Supplies of wood needed for home building from State company Coillte are set to dry up next year as a planning crisis that grips commercial forests deepens.
Department of Agriculture delays in processing tree-felling licences and appeals have frozen timber supplies, threatening an industry that employs about 12,000 people.
It has emerged that Coillte, the Republic’s biggest provider of the logs milled to produce timber, is not in a position to guarantee any supplies for next year as the delays mean the company cannot fell trees.
Coillte has already cancelled a yearly auction, normally held in October, at which sawmills bid for about half the wood they need for the succeeding year.
It is understood that the State company is likely to cancel another sale, due to be held closer to the end of this year, at which millers would have bought further logs for 2021.
Coillte produces three-quarters of all the logs milled in the Republic to produce timber. The State company supplies enough of the vital construction material to build more than 40,000 homes a year.
Earlier this week, Mark McCauley, director of Forest Industries Ireland, part of employers' lobby Ibec, told the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee that sawmills were already forced to import timber from as far away as Russia.
Last month, Cork-based GP Wood, one of the Republic's bigger players, confirmed that it had imported 100 truck loads of timber from Europe and was planning to ship in more later this year.
This is despite the fact that the Republic has enough wood to supply both its own needs and those of customers in Britain and other countries.
His organisation has also pointed out that high demand for timber throughout Europe means that imports are more expensive than what is produced here.
Forest Industries Ireland has been warning for several months that the Department of Agriculture needs to speed up the processing of both licensing applications and appeals.
All forestry activity in the Republic, planting, felling and building roads to transport logs, requires a licence. Any permit granted can be appealed.
About 550 appeals need to be adjudicated, while there are some 2,000 licence applications before the department’s forestry service.
Legislation that came into force on October 7th streamlined the operation of the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC), which handles any licence challenges.
It is understood that Coillte has calculated that the department needs to at least double the rate at which it processes licence applications.
At the same time, recent figures indicate that the FAC dealt with just 12 appeals over the three weeks from October 7th to the 27th.
The Department of Agriculture said that it now had 16 full-time ecologists handling licence applications, up from just one a year ago while it was recruiting 13 extra forestry inspectors.
A statement said it issued 301 licences in October, the highest of any month this year. Of these, 229 were for tree felling, while Coillte received 157 of them.
The department added that the delay in hearing appeals was being addressed through implementing the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, the law passed last month.
“On foot of the Act, there are now four appeals committees established and all four are scheduled to hear appeals in November. The FAC is completely independent of the department,” the statement said.