to move away from monoculture plantations with short rotations whereby we chop down the trees every 35 or 40 years in a clear-felling system and plant again, having left the land devastated. We need to move to multi-age and multi-species forestry. Continuous cover forestry, rather than being marginal, could be central. It is complex and the forestry management skills are very sophisticated. One of the advantages of this system is that it will require a generation of foresters to be very skilled such that they can look at a forest as it is developing and say a certain tree is the one with the best prospect of growing, requiring the removal of the surrounding trees to create light within the forest. It is light management as much as anything else in the new forestry systems that deliver very high-quality, long-term timber and biodiverse natural forest. This represents the leap and change we need to make. That will provide a lot of employment because it involves skill and is very labour intensive. It will provide a continuous stream of thinnings. It would also provide a more natural forest that is actually a joy to walk through rather than the current forests, which tend to be very dark and dense do not have a bottom canopy. Every 35 years, the latter are chopped down, with consequences for water run-off and soil retention. A range of other biodiversity losses come with it.

Second, there is a considerable and immediate role for the massive expansion of agroforestry. We should, as set out in the motion, tell all of the 120,000 Irish farmers that we want to give them a special premium, especially in this difficult time when we are facing all sorts of difficulties over Brexit and uncertainty over what we are going to do to the land. We should ask them to find, with their local advisers, those spots of the farms that could be converted to native woodland. It would not involve taking from the core farming system but would involve using the corner of the field. We do not want the farmers using the wetlands areas of their farms because we want to restore them for birds and for rich habitat reasons. We want the farmers to add to the hedgerows and connect them with the pockets of woodland in our farm system, particularly using native trees of local progeny. By doing this, we are connecting up the remaining 100,000 ha of native woodland, only 20,000 ha of which is really historic and ancient. It can be connected by using our farms and paying our farmers properly to engage in this sort of agroforestry. It provides shelter and nutrients that help the fields. It gives the farmers a wood supply, an energy source and a natural landscape that is very valuable and beneficial to us as human beings.

It is vital that this also be regarded as an urban issue. It was very interesting to note that there was a special meeting called by the Pembroke residents association in Dublin last Sunday. One could not get more urban than that. At the meeting, the botany experts from Trinity and UCD made the case that urban trees have a significant role to play. Large trees with a large canopy on a street act as an air filter. They take a lot of the particulate matter from traffic and other air pollution sources and filter it before the air gets to the house, just as with sand. They restore streets to being places that comprise a natural environment in their own right. We are not building our streets around the trees.

We just carried out a massive expansion of the docklands. The academics from UCD and Trinity showed shocking maps of where trees are. They are pretty much in the wealthy, leafy suburbs, and that is it. The Phoenix Park is an example. In the docklands, which we have just redeveloped, there is hardly a tree. The poorer areas across the city, which may suffer worse from air pollution and need and deserve a rich environment, have been left bereft of a green canopy. Dublin and every other city in Ireland is relatively low down the international scale in terms of trees. The canopy proportion is about 10% compared with Helsinki, where it is about 46%. That is what we should be aiming to have.

It was very interesting to listen to Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust giving a presentation in the audiovisual room earlier today. There is an increasing realisation across the world and in the modern, very advanced leading forestry systems that, rather than opting for a very expensive and intrusive system using pesticides, glyphosates and all sorts of interventions, including the plastic wrappers we put around new trees to help them grow, we can let trees seed themselves. A canopy of scrub or brush is allowed to develop low down and out of that native trees grow on their own. They will be well suited to their location because, over hundreds of thousands of years, they will have become more resistant to diseases such as ash dieback than the imported trees that caused such a problem in recent years. Rewilding will be one of the most significant ways to meet our carbon sequestration targets and restore a landscape of which people are proud and that is rich in biodiversity.

The Minister is smiling.

It is my disposition. I cannot help it.

Fair enough. I hope it is not because the Minister believes rewilding is not a serious proposition and a serious part of what we need to do, because it is central to our future forestry plans.

Our legacy from the past 50 years comprises all the plantations that will give our mills and all the industry we have set up a supply, but we must move away from the monoculture plantation system. We must be especially wary about the prospect of bioenergy providing a viable long-term solution because it does not result in the effective storage of carbon. I am coming back to the same argument I have had with the Minister on a number of occasions. We need a national land use plan to map out the new change, the new future, for Irish woodlands. Beneath that, we need county and local area plans to work out the best applications in various types of lands and various types of farms and woodland that go hand in hand with the rewilding we are to engage in. We need to change the premiums we pay to support this change in the whole model. We need to use Common Agricultural Policy reform to pay farmers properly for some of the rewilding we are going to do. First and foremost, we need to fund the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which is hanging on a thread because it does not have proper funding from the Government. We need to expand the National Parks and Wildlife Service and COFORD to make sure we have the scientific expertise to help local communities to develop the new forestry model.

We need to change the mandate for Coillte and Bord na Móna. Coillte, in particular, must move away from being a company that is mandated to maximise commercial returns from lumber production. It must be charged again with planting all over this country. It should be helping communities to plant for biodiversity and for better water quality. It should see forestry as a natural resource for our people and as something that helps our tourism industry. Coillte should be looking at the production of food and the provision of a whole range of services out of forestry. This is the change that needs to happen. There needs to be a fundamental reappraisal of what we are doing in forestry. If we move towards supporting nature, it will bring us closer to nature and will give us a natural landscape that we cherish and our children and grandchildren will cherish. That is where we want to go with this motion. That is why we have tabled it. We think it is very significant for our climate crisis, for our biodiversity crisis and for the revival of rural Ireland. More than anything else, the land use plan must start with people. Foresters, woodworkers and others who will benefit from this forestry system are willing to make the massive change that is needed.

Tá an Comhaontas Glas sásta an rún seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála anocht. As Deputy Ryan has outlined, the motion before us follows on from the Joint Committee on Climate Action's recommendation that a review of land use should lead to a national land use plan. This recommendation was accepted and endorsed by the Dáil earlier this year. The exploitation of nature and of the earth is at the root of climate change. In pre-neolithic times, forest cover across this island was more than 80%. When this State was founded almost 100 years ago, forest cover on the island was just 1%. While we have made progress in restoring that - we are now at approximately 11% - we have a long way to go. Rather than focusing on the number of trees, we need to make sure the tree cover we have is appropriate to the area. The motion before the House seeks a fundamental shift to a style of forestry that restores nature. This total change will bring more light, more wildlife and greater diversity of life to our woodlands.

Our motion calls for a more diverse forestry and a more intense style of forestry management, which will help to create steady jobs in the forestry sector while managing continuous native woodlands. These new jobs will need to be supported by educational infrastructure and funding to support apprenticeship programmes in forest management, alongside the modernisation of equipment available for craft apprenticeship provision. If this fundamental shift in forestry is to work, we need to bring communities and farmers along with us. In the past, some farmers have had negative experiences with forestry. If farmers are to come with us on this journey, we need to pay them properly. We need to ensure they receive steady and sustainable incomes for using their lands in the most sustainable manner. We must help them to diversify and enable them to be the leaders on climate action that they can be, given that they are natural caretakers of the land. It is only then that we can develop the best system of land use for our communities, local economies and natural ecosystems. The current system is not serving our farmers, our wildlife, our island or our planet. We need substantial reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to ensure farmers can be paid for rewilding or planting their land.

There are many positive opportunities for local communities and economies in this context. There are employment opportunities for people with an expertise in forestry. Continuous cover forestry is more labour-intensive than clear-fell forestry. This means it can create further employment. When it comes to moving away from a narrow vision of forestry towards a different model, nature is our greatest ally. Self-seeding and rewilding allow nature to do the heavy lifting and to restore itself. This is essential not only for rural areas but also for urban areas. Trees have a role in tackling air pollution in urban areas, increasing quality of life and health and creating streetscapes that keep us closer to nature. This motion is very important for our trees and our wildlife, for protecting the biodiversity of our country and our natural ecosystems and for the quality of life in urban and rural areas. Tackling climate change will require an overhaul of how we do everything, including how we move, how we eat, how we live and how we care for each other and for the planet. By fixing these issues in their entirety, we will have an opportunity to create a fairer, more equal and more sustainable society and global economy. Things as they stand are broken for farmers and for our biodiversity. That is why we need to change radically how we do things. We need to have a radical ambition when it comes to how we use our land. It is time for a different kind of forestry that will lead to a better quality of soil and a better quality of water, is rich in biodiversity, protects our biodiversity and our ecosystems, and puts nature first. It is time to change our relationship with nature to create a better quality of life for all.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:


— the extent of forestry development achieved over the last number of decades, through the combination of State funding and participation of the private landowners in the State’s afforestation programmes;

— the findings from the third cycle of the National Forest Inventory, that the national forest estate is still expanding and has now reached 11 per cent of the total land area, with a wide variety of forest types present and that share of broadleaf species in the national forest estate is 29 per cent;

— the multi-functional benefits of forestry including environmental, social and economic;

— the contribution which the sector makes to the rural economy through the provision of 12,000 jobs;

— the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change as contained in the ‘Climate Action Plan 2019 To Tackle Climate Breakdown’, and the ambitious targets set for the agriculture, forestry and land use sector therein, including an afforestation target of 8,000 hectares per annum;

— that meeting the afforestation target is challenging and that it will require a collaborative response from Government, private land owners, public bodies and local communities;

— that the enhancements following the 2018 Midterm Review (MTR) of the Government’s Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020, including increased grant and premium rates, have directly led to an increase in the proportion of broadleaf trees planted in Ireland, including a 25 per cent increase last year compared to the previous year;

— that significant increases for planting of agro-forestry were introduced in the MTR with premium rates trebled;

— that initiatives by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine include the introduction, in January 2019, of three new support measures to further support biodiversity in Irish forests, including a scheme to support Continuous Cover Forestry, and changes to the Woodland Improvement Scheme to introduce grant aid to carry out a second thinning intervention for broadleaf forests;

— that afforestation applications are subject to detailed scrutiny regarding environmental suitability, including site inspections, statutory referrals, public consultation, and the application of procedures around Appropriate Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment;

— that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine operates a range of afforestation-related protocols in the context of the Natura 2000 network and the European Union Birds and Habitats Directive to protect habitats and species; and

— that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine provides support, through schemes such as the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) and under the Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020, to landowners to undertake actions and measures which support and enhance biodiversity; and


— the role that hedgerows play in nature-based solutions to both mitigate climate change (carbon sequestration and storage) and help in the creation of landscape resilience in the face of climate change, and notes that 6,758 kilometres of new hedgerows have been established since the introduction of agri-environmental schemes in 1994;

— the funding provided under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine NeighbourWood Scheme to local authorities and other landowners, both public and private, to create 'close-to-home' woodland amenities in partnership with communities, for local people to use and enjoy;

— the growing interest in planting native woodlands under the Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020 is increasing steadily year on year with 374 hectares of native woodlands planted in 2018, an increase of 38 per cent compared to 2017, and this upward trend has continued into 2019 which is ahead of the 2018 planting figure year to date;

— that under the Woodland Improvement Scheme which promotes active management of broadleaf forest, almost 680 hectares of woodlands received support under this scheme this year, this represents a 76 per cent increase in activity when compared to the same time in 2018;

— that support for Continuous Cover Forestry was introduced for the first time in the MTR of the Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020, where funding was allocated for 30 projects up until the end of 2020;

— the establishment by Coillte of a specific entity 'Coillte Nature' within the company to focus on the environment and recreational forests, with Coillte Nature to target the delivery of new woodlands facilitating species diversity, biodiversity and carbon sequestration as part of the Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020;

— that Coillte Nature will be undertaking large discrete projects with a separate noncommercial focus, with the intention of increasing the national forest estate but with a strong emphasis on carbon sequestration, species diversification, biodiversity and the development of outdoor recreation and tourism amenities;

— that the National Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD) proposes to track the implementation of the recommendations in ‘Forests, products and people – Ireland's forest policy – a renewed vision’ and to monitor and report on progress in implementing the stated strategic actions and to engage and influence stakeholders in relation to policy changes and developments focusing on afforestation and the promotion of forestry; and

— that the continued support of members of the House will be required for the ongoing development of forestry in order to maximise the range of benefits for the economy, society and the environment."

I acknowledge the commitment of successive Governments to afforestation in Ireland. Having started at a low of 1% at the turn of the 20th century, forest cover has grown substantially to the current level of 11%, or 770,000 ha. This is a real economic, social and environmental success story. The State's investment of €3 billion since 1990 has created thousands of jobs across the supply chain from tree nurseries to timber processors. Approximately 23,000 private forest owners, most of whom are farmers, have voluntarily converted their land to tree planations. This has allowed them to diversify their farm incomes, which in turn has had a positive effect on the rural economy. Forestry is a very productive land use. It can complement farming activity and be the difference in making a farm viable. While forestry benefits the rural economy, it also delivers other benefits to society. It makes a critical contribution to mitigating climate change. It is part of the response to climate breakdown of the agriculture and land use sector. While this sector remains the single largest contributor to overall greenhouse gas emissions, at 33% of the total, it should be seen as part of the solution.

The Government's climate action plan has identified a series of actions to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate breakdown. It is the most ambitious environmental strategy ever developed by an Irish Government. Its ambition is matched only by our determination to ensure its full implementation. It sets out our vision and pathway to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and to make Ireland a better place for us now and for generations to come. The climate action plan includes a commitment to efficiency gains, as well as carbon removals through forestry and appropriate management of organic soils. It identifies opportunities for making a contribution to energy production and efficiency. When it comes to absorbing and storing carbon, there is no more effective land use than forestry. In the 2021-27 accounting period, afforestation is expected to contribute 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the national emissions reduction target.

The Government has set an ambitious target of 8,000 ha of new trees to be planted each year under the climate action plan. This level of planting is needed if we are to maintain a consistent rate of sequestration in the post-2030 period. I will put this ambition into context. As a country, we have untapped afforestation potential. Ireland's 11% level of forest cover is the second lowest in the EU - only Malta has a lower rate of afforestation - and compares unfavourably with the EU average of 43%. While this leaves ample room to grow, there is much work to be done in realising our target. This will need to be a shared endeavour. Action will be required from the Government, private land owners, public bodies and local communities. Given that recent trends have shown a declining interest in planting among private land owners, it is clear that this is going to be challenging. We need farmers, in particular, to plant trees. I believe there is a way forward. An attractive farm forestry model, with options to suit every farm, is available. My Department is aiming to engage actively with farmers and their advisers to promote this model. They need to know they can plant trees which suit their own circumstances and allow them to continue extensive livestock farming, but with an additional source of farm income. Surrounding issues such as competing land uses, land availability and integration with other agricultural schemes are being examined with a view to removing any barriers to planting.

The public debate on productive forestry is concerning because it does not reflect current planting systems, which are more cognisant than ever of landscape, diversity and environmental sensitivities. This is a message we must communicate better. It is more important than ever that this debate is based on evidence and reflects the true science of forestry and land use.

While private landowners are key to increasing planting levels, public bodies must also play their part. Coillte is mentioned in the motion and it has an important role to play. In recent years, it has concentrated on managing 445,000 ha of the national forest estate and has successfully transformed the company from economic vulnerability to one that is on a sound financial footing. Now, more than ever, it is needed to contribute to the State's goals, in particular the implementation of the climate action plan and the national biodiversity strategy. It recently announced the conversion of forest adjacent to urban centres into recreational amenities as part of its Coillte Nature initiative. This is a not-for-profit venture with a strong emphasis on the environmental and recreational aspects of forests. It is now turning its focus to afforestation, which is a welcome development. I will encourage other public bodies with available land banks to follow this lead and be part of the national drive towards the 8,000 ha target. Local communities can also contribute by signing up to our successful NeighbourWood scheme, which creates recreational woodland for people to use and enjoy.

We have a climate emergency, which we must address, but we also have a biodiversity emergency. Biodiversity loss is a serious challenge and is inextricably linked to climate change. What is not widely known is that the forest estate in Ireland is very diverse, with 29% of forest cover comprising broadleaves and native woodlands. The proportion of broadleaves has grown year-on-year and last year saw a 25% increase in broadleaf trees planted compared to the previous year. This is a direct result of the measures taken by my Department, under the aegis of the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, under the mid-term review of the current forestry programme. Current forestry policy will continue to support this upward trend through generous grants and premiums and a minimum threshold of 15% broadleaf planting in all new plantations.

Our aim is to increase the uptake of the native woodland conservation scheme fivefold during the lifetime of the current forestry programme. The restoration of these woodlands is a matter of national pride and a vitally important part of the national forestry programme. In the move to a low-carbon circular bioeconomy, forestry has an important role to play in providing products which act as a carbon store. The motion mentions the use of high-quality wood material in new building construction. This is being examined under a collaborative three-year project between NUIG and Edinburgh Napier University, known as the WoodProps programme. This project is funded by my Department and aims to provide evidence and expertise related to the performance of wood-based products and building systems.

Of course, no discussion on issues of national importance can ignore the impact of Brexit. The vast bulk of our timber exports, currently valued at €420 million, are to the United Kingdom and the future growth of the sector is dependent on access to that market. The uncertainty we face means that we must be vigilant in supporting the sector. We have taken all necessary steps to help the sector prepare for the consequences of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, including a recent series of seminars for agritrade businesses throughout the country.

In conclusion, I welcome the debate and thank Deputies Ryan and Martin for tabling the motion as it gives the Government an opportunity to outline its continued commitment to afforestation in accordance with the targets set in the climate action plan and other related strategies. I reiterate that the current forestry programme promotes a balanced approach to sustainability. It offers a range of planting options suitable for adoption by private individuals, community groups and public bodies. The alternative proposed risks limiting the options available to landowners. I, therefore, seek the continued support of colleagues in the House for the ongoing development of forestry to maximise the range of benefits for the economy, society and environment.

Has the Minister's script been circulated?

It was circulated. We will get the Deputy a copy.

I wish to share time.

I tabled a Topical Issue matter on forestry today. One issue those involved in the industry are concerned about is the fact that we are only reaching 50% of the targets set by the Government. The viability of the enterprises of those involved in nurseries, planting and harvesting crops is under pressure. There are various reasons for this, but the bureaucracy involved in getting licences for planting must be eased.

The Minister said we have to get farmers to plant trees, and I fully agree with this aspiration. However, farmers dread bureaucracy and it has to be financially viable and attractive for them to plant trees. Decisions have to be made to make planting economically viable, and farmers will respond to those decisions. Any plantation under 8 ha should be exempt from all of the current bureaucracy involved in obtaining a licence for planting. That would go a long way towards making farmers enthusiastic about planting portions of their farms.

In areas where there is commercial planting, wildlife is an issue, and Coillte has a lot to answer for in this regard. It has not maintained boundary fences on its plantations, which has left a sour taste in farming communities. Wildlife in these areas is causing difficulties. Deer are trespassing onto farmers' lands, and the owners of commercial forestry have to bear responsibility for maintaining boundary fences.

Other issues that need to be addressed are designated and unenclosed land. The restrictions placed on designated land, in particular on hen harrier land, have to be re-examined. There is scientific evidence to show that different stages of afforestation in hen harrier areas is good for biodiversity. Changes in that regard would help us to meet the targets we must attain to meet the challenges of climate change.

It is shameful that while Ireland's polluting emissions have been rocketing upwards for years, the Government knowingly failed to put an adequate climate strategy in place, including any sort of effective strategy on forestry. Effective afforestation is important not just for climate action, but also for climate resilience. In terms of preventing erosion and land degradation, the severe impacts of climate change on land simply cannot be overstated, as most recently clarified by the IPCC.

We also have to remember that forestry offers major benefits for tourism, biodiversity and water quality. Fianna Fáil has led the way in this regard, with ambitious planting provided for under the 2007-13 national development plan. More recently, we have been clear that the Government should support new income streams for farmers and planting native Irish trees is one such approach that would make considerable sense on many farms from climate, biodiversity and economic perspectives.

The joint committee report noted that there are problems with the planting and clear felling of Sitka spruce plantations and responded to the Citizens' Assembly recommendation that supports for afforestation be reviewed. We, therefore, called for a reformed national forestry policy that will provide strong incentives over the long term for the planting of native broadleaf species.

We also noted that there has been opposition in areas where there have been high planting rates and, therefore, the committee made it clear that community development and engagement must be a key component of afforestation policy. It is essential that the new forestry programme rectifies the failure to meet national targets and incorporates the committee's recommendations. Current afforestation rates are only 4,000 ha per year. The Government is significantly behind its Food Wise 2025 afforestation targets and we have no clarity on how it will reach its latest target of 10,000 ha per year by 2030. The climate advisory committee recently emphasised the serious challenges of reaching this target based on current trends.

I am deeply concerned by recent reports that the staff of the National Biodiversity Data Centre have only three months left on their contracts, with no assurance of extensions. This is a clear example of the Government's deprioritisation of environmental action and I hope it is something to which the Government will respond as quickly as possible. Ultimately, sustainable forestry, backed by State leadership and community engagement, is a no-brainer. We have the tools to transform the forestry sector and put it at the forefront of action on climate change and biodiversity protection. While we are talking about afforestation in Ireland today, we have to be mindful of the direction the House gave in July regarding the events in Brazil and the potential impact of the Mercosur agreement.

We need an analysis of the potential environmental impact of that deal which should be backed by rigorous enforcement of international obligations under the Paris Agreement and an end to deforestation in the Amazon.

I support the motion tabled by the Green Party. The performance of the Government on forestry has in no way lived up to the targets set in Food Wise 2025 or the annual targets set out in the forestry programme. Food Wise 2025 indicated a target of 15,000 ha to be planted per year. The annual target has since been reduced to 6,000 ha to 8,000 ha. There is no doubt that we must look at the mix of forestry. There must be additional incentives for native broadleafs and ensuring forestry contributes to habitat development, biodiversity and the protection of species.

I call on the Minister to immediately address the clause in the CAP basic payment scheme which requires scrubland and other areas rich in biodiversity to be brought back into grazing in order to qualify for payments. The Government is pursuing the diametrically opposed objectives of trying to improve biodiversity and forcing farmers who wish to continue to claim payments for certain areas of land to remove vegetation, trees and scrub from it. That is the current position. We should encourage farmers, through the CAP, to protect such areas and reward them for so doing.

I welcome the opportunity to speak about this issue. There are several issues regarding forestry, afforestation and how they are approached. Afforestation is a significant challenge for many communities. If we accept that trees and the entire green agenda are part of how we contribute to proper biodiversity, we must recognise that planting in some parts of the country but not others, with significant urban sprawl in certain areas, will not lead to balanced development. We need a proper debate on balanced development.

On the motion, as a result of the designation of the hen harrier and other issues, many tracts of land which farmers are willing to plant with forestry are not being afforested. If the Government is serious about afforestation, it must consider these issues and the reports from the National Parks and Wildlife Service which have not been addressed. Such issues should be brought to the fore.

The line is that farmers should be encouraged to plant. Many farmers would consider planting small portions of their land for various reasons. The Department and Coillte must consider providing financial incentives for farmers to plant smaller portions of their land. Our grandfathers planted shelter beds and scrubland which provided biodiversity. They dealt with these issues in a very serious way. We then moved to blanket plantations of conifers such as Sitka spruce. That ticks a box in other areas, but we must go back to the planting of native trees.

The NeighbourWood scheme is very welcome, but it involves a significant amount of bureaucracy. That matter should be addressed such that even communities with small parcels of community land could utilise it. As the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, who is present, is aware, there have been many difficulties with land that was afforested and clear felled but on which no premiums had been drawn. It is very difficult to get such land through the system so that the Department approves it under the NeighbourWood scheme. We need to look at streamlining the scheme. We must be vocal in encouraging people to plant a small number of trees. Our grandparents and great-grandparents were very good at planting native trees on their farmyard or beyond. We must go back to such practices because those trees are very valuable and add to communities and the green agenda.

On bureaucracy, several objections lodged with the Department are causing significant problems. A particular individual has lodged a large number of objections to schemes in counties from Donegal to Cork which is causing serious problems for the forestry industry. We must rethink the entire forestry agenda.

If we are serious about climate change, we must be serious about our forests. Forests help to reduce the effects of climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change and emissions of it from man-made sources have been increasing year on year since the 1950s. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for growth, convert it to sugars and wood and release pure oxygen back into the atmosphere.

In Ireland young forests grow quickly and absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide. Harvesting trees before they die naturally locks the carbon into the wood and wood products. Replanting trees immediately restarts the cycle of carbon storage. Forests cover 11% of the country's land area. The EU average is 38%, which shows the substantial progress that needs to be made.

Wood and wood products are known as climate-smart products. They are low energy, renewable and fully sustainable construction materials. When used for construction or furniture, they store carbon for long periods.

I recently visited the Medite Smartply factory at Waterford Port during National Tree Week. I was delighted to support the "plant for our planet" initiative. By doing something as simple as planting a tree, everyone can play a role in combating climate change. Trees are one of our most important assets in the fight against climate change and National Tree Week is about people coming together and planting in their local communities. I encourage everyone to learn more about the wonderful benefits of these natural resources and consider planting trees on an ongoing basis, not just for tree week.

We need to start with green school committees. Young people are leading the way on climate change. If they are encouraged to plant trees on their school grounds, in their gardens and community, they will learn that trees play a significant role in our climate change strategy by soaking up carbon emissions and providing a renewable and sustainable building resource through their timber.

It is important to recognise that the forestry sector supports 12,000 rural-based jobs, contributes approximately €2.3 billion to the economy each year and has the potential to double in size in the next ten years. It is time for us to get serious. This is one approach that would allow us to reap dividends very quickly.

I support the motion before the House. I am fully committed personally and as a public representative to achieving the target of 18% cover by 2050. We are currently at a figure of 11%. I agree with Deputy Eamon Ryan's assertion that we need a diversity of broadleaf and native species, rather than the route on which we are currently.

I am from the north west of the country, where many local communities are concerned about over-afforestation, particularly in counties Leitrim and Donegal and parts of County Cavan, as the Minister of State is well aware. I ask him to engage with the Save Leitrim organisation on a continuing basis. Progress can be made on this issue. In the context of stripping out the bureaucracy in dealing with felling licences and other issues referred to by Deputy Cahill, we need to ensure local communities are consulted. They do not want to be left in the dark, which is what is happening to some small communities. I do not want this to be misinterpreted as me being against forestry, but the people of County Leitrim matter and we must be cognisant of the needs of such areas. People have a right to light which needs to be protected.

On sustainable farming methods, farmers are happy to get involved in forestry in areas which are not over-afforested. However, the payment or incentivisation method needs to be addressed. Planting a smallholding or a part thereof in the north west of the country may provide a windfall for the farmer's grandchildren or great-grandchildren in 35 years's time but it will not pay for the education of the farmer's children. We need to rethink our approach to the matter in order to give people viable alternatives. There are 80,000 struggling suckler cow farmers. If the Government wants them to engage in forestry in areas that are not over-afforested, they will have to be incentivised in the form of an annual income.

I would like the Government to consider introducing regulations to address a practice that is not being done, either by Coillte or private operators in forestry, and to ask those people to engage and facilitate a sweeping for ticks on an annual basis and the assessing of those ticks for infection in terms of carrying Borrelia bacteria, which are at the root of much Lyme disease that we hear about in our constituencies.

We all need to get with the programme for forestry. We need to diversify what we are planting in the way Deputy Eamon Ryan set out by stripping out the bureaucracy and including local communities' views in terms of those areas that are over-afforested. We need to rethink financing to incentivise people and to do what we can to sweep for ticks annually to get accurate data on Borrelia bacteria-carrying infected ticks throughout the country.

I support the motion. I have always been fascinated by forests. They offer a major attraction in that as well as providing timber, they have been an important source of recreation for people. I compliment, in particular, the work done by Coillte during the past 15 years in using the forests in a multifaceted way and ensuring they have been available for many leisure purposes.

It is important we recognise forestry cover and that native broadleaf trees are important but we must not forget the forestry industry and its requirements. The forests, mill companies and so on provide employment in parts of the country that do not have other major sources of employment. In my small area, 200 jobs are directly associated with timber milling. Many towns would like to have that number of jobs. It is a very small community and that employment can be seen the numbers in the schools, the parish, the football teams and so on. The difference it has made can be seen when one compares the demographics with other equivalent areas. It is important we ensure in future that we can keep supplying the mills. We can also help them with something they have done during the past 15 to 20 years, which is to ensure they keep going up the food chain in terms of market quality to ensure they realise the full value for the product they provide.

In the few minutes I have remaining, I will make a few points. I agree with what Deputy McConalogue said and it is vital. We see what I would call incidental natural forestry, particularly hazel and sally, growing on many farms and it is quite common in areas of poor land but the minute it grows it removes a farmer's qualification for the basic payment scheme or the areas of natural constraint payment. There is much talk about carbon sequestration. Natural forestry will sequester carbon just as much as planted forestry established on a scheme with the payment of grants. All we are asking is that provision be made where natural forestry is growing. If one looks across at the valleys in my area, one would see many good trees that have grown during the past 20 to 30 years but farmers are being penalised for allowing that to happen. The Government takes money from them for that, but that issue needs to be tackled.

Another point, which goes to the heart of the Leitrim problem, is that we have become too reliant on large corporate entities for everything. Addressing that would lend itself to farmer participation and keeping the land in farmers' ownership and control. The forestry grants and premia should be front-loaded. In other words, they should be larger and higher for the farmer planter than for the big corporate planter. When the farmer does so he is much more likely to be sensitive to other local needs. He is much less likely to buy up acre after acre causing major disruption in the community. It would also ensure the money is kept local. The Green Party would resonate with me on this as its members would say we should think global and act local. It is important we examine the ownership model and ask ourselves what we really want to happen. Do we want it owned locally and to have dispersed and diffused ownership or do we want to concentrate all the ownership, as happens in many other industries, in a few hands?

The next speaker is Deputy Cullinane who is sharing time with Deputies Stanley and Martin Kenny.

We will divide the time on the basis of four minutes, three minutes and three minutes, respectively.

I commend the Green Party on bringing forward this motion. I understand I do not need to move the Sinn Féin amendment to the motion but if I am required to do so, I will do that. Sinn Féin is committed to a sustainable afforestation strategy and we recognise the importance of increasing the percentage of land under forestry in the mitigation of carbon emissions, as alluded to by a number of previous speakers, but we must be honest and say that not all plantations are beneficial to the environment and not all species of trees are beneficial to local habitats. We have grave concerns regarding the future afforestation policy given the failures we have seen in the past. While investment in fast-growing conifers has proven commercially popular, such planting has limited, if any, impact on carbon capture and the intensive plantation of invasive species such as Sitka spruce has had a detrimental and ecological impact which has not been good.

The Government's afforestation programme is fixated with the planting of the Sitka spruce, an approach that is having a detrimental effect in terms of biodiversity. We also heard this week that the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which is based in Waterford, may not get funding next year. It an organisation that collects data on biodiversity. This a matter that the Minister and the Government need to address.

The issue of monoculture afforestation is one that has unduly affected Leitrim, which my colleague will cover later. The rate of afforestation there between 2015 and 2018 was just over 24 times the level in Donegal, the vast majority of which was monoculture Sitka spruce. The use of this tree has been criticised by farmers, environmental groups and the EU, yet Fine Gael still continues with this policy.

We in Sinn Féin have proposed alternatives to the Minister. We want the immediate discontinuation of financial inducements for monoculture afforestation. We want the immediate introduction of grant schemes and tax incentives that favour the planting and maintenance of continuance cover, sustainable broadleaf forestry and hedgerows. We want the protection of mature trees in public locations from destruction. We want an island-wide solution to address climate change. That would mean the establishment by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in the North of a joint working group plan and for them to work with all the relevant stakeholders. We also want to provide for planning permission for all forestry development over 5 ha.

There is a great deal we need to do to reach our climate change targets set to reduce emissions. Many mitigation measures have to be put in place in terms of retrofitting homes, investment in public transport and in reaching renewable energy targets but we also must recognise that planting more trees and allowing them to act as a carbon sink is a very good way for this State to be able to become carbon-neutral. For that and many other reasons we support the planting of more tress, and we support the intent and logic behind this motion.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. Its introduction is timely. We support the planting of more trees and the sustainable expansion of the timber industry whereby the additional forestry can act as a carbon store, provide income for farmers and enhance natural habitats and biodiversity.

Unfortunately, the current forestry scheme, as it is structured, simply does not work for farmers. The first problem with the current scheme is that it is tailored towards farmers in their 50s and 60s who are taking up the scheme as a retirement plan. One might ask why is that the case? It is because the premiums in general last for 15 years. Why would a younger farmer in their 30s or 40s convert his or her land into forestry when it will not bring in any income after 15 years? What Sinn Féin and many young farmers seek is a forestry scheme that is committed to long-term strategic thinking and planning. They want to be able to commit to agroforestry schemes over 30 to 40 years throughout the planting, thinning and management process, and rightly so, and they want to receive premium grants for undertaking such action.

The current scheme is having a detrimental impact on many rural locations. We are witnessing the depopulation of sustainable farms and the increase of corporate forestry, which is having a serious impact on local economies and on the environment.

That can be seen on the Laois side, as well as the Offaly side, of the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains.

We need a forestry policy that does not replace farmers but complements farming with forestry. That is where agroforestry works best. This involves unfarmed forestry, which would be in addition to livestock and tillage and not a replacement for it. It would provide farmers with a more sustainable farming model with increased production and other sources of income, as well as increasing carbon sequestration, which is urgently needed.

The fact we have the second lowest acreage of forestry in the EU shows how critical it is that we do this. Only Malta surpasses us in this regard. Given the country’s climate, we should be nearer the top.

Farmers should not be penalised for protecting hedgerows, which is currently happening under Common Agricultural Policy rules. That needs to change in the forthcoming Common Agricultural Policy negotiations. We must also put in place schemes to protect hedgerows. Livestock farmers are incentivised to remove hedgerows to increase their farm sizes. That needs to change.

When the Common Agricultural Policy reforms come through, the necessary changes must be made to bring about a positive environmental impact in order that forestry can act as carbon storage and provide natural land drainage. Overall, we want a forestry scheme which works for farmers and the environment, along with long-term thinking and planning to allow a sustainable forestry and timber industry.

I welcome the Green Party’s motion. I have spoken to the Minister of State on many occasions about the issue of forestry, particularly in County Leitrim where I live. The county has a significant problem, which has been acknowledged to some extent by the Government in its report on forestry. It highlighted many of the problems we have. Many people in Leitrim do not want to live beside a forest. There is something wrong when they do not want to. In Leitrim, it is because it blocks out their light and diverts all wildlife. The trees are like the microphones in the Chamber, bare all the way up with a small canopy on top. They are like lollipops. People describe these types of forest plantations as evergreen but they are not. The needles fall off and are replaced, resulting in a bed of needles a foot deep at the bottom of the forest. As a result, nothing can grow meaning there is nothing to feed any other wildlife. The Minister said 15% of these plantations are native trees. They are planted in two rows around the edge of the forest with none in the middle.

This particular forestry model may work well for the timber industry. I understand that it makes much money out of it. It also works for some farmers who have gone down that route. No one is condemning them for it because that is the set-up. This motion tries to recognise a different way forward that will create more employment in the local community, better biodiversity and ensures communities can live and breathe again.

I have been informed by Leitrim County Council that it has more problems with pollution from forestry, not farming. Afforestation often poisons rivers and lakes. The views of a mountain and a beautiful lake on one road I know in Leitrim are blocked by a forestry plantation. If planning permission was required for such a plantation, somebody could have objected ensuring it was planted two fields back to ensure the scenery could remain visible. That type of planting happens all over the country. Our amendment to the motion, which I hope will be supported by all parties, provides that planning permission should be mandatory for afforestation over 5 ha. That means a small farmer planting a small area will not have to get planning permission. The average farm in County Leitrim is 25 acres. A full farm would, on the other hand, require planning permission. In those circumstances, the local authority would have the opportunity to assess it and recommend what kind of trees should be planted. That ties in with the motion's reference to having a local plan that would comply with planning permission. People living in the area could put in submissions or objections if they felt their light or roadway was going to be blocked because of the type of trees, such as Sitka spruce, that might be planted.

I acknowledge that those involved in forestry make much money from this. The way this can be resolved is by coming up with an alternative model and an alternative way of delivering money into local communities. The level of grant aid and premiums available are the same for farmers as they are for investors. Investors need to be taken out of this and it needs to be given back to local communities. It is ridiculous that farms and land in County Leitrim are owned by people in Brazil and other countries through investment companies. Local farmers cannot even buy that land because they cannot compete for it.

I am sharing time with Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice. The Labour Party supports the motion. There is nothing injurious to anybody’s interests in this good and broad motion. Anybody with any shred of common sense would support what it seeks to address. Across the party-political spectrum, it is clear the issue of forestry is at the forefront of the political agenda and there are various ways in which we can maximise the potential of the industry. We must be cognisant of the fact that it supports more than 12,000 jobs across the country and it is a sequester of carbon but it is not a perfect model and more work needs to be done.

The motion could be strengthened if the Minister looked at the forestry implementation group because it is probably top heavy with forestry industry stakeholders and there are not enough voices from the environmental pillar. That is not to any way diminish those on it. However, if we are to have a serious conversation about future forestry policy, ensuring there is an increase in forestry schemes with greater broadleaf cover, conservation measures and rewilding, we need to find a mechanism to ensure views, as expressed by the Green Party’s motion, find some articulation. This must continue to a policy that involves rural dwellers, key stakeholders and not just the usual suspects.

I do not use that latter term in any derogatory way. However, the conversation on forestry policy has always been through the prism of Coillte and the timber industry. That needs to be broadened. There is a clear call for that in the House tonight. Will the Minister give serious consideration to ensure the forestry implementation group is broadened to hear more voices and proactively works with the Government to change forestry policy?

I had the good fortune to visit Glennon Brothers, the timber product manufacturers, recently with other Cork Deputies and the Minister. I went in with some prejudices about the timber industry before that meeting. I certainly came out of the meeting very much assured by the fact that there are people in the industry like Glennon Brothers who want to engage with all stakeholders, the NGOs and the environmental pillar on what our forestry policy should look like in the future. If there are proactive and progressive people within the timber industry – IBEC is doing some work on this - who are willing to engage in a meaningful way, and not just being at the table for the sake of it, and ensure people's voices heard, we need to grasp that nettle.

I support the motion but the conversation needs to be broadened.

The Government needs to take seriously the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action's report in respect of forestry and afforestation measures because that is a cross-party report with more than 40 recommendations arising from the Citizens' Assembly. To date, if I am being objective about it, the recommendations of that all-party report are quickly gathering dust.

I thank Deputy Sherlock for sharing his time. We need to acknowledge and tackle the 6% between hedgerows. There are whitethorns and blackthorns around this country that are not being allowed for one bit of carbon sequestration. That is evident on many farms, and indeed around cities in this country. It needs to be sorted.

Deputy Eamon Ryan might get a shock to hear that I agree with the motion. I was a contractor and used go around mowing fields. At one time, we had so-called shelter belts in the corners, and on a hot day, cattle lay under them, or on a wet day, they sheltered at them. Then the great EU - it came out today that we are losing 1,000 farmers per day in the EU - told us to knock every ditch and hedge in the place and even gave us grants for it.

Every farmer around the country - there are 130,000 or 140,000 of them - can sow one acre of trees with no difficulty provided the Minister gives them an establishment grant and gives them a path forward. We may need a two-tier approach. We may need an environmental system for ten, 15 or 20 years so that farmers can see a future in it. The Minister should not stop areas of natural constraints, ANC, or basic payment scheme, BPS, from them because there is a tree in a corner. The farmers have done well. If we get that done, we can get 130,000 acres planted in one year if the Government has the funding to do it. Is the funding there? Furthermore, the larger the farm, the more that should be sown. That is the way to do it fairly.

As Deputy Sherlock said, I was in Connemara lately, at Earraí Coillte Chonnacht, ECC, Teoranta, and it is giving work as well.

We need to bring in schemes for the ordinary-size farmers with fewer than 5 ha who can plant a forest, but not for the big conglomerates that are coming in and bullying people in different counties around this country. Many farmers would be willing to sow an acre or two or three acres in what I would call a middling bit of ground, but the Department has to wake up to facilitating that, because if a person is under a certain threshold, it is not allowed. That can be done in every part of the country.

We have also to look at the following idea. I remember cutting timber in Glenhest in Mayo. A person could not sow the trees there again because the standard has risen for the type of land. What do we want? Do we want to make sure that trees grow or do we want to be putting land to one side? As was pointed out, there are designated lands in different areas. There is also paperwork that must be filled in.

Let us call a spade a spade. The Minister talked about the great achievements. We have no achievements. At present, a person could go for a licence to fell timber and he or she will not get it. That person could also go for authority to sow trees. There is one individual in this country blocking everything. They are going over to Europe. They are bringing Ireland to court. They are trying to block every bit of forestry in this country. That type of stuff has to be cut out. We must make sure that the small farmer, up to a certain threshold, is looked after. I am not talking about 20, 30 or 50 acres.

The Minister also needs to make sure of the roads, as Deputy Martin Kenny pointed out. We must think of wintertime as well. There are roads where there is forestry on both sides on which a person could go skating in wintertime and where there is a need to plant 100 m back from the edge of a road, and from houses as well, to make sure people are facilitated. If we do this right, it can work and it can be successful.

I thank the Green Party for bringing forward this motion on forestry, which People Before Profit will be supporting. The forests are important because they produce the air that we breathe. They clean the air. They clean the water. They hold the soil together. They prevent flooding. They produce products that can be useful for society for creating employment. They assist in this country in advancing tourism and bringing people to visit. At every level, they benefit our society and our environment. Of course, crucially, they help maintain the biodiversity that is necessary for us to exist. To put it simply, we would not be able to exist without the forests. That truth, which we may not have thought about or which we ignored, has now come home to roost when one looks at the climate emergency that the planet is facing and when one considers that 15% to 20% of all emissions are as a result of deforestation globally. When we cut down the trees, when we deforest, when we do not understand the critical importance of forestry to our existence on this planet, we endanger our future. There are very few things more important than getting forestry right and recognising its importance.

For us in People Before Profit, it is a critical issue. Something I am most proud of in our record in our years in this Dáil is the role we played in the campaign to stop the selling off of the harvesting rights of Coillte that was being demanded by the troika and agreed by the Government until thousands of people took to marching and protesting throughout the country and forced the Government to do a U-turn on that extraordinarily foolish idea that we would sell off the forests to investors to pay off the debts of bankers. I am also proud that probably - I have not studied everybody's pre-budget submissions - every budget submission we have made since we got in here has allocated hundreds of millions more in funds than the Government has allocated for an afforestation programme, and we have repeatedly questioned the Government on its failure to advance an afforestation programme in this country.

The Government amendment is a bit rich. When I put forward a motion on forestry in 2013, the percentage forest cover was exactly as it is now. Nothing has changed. We have not advanced. In fact, the targets for afforestation have been halved. The Council for Forest Research and Development, COFORD, way back then stated we needed to be planting at least 15,000 ha a year to get up to 18% forest cover, which is still well below the European average of 30% to 35%, but we have failed spectacularly to meet those targets. We have reduced those targets.

I have seven and a half minutes.

I am afraid the clock has stopped.

Is the Ceann Comhairle telling me I have spoken for seven and a half minutes?

Not quite, but the Deputy is nearly there.

Can we see the clock?

Deputy Boyd Barrett started at 54 minutes and he is at 46.27 minutes now. Anyway, carry on.

How many minutes have I got?

The Deputy has seven and a half minutes.

How many have I left?

The Deputy has none left but, anyway, go on. The Deputy might wrap up.

Time flies when you are having fun.

Is there any chance we could get the clock back so that I would know where I am?

I did not turn it off.

In fact, we have not got anywhere near even meeting those inadequate targets that we have set. Indeed, I was talking to some people from one the biggest nurseries in the country today and they say that the afforestation programme could grind to a halt by the end of this year because we do not have enough ecologists and archaeologists in the forest service to process the afforestation applications from farmers.

That seems an incredible fact. We have one ecologist in the forest service processing applications. As a result they are taking forever and farmers are losing interest. The other key problem is the role of Coillte in all of this. Coillte has not advanced the afforestation programme in any serious way. It has been overly focused on the monocultural Sitka spruce approach to forestry, which has caused problems in Leitrim and does very little for biodiversity. Coillte has not played the role it should play, which is acting as the guardian of the forest estate and advancing a sustainable form of forestry.

I do not know if I am out of time, a Cheann Comhairle.

Five minutes ago.

If the Deputy wraps up now, he will be grand.

It is a bit disconcerting not knowing where I am in the time.

It is not that easy to put the Deputy off.

It is, actually. I want to conclude by saying that we need to change the mandate of Coillte completely. It needs to move away from a commercial for-profit approach to one that is about sustainable afforestation, using its land and resources to encourage community woodlands, co-ops and so on. Some of the unused Coillte land that the McCarthy report identified - hundreds of thousands of acres which it did not consider viable for forestry - should be given over to local communities and co-ops to develop native woodlands and broadleaf forests, rather than the current approach.

My apologies about the clock. I am sure it was not the Deputy's dulcet tones that turned it off. It appears to have returned.

Ba mhaith liom mo thacaíocht iomlán a chur leis an rún seo. I thank the Green Party for bringing the motion. It is very comprehensive. The Minister has left the Chamber. It strikes me, although it probably sounds a bit flippant, that he cannot see the woods for the trees in respect of the amendment he has tabled and the speech that was made. In his speech, the Minister referred to "evidence-based" and then did not show any evidence whatsoever. He actually ignored the evidence that has been brought to our attention, mostly by non-governmental organisations, which is always very difficult. They have to operate on very little money and educate us politicians. I want to pay tribute to them. I make these comments, as I have on many occasions since 2006, in the context of the climate change that is facing us. In The New Yorker recently, Bill McKibben put it very succinctly: "Climate change is a timed test, one of the first that our civilization has faced, [and probably the last] and with each scientific report the window narrows."

We see with the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change how the window has narrowed even more in respect of our oceans. It sets this out in a stark fashion in a special report on the ocean and the cryosphere in a changing climate. We had the biodiversity report earlier in May. In each of these reports, the writers make it easy for us because they do a summary entitled "Summary for Policymakers" - that is us. I do not like the word but it is like the dumb guide to the various issues. I include myself in that. The report on biodiversity earlier this year told us that the diversity within species, between species and in ecosystems, is declining faster than at any time in human history. The Minister, Deputy Madigan, totally agreed with this in a speech on 29 May. I found that heartwarming. She actually said that we are losing biodiversity around the globe at a rate unprecedented in human history. She went on in her speech to say that there are five main drivers of biodiversity loss in Ireland. She listed them and the first one was intensive agriculture and forestry practices. She actually accepted that forestry practices are one of the main driving forces in biodiversity loss. I would have thought that tonight, instead of coming in with an amendment that makes no sense and a speech that leaves out scientific evidence, for a Government that has been forced to declare a climate emergency, perhaps at this point the Minister's speech might have been based on facts just to give us a little hope. It might have been based on learning. All of us have made mistakes in our lives and certainly the policy on forestation has been a mistake.

Like all other speakers, I want to pay tribute to Coillte and to the number of jobs it creates, over 12,000 direct and indirect involved, and of course the experts going to England and all that Brexit entails. I have only a few minutes and I cannot go into all of that. What I want to go into is the absence of evidence on the part of the Minister. I remember being in the audiovisual room when Science Foundation Ireland came in with other groups and told us the importance of politicians leading by developing policy based on evidence. Where is it tonight? I would have thought the Minister who has left would have come in and told us what change has been made since Ireland's report to the EU Commission on habitats and species listed in the annex of the habitats directory. They said forestry ranked as the second greatest pressure and threat on designated habitats and species in Ireland after agriculture. That is evidence based. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, might be able to tell us what the up-to-date position is.

Then I asked myself how this is happening. Social Justice Ireland captured it in its policy document, which refers to policy incoherence in the Government's pursuing policies such as Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025, and the increase in emissions that these will yield, while simultaneously committing to national targets for sustainable development and emissions reduction. There is total incoherence in policies. That is what is happening here. Incoherence in policy is very evident in our approach to forestry and the Government's forestry programme from 2014 to 2020. Nowhere is that brought home more than in the mid-term review. It very sensibly carried out a mid-term review of that policy, which is welcome. Quite depressingly, the authors of the review go out of their way to tell us it was not a review of policy. Imagine not doing a policy review of something that started in 2014. They are reviewing it simply in respect of measures and targets but not policy, despite the increasingly urgent information coming to us on climate change and the importance of forestry in mitigating climate change. Even though the report does not review the policy and continues on as is, the review is a very significant document because it tells us that the Government was completely behind target. This was in February 2018. There was an underspend and an absence of monitoring. In the speech tonight we seem to have jumped up, like in a fairytale, to have a forest of broadleaf trees. As I understand it, we have barely 13% of our land surface in forestry - almost 11% - and of that, less than 2% is broadleaf trees. If the Minister of State is telling me, as the speech did, that it has gone up to 69%-----

That is wonderful. I would love to know how the Government has achieved that between February 2018 and now, which is a year and a half.

I am open to listening to the Minister of State when he comes back in. Unfortunately I will not be in the Chamber as I have another commitment but I will be listening to his speech. That policy review for me was a complete missed opportunity. It was published in February 2018, and leading into that was the time, if we were seriously interested in climate change, to actually look at the policy and ask if it was right to go down the road of monoculture. In submissions made to that review, it was pointed out that even though the forestation of Ireland was very small, it had a detrimental effect because of where it was planted. Is my time up?

The clock is really working fast now. We cannot win. Cuir críoch leis más maith leat.

Cuirfidh mé críoch leis mar seo.

The submission made in the review stated:

Despite the comparatively low level of forest cover in Ireland the concentration of afforestation in areas of high biodiversity value magnifies its negative impact as a threat and pressure on biodiversity. The environmental impact of Irish forestry is further exacerbated by its intensive management. Common practices such as drainage during ground preparation, the use of pesticides and clear-felling result in many negative impacts on water quality and freshwater ecosystems.

I do not wish to be negative. What I want to see is a policy that ensures the afforestation of Ireland in a sustainable manner in keeping with our obligations under EU directives.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is sharing with Deputies Michael Healy-Rae and Danny Healy-Rae.

I am happy to speak to the motion. While it may not have my full agreement, we need to reconsider our approach to forestry and how it can be used to maximise a return, both financially and ecologically, for landowners, farmers and the people. I thank Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin for the briefing today in Leinster House which was most informative.

Forestry production plays a key role within the State, yet it does not receive a fraction of the attention it deserves at Government level. I know that the Minister of State knows that the area of forest cover in the State is estimated to be 731,650 ha, or 10.5% of the total land area of Ireland. That alone speaks to the enormous importance of the sector, not to mention the employment of well over 10,000 people, generating €2.2 billion of output per annum. We know that hurley making is worth an estimated €5 million per annum to the economy. I hate to mention hurling when there is no one from Kilkenny present. While we laid claim to the all-Ireland title again this year, I sympathise with the vanquished.

I am aware that we need to examine how forest owners could benefit from carbon credits attached to their forests. As the Minister of State will be aware, last year agriculture committee MEPs tabled proposals to make it easier to use forests to offset carbon emissions under the EU draft 2030 climate and energy rules. In their report MEPs asked that forest management which involves conservation, rather than the planting of new trees, be factored in to EU rules and voted to hike available carbon credits for forests and grasslands from 280 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent to 450 million tonnes. I am also aware, however, that when the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, was asked if a carbon credit could be claimed against forestry, he replied that the removal of greenhouse gases by forests in Ireland were not linked with meeting our emissions reduction targets up to 2020. I am aghast at this. However, he went on to say in October last year that, in addition, greenhouse gas removals from Irish forests were not included in the emissions trading scheme. That is bizarre and shows that the lunatics are really running the asylum. Therefore, there are no carbon credits associated with forestry that could be traded formally, either within Ireland or the European Union as a whole.

I support the call made in the motion for the State to make a fundamental change in forestry policy away from a narrow vision of a 30-year cycle to a permanent woodland approach that would provide greater and more diverse social, environmental and economic benefits for society as a whole.

I thank the Green Party, with which I do not agree all of the time or even half of the time, for bringing forward this very important motion. The planting of forestry is something I believe in passionately. On this side of the House, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Danny Healy-Rae and I have served our time in forestry. Whether it was sodding or opening drains, or working under new or older directives, we worked in forestry for many years. I would like to think that at this stage we know what we are talking about.

The one thing I want to see, as I have said in the House before, is a situation where it would again become attractive for farmers to plant land - not all of their land, of course, but a part of it - because having an income from forestry can sometimes help to sustain the rest of a family farm. However, the period within which premiums are paid has gone from 20 years to 15 and the grant in many cases does not cover the total cost of maintaining the plantation. These are issues that need to be addressed in the new afforestation programme. Whether it is in negotiations with people in the European Union or the Government, whoever it will be at the time, it is important to bring the period back to 20 years. It is important to incentivise farmers, particularly young farmers.

Something Deputy Michael Moynihan said stuck in my head. He talked about how smart people were long ago and said that, before there was any talk of biodiversity, they knew that it was the right thing to do to plant a grove here or there on a family farm. They were ahead of their time. They were smarter than the Green Party or any other party; they were a green party on their own and did not need anyone to tell them how to mind the environment. The most important person in the whole equation, the person who cares for the land passionately and wants what is best for it, is the man, woman, boy or girl who owns the land. They do not need anybody in this House to tell them how to mind their land.

I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about this topic. I have no grudge against anyone in farms being planted with a grove or a hedge. Indeed, I have done it myself. As has been said, farmers have always been doing it. Where I come from, everywhere anyone looks there are too many trees and bushes and they are growing. There are plenty of them in our neck of the woods. Despite talk about paying farmers to do it, everyone in this House knows that that is not going to happen any time soon. For years we have been asking for a grant for the planting of trees on marginal land, but it has been refused. The Government has refused it and there is no hope it will change its mind any time soon. That is the truth of the matter.

It is galling to think farmers are not getting a fair price for their cattle. There was a lot of talk about Mercosur and we know what is happening in South America, where trees are being cut down. We have been asked by the man in Europe, Mr. Hogan, to plant trees and get rid of some of our cattle. It is emotive to talk to farmers tonight and tell them that it is advisable to plant trees. They know the amount they can plant on their land. If they have a small farm, they will do so much and if they have a bigger farm, they will do a bit more. However, despite being told that they are going to be paid to do it, I do not believe it. Today, yesterday and every other day, we have been asking the Government to pay for home helps, but it does not have the money to pay for the home help or the fair deal scheme. Therefore, from where is it going to get the money to pay farmers to plant more trees? That is the honest truth. Do not cod the people because they are not to be codded anymore. They know what the Government is at and that it is only talk. There is all this talk about climate change and there are parties tripping over each other in this House to see which of them will be as green as the Greens, or greener if they could be.

There was a professor who stated 15 years ago that cows were creating a savage amount of methane gas. Three weeks ago he admitted that he was wrong and that they were not actually creating one third of what he had claimed. NASA admits that climate change occurs because of changes in the Earth's solar orbit, as the distance between the sun and the Earth increases and decreases at times.

That is the cause of climate change, not the poor farmer-----

The Deputy's time is up.

-----with the poor cow. These changes in our temperature and our climate have occurred forever over the ages. Tonight we spoke about history, which is very important. The facts have been written down, the truth has been told-----

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

-----and the truth is that climate change has always occurred.

In case we all go into orbit, we had better move on.

What? Why should the Minister of State ignore it?

-----from the good Deputy. I thank all the Members for their contributions on the subject of-----

Hold on one second. The Minister of State said he was trying to ignore what we said.

I did not. I said "absorb".

Sorry. He did not say "ignore".

The Minister of State did not say anything-----

Gabh mo leithscéal. I thought he said "ignore".

I ask Deputies to let the Minister of State-----

Maybe they should have gone to Specsavers.

We thought he said "ignore".

Well, I did not. Deputy McGrath knows my form. I would not say that.

I ask Deputies to let the Minister of State speak.

Ar aghaidh leat.

I ask the Deputies to acknowledge I did not say "ignore".

That is okay. We acknowledge that.

I call the Minister of State, without interruption.

He would not want to have said "ignore" anyway.

I am sorry I did not make myself clearer. I would have thought the Deputies would understand my accent at this stage. As Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for forestry, I find these discussions very useful and informative. I also met the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in July, which gave me an opportunity to update its members on developments within the forestry sector. I wish to respond to some of the issues raised. I hope I can answer as many questions and respond to as many issues raised as possible.

An earlier speaker - unfortunately, I cannot remember who - asked why a young farmer would embark on a programme of planting trees. It is said that the right time to plant a tree was ten years ago. The second best time to plant one is now. In Scandinavia, where there is a longer rotation cycle, it is common practice for a hectare of new plantation to be planted on the birth of a child in order that that child, when he or she reaches retirement age, will have something of a nest egg or retirement fund. This just gives an idea that there is a commercial reality here to some of the countries that have the highest average plantations. In Finland, which I have had the pleasure to visit, up to 73% of the land area is covered by forestry. There are basically three species there, two conifers and one broadleaf: birch, Scots pine and Norway spruce. From these they generate quite a significant bioeconomy.

I believe there is general consensus that we need to increase the level of new forest planting to maintain the range of benefits we derive from our current forest resource. As mentioned in the amendment to the motion, the achievement of the afforestation target of 8,000 ha each year, as outlined in the climate action plan, will be challenging, and there is no denying that. The Government is committed to achieving it, though. We propose to do so through engagement with both private and public landowners and local communities to encourage new forestry planting, allied to the provision of attractive schemes, promotion of such schemes and creating awareness of the benefits of forestry. An increase in afforestation levels is an ongoing Government priority, as evidenced by the consistent allocation of funding over the years to the forestry programme. Successive national forestry programmes since 1990 have been funded at more than €3 billion, which is a significant dividend for rural Ireland. I expect next week's budget for 2020 to continue this support.

It is also a priority to ensure that forestry is developed in a sustainable manner and with due regard to the environment, particularly our climate and biodiversity challenges. The forestry sector is unique in that it can impact positively across different aspects of our society. It can generate economic activity in rural areas which may be unlikely to see the benefits of large industry or foreign direct investment. At the same time it can improve the quality of our environment by removing carbon from our atmosphere and improving the quality of our water. Our forests also provide opportunities for leisure and recreation to locals and visitors alike. I believe our current forestry programme balances the needs and expectations of all stakeholders, including supporting economic growth in the forest sector, ensuring that the environment is protected and supporting local communities in the provision of forest recreational facilities.

The programme introduced a number of important structural and design changes, including the restructuring of forestry schemes in order that they present real options to landowners in generating alternative sources of income. Accordingly, the current programme included new agroforestry and forest-for-fibre measures targeted specifically at farmers, providing them with options for grazing livestock alongside forestry. In the case of forestry-for-fibre, provision was made for the harvesting of timber after ten to 15 years rather than 30 to 40 years, as is the case with other types of forestry. The programme also includes a broadleaf planting target of 30%, with higher grants and premiums on offer for the planting of broadleaves, and provides for the planting of more diverse tree species. I am pleased to say that notwithstanding the effects of ash dieback on the rate of broadleaf planting, we are very close to achieving this 30% target.

A range of enhancements were also made to the programme on foot of the midterm review of the programme, with higher rates of grants and premiums now available for certain species mixes. The grant and premium rates for the agroforestry option have been trebled. I visited an agroforestry site in Kilcock, County Kildare, in August and it really showed the way in which forestry and the rearing of livestock could be integrated.

I am pleased to note that there has been a good uptake of the schemes, with the rate of broadleaves planted already increasing by 25% last year compared with the previous year. Native woodlands are important for biodiversity and play an important role in helping to protect water quality by filtering sediment and slowing down runoff water from upland areas. I am pleased to note payments issued in 2018 in respect of 374 ha of new native woodlands while support has also been provided this year, under the woodland improvement scheme, for the management of almost 680 ha of broadleaf plantations.

The introduction of a new continuous cover forestry programme earlier this year has been also well received, with the initial limit of 30 projects already fully subscribed. This initiative will transform forests into uneven-aged and permanent woodlands, enriching the biodiversity of these habitats and enhancing the landscape.

As I mentioned, one of the objectives in devising the current forestry programme was to balance the needs and expectations of all stakeholders. I have focused so far on the schemes available to landowners. However, I should also draw attention to the support available to local communities under the NeighbourWood scheme to develop local woodland amenities. We have a number of examples of such woodlands throughout the country, including Balla Town Park community woodlands in County Mayo; one in Dunmore East, County Waterford; Ballyseedy Woods, near Tralee, County Kerry; and the Vartry lakes walk in my area of Roundwood, County Wicklow.

I have established a forestry programme implementation group to monitor the implementation of the programme. The group comprises relevant State bodies, the forestry sector and, to correct Deputy Sherlock, environmental NGOs. This is an inclusive body designed to reflect all views on forestry, and we have taken a number of policy decisions on foot of its discussions. I have also commissioned, with the agreement of the forest implementation group, a Scottish consultant, Mr. Jim Mackinnon, to review our forestry policies and procedures. This is similar to an exercise he has undertaken for the Scottish authorities. I expect that the findings of Mr. Mackinnon's analysis will be brought back to the forestry implementation group at some point in the future, I hope by the end of November.

I assure Members that the achievement of our afforestation targets will not be to the detriment of the environment. My Department is required to vet carefully all applications for approval to plant forests, having regard to their potential impact on the surrounding environment, habitats, archaeological monuments and the social aspects of the proposal and ensuring that, silviculturally, the proposal meets the required standards. We are cognisant of our obligations in these regards.

"The forestry sector" is an all-encompassing phrase and I believe it fails to convey the range of interests in the sector, ranging from forest nurseries, forestry companies, landowners, local communities, the timber processing industry, the renewable energy businesses, the wider environmental sector and end users. Against this background I believe it is beneficial to increase awareness of forestry in general. To this end, funding was approved earlier this year for 15 initiatives to highlight the multifunctional benefits of forestry, to promote planting of more trees and to encourage sustainable forest management.

A number of successful events have taken place, including a woodland festival in County Leitrim. I also launched a forest connections project in County Kerry, which aims to get people of all ages out into the forests to observe, enjoy and participate in forest life, enabling them to feel connected to local forests and forests throughout Ireland and enhancing their feelings of well-being and knowledge of the essential place of forests in our life. These projects will assist in creating a better understanding of forestry and the way in which it benefits all sectors in society.

I am passionate about delivering the benefits of forestry for our people, rural economy and environment. I echo the comments of others about the need for this debate to be based on evidence and the best available science. This House has declared a climate and biodiversity crisis and it falls to us to show leadership on this issue. I thank Members for this debate. I am committed to working with every one of them and any other stakeholder who shares a desire and ambition for forestry in Ireland.

The Minister of State's good intentions and honest approach are well recognised and we will always work with him and his colleagues to devise the best approach. That is the objective of this motion. However, we will push for a vote because there is a fundamental difference in outlook and philosophy between ourselves and most of the House and Fine Gael. I do not wish to isolate Fine Gael but there is a division of approach that must be teased out and addressed.

The Minister, Deputy Creed, said something to which I wish to draw attention: "The public debate on productive forestry is of concern and does not reflect current planting systems, which are more cognisant than ever of landscape, diversity and environmental sensitivities". I differ from him on that. The debate is not of concern; it is vital. In fact, there are many people on the environmental side of the debate, including a range of NGOs that I will not list now, who are saying something important that must be heard. I will cite some examples. Members of Extinction Rebellion interrupted a forestry industry event in the National Botanic Gardens a few weeks ago. There was a standoff between them and the people from the forestry industry, who were saying: "We doing the right thing and we are as green as you can get." The people from Extinction Rebellion were expressing the significant anxiety that exists about the scale and nature of the biodiversity crisis we face. People were critical of Greta Thunberg's speech in New York last week but we witnessed the sense of dread and fear among many young people that we are heading towards a sixth mass extinction and what it will mean for them in their lifetimes. They cannot rest easy and hear somebody say that the public debate on this does not reflect current plantings and we are "more cognisant than ever of ... environmental sensitivities". I beg to differ; I do not believe we are.

There is a way to address those sensitivities. I was listening to BBC Radio 4 last week. I do not often do that but these days I have to listen to it to follow what is going on over there. At the end of the usual Brexit hoo-hah there was a brilliant short piece featuring the sculptor Antony Gormley. His grandfather was from Derry. He is a brilliant sculptor whose sculptures of himself are all to do with our connection to nature. He has a new exhibition in London currently. He was addressing the issue of how we are in despair at the destruction of nature. He said that we will get over that. It struck me when he said that, we will find our true nature in nature. Our connection to nature is important. If we do not have the sense that we are restoring nature and doing everything we can to create a rich natural environment around us as we face this biodiversity and climate crisis, we will go further into this despair and the public debate will get even worse. The people who have this sensitivity and sensibility will sense that the Government is all about numbers and has no sense of nature and its importance. I do not mean to be personally critical when I say that, but I am reflecting the view of many people in that community who feel this strongly.

The scale of what we must do is so great that the 8,000 ha of afforestation per year in the whole-of-Government action plan will not be commensurate with the type of carbon storage we will require, such is the crisis. We have significant potential in this country because it is such an incredible tree growing country. It has an incredible tradition and a skilled forestry and nursery sector so we should aim to think bigger and better than that. It should be 20,000 ha per year. We were doing that 25 years ago so why would we not aim for that scale now? There are vast amounts of land on which carbon could be stored through land management that would not involve plantations but a rewilding and the use of nature to do the work for us. That is what we seek to do.

The need for that is not just because of the climate and biodiversity crisis but the fact that there is an agricultural crisis in this country. It was stated on Radio Kerry, which I trust, that 60% of Kerry farmers have nobody to inherit their land and keep the farms going. Deputy Fitzmaurice might know if it is the same in Roscommon but I presume it is. The average age of a farmer is probably in the 60s. What will we do when all those people retire? Will we go with the current system where one might get a contractor in to install a monoculture plantation, leave it for 15 years and, please God, get the thinning done, and after 35 years chop it down and then do the same again? I do not believe the people want that to be the future of forestry. The people have a sense that they want to make this country the best example in the world of how to restore nature. In their deep psyche, they have a sense of crisis that we are about to lose the curlew and a range of bird species because of the way we are managing our land. This is not to do with the climate or Europe telling us to do it; it is what we are doing ourselves. The people will want to change Ireland to be the best place in the world at protecting and restoring nature.

In the case of forestry, that is not just about the numbers and the percentage of broadleaves we have. The best academic research I can find on forestry states that even native plantation forests show a lack of native forest biodiversity. It is the nature of these plantations, be they broadleaf or conifer, that there is uniform plantation all of the same age. Once the canopy is closed, it is dark and there is no undergrowth in which birds and other species can thrive. No human being can walk there because it is so dark, dense and dead relative to a real biodiverse native forest. That is not what we want. It is not doing the best or thinking big about how we could tackle the biodiversity crisis.

What about deer?

Ireland has large populations of deer and, as I said earlier, pine martens and squirrels, but it is losing the bird and insect life. It is not just in the forests. Bird life is being lost because of inappropriate management of the grasslands and wetlands. This is forestry within the context of what is being done in farming. The two go together. I have heard almost uniform agreement in the debate, including in the Minister's contribution, that we look on agroforestry as a big step. The Minister should seek to get farmers behind this and skilled in this planting task in the upcoming budget. Let us do it in the next five years and get them to use native trees that are local to the area.

The acorn from a local area has specific characteristics that will help it to thrive in that area. The complexity of forests is amazing. What we are learning about trees and their interaction with each other as they grow is fascinating. I spoke to a forester the other day who told me that even the smallest change in how they turn and blow can affect the nature of the wood as it grows. As the light is opened up and there is a more open canopy, the nature of what happens to the tops of the trees starts to change. This is an incredibly complex process. Every tree is different and every tree must be in the right place. As various people said today, we need the right tree in the right place but we also need a mix of trees, including trees of different ages and wild trees as well as planted trees. We need to step away from the concentration on plantations, whether monoculture or clear fell. That is as clear as day and we in the Green Party along with many others will be making the case for this, not just today but in the run-up to the budget and negotiations on any future programme for Government.

We believe that this is the responsible response that we need to the biodiversity and climate crisis we face. It must be based on science and the Minister is absolutely right about that. No one has absolute certainty on this because it is very complex, but we cannot say that what we are doing now is fine and the way we have always done it is fine. We cannot continue to drain the land, plant again, drain again, pour phosphates and glyphosates on and plant again, because that is not looking after nature. That is why we called this motion close to nature forestry because it is an ecological approach that values nature. In valuing nature, we value ourselves, whether we are Kerry, Roscommon, Dublin or Wicklow people. We are part of nature. Let us look after it.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 3 October 2019.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 October 2019.