Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ceisteanna (516, 517, 518)

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

516. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of appeals with the forestry appeals committee; the number with the committee more than two, four, six and 12 months, respectively; when decisions will be made in respect of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52807/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

517. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of staff in the forestry appeals committee; if there has been an increase in the workload in recent years; if there has been an increase in staffing to deal with the issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52808/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

518. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the new appeals procedure will be operational in order that applications for felling licences can be dealt with within a reasonable period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52809/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 516 to 518, inclusive, together.

The Forestry Act 2014, which was commenced in May 2017, amended the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001, to allow appeals against decisions of my Department concerning licence applications for forestry felling, planting, forest roads and aerial fertilisation to be dealt with by a Forestry Appeals Committee. I subsequently established the Forestry Appeals Committee in February 2018. The Committee operates independently of my Department, although the remit of the Agriculture Appeals Office was extended in to provide all administrative and secretariat support for the Forestry Appeals Committee. Three additional administrative staff were recently assigned to the Agriculture Appeals Office to assist with the increased workload. Resource requirements are monitored on an on-going basis. The Committee membership includes eleven Appeals Officers from the Agriculture Appeals Office and an external Chairperson. The legislation provides that the Chairperson and any two ordinary members of the Committee may hear an appeal. The Committee commenced hearing appeals in March 2018.

The number of appeals to the Forestry Appeals Committee has risen from 35 in 2017 to just under 200 in 2018 and to 250 in the first 7 months of 2019. These appeals are almost exclusively from third parties. A decision on a license may be the subject of multiple appeals.

My Department deals with applications for felling licences independently of the appeals process for Forestry Appals Committee. Applications for licences are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Each application is considered regarding its effect on the surrounding countryside, environment and particularly for its likely impact on any sites designated for conservation proximate to the proposed forestry site, known as Appropriate Assessment Procedures (AAP). The majority of appeals are in respect of the AAP.

My Department endeavours to issue decisions on forestry licences within four months of receipt of a completed application for a licence, but this may not be possible due to the particulars of the site or the number of licence applications received at any time. Recent changes to AAP designed to take account of recent case law have given rise to delays in processing licence applications, while the new procedures are being put in place.

These AA procedures have been amended to introduce a robust and workable system which will address the issues now faced. Introducing this system involved the recruitment of additional ecological expertise and changes in procedures for the forestry inspectorate. Interviews are taking place for additional ecologists under a recently advertised competition and I expect the successful candidates will be deployed early in the new year. Forestry district inspectors have undergone training and are continuing to receive support in delivering the new procedures. A categorisation of files affected by these requirements is underway in order to best assess further action needed and by whom. Officials of my Department have met bilaterally with forestry companies, to examine the applications on hand and to assess their backlogs with a view to moving applications forward.

The number of valid appeals currently with the FAC are set out below up to 10th December. It should be noted that there may be more than one appeal on a forestry licence decision.

-

2017

2018

2019

Total number of appeals notified by the FAC

35

197

405

Number of licences appealed

22

145

255

The number of appeals awaiting decision by the FAC for the timeframe requested are given below.

Year

0-2 months

3-4 months

5-6 months

6-12 months

Over 12 months

2017

0

0

0

0

2

2018

0

0

0

2

35

2019

146

13

24

38

0