Forestry group lobbies Government to appoint report author

Forest Industries Ireland urges third-party review to speed up approval of licences

Forest Industries Ireland  outlined to the Government its concern that the rate of new forest planting was falling rapidly as a result of a slowdown in licence approvals.

Forest Industries Ireland outlined to the Government its concern that the rate of new forest planting was falling rapidly as a result of a slowdown in licence approvals.

 

Employers’ group Forest Industries Ireland (FII) lobbied the Government to appoint the expert whose report forms the basis of a new policy for the sector.

The Project Woodland forestry strategy, launched by Minister of State for Agriculture Pippa Hackett, is based partly on a report written for the Government by James Mackinnon, Scotland’s former chief planner, who was hired without going through a recruitment process.

The letter, from FII director Mark McAuley, outlines the organisation’s concern that the rate of new forest planting was falling rapidly as a result of a slowdown in licence approvals from the department.

Mr McAuley says the industry believes a third-party review would aid the department in cutting the time taken to approve licences. He points out that Mr Mackinnon had completed a report for the Scottish government in 2016.

“I have been in contact with James Mackinnon and he is enthusiastic about the idea of carrying out a similar report in Ireland,” Mr McAuley says.

He adds that FII is willing to pay half Mr Mackinnon’s indicative fee of €10,000. The actual cost was €15,400, which the department paid itself.

The department confirmed that it commissioned Mr Mackinnon on foot of contacts with Scottish counterparts, including between ministers, and that it set terms of reference for his work.

“No tender was provided for the work as Mr Mackinnon was specifically recruited given his very similar work for the Scottish authorities and the consequential improvements in afforestation rates there,” a statement added.

Mick Wallace, Independent MEP, argued the letter shows the industry had got its nominee.

He said the Forestry Act passed by the Oireachtas last autumn in a bid to tackle forestry licensing delays contravenes the UN Aarhus Convention, as the law limits access to environmental justice and decision-making.

The legislation introduced fees for anyone appealing department forestry licences.

Directive dispensation

Mr Wallace said he was concerned at Mr Mackinnon’s proposal that the Republic lobby the European Commission for a dispensation from the EU Habitats Directive to allow forest to be planted on protected sites.

However, Mr McAuley insisted that Mr Mackinnon’s report was independent and focused on getting more trees planted in the Republic. Just 2,300 hectares of new forest was planted last year, against a Government target of 8,000.

“We offered Mr Mackinnon as an idea,” he said. “After that it was a completely independent process, he spoke to everybody across the board.”

Mr McAuley added that the planner spoke to the industry, Government officials, environmental organisations and landowners, including the bodies from which the department’s forestry working group is drawn.

A subsequent review for the department by former Scottish Forestry chief executive Jo O’Hara endorsed Mr Mackinnon’s report.