Constitutionality of Coalition forestry law questioned

Labour TD concerned landowners denied felling licences would not get compensation

Michael McNamara: provisions “are so broad it means that one is entitled to compensation, but one will not get compensation”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Michael McNamara: provisions “are so broad it means that one is entitled to compensation, but one will not get compensation”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Sun, Jul 20, 2014, 21:42

A Government TD has questioned the constitutionality of the Coalition’s Forestry Bill, which is concluding its passage through the Oireachtas.

Labour TD for Clare Michael McNamara had previously warned Government that its abortion legislation might be found to be unconstitutional.

Mr McNamara said the planned forestry law did not encourage landowners to afforest their land and he was also concerned that people who were denied felling licences would not be entitled to compensation.

“It concerns me that a landowner can go to much trouble to get an afforestation permit but the State can turn around at some point in the future and deny the landowner the opportunity to harvest that crop without recourse to compensation,” he told the Dáil last week.

Mr McNamara thanked Minister of State for food, forestry, horticulture and food safety Tom Hayes for tabling an amendment introducing compensation in cases where permits were refused.

However, he claimed the compensation provisions had been “hollowed out” and compensation could be refused for a large number of reasons, including “environmental concerns, health and safety, a fear of interference with water quality or best forestry practice”.

He said it was difficult to understand how anyone could be refused for any reasons other than those contained in the provisions.

“They are so broad it means that one is entitled to compensation but one will not get compensation,” he said.

The Bill aims to encourage landowners across the State to plant more forestry in marginal land. The programme for government committed the Coalition to a 14,700-hectare afforestation programme.

Mr Hayes said he had received legal advice from the Attorney General on the matter raised by Mr McNamara.

He attempted to assure Mr McNamara that his concerns about Government refusing harvest permission would be a “very infrequent occurrence”.

Forestry was a commitment for many years and the legislation would make it “amenable” for landowners to decide to move into forestry.