Government delays in issuing forestry licences are driving contractors out of business, despite booming demand for timber, politicians claimed on Thursday.
A backlog in forestry licences, needed to fell or plant trees, or to build roads to transport logs, has left the Republic short of timber and threatens jobs in an industry that employs 12,000.
Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, dubbed the situation "an absolute disaster" on Thursday and warned that it would force businesses to close.
Committee member Michael Fitzmaurice TD, pointed out that the crisis had forced forestry contractors out of business. “The timber industry is in trouble,” he warned.
Mr Fitzmaurice argued that Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue should face a vote of no confidence if the situation did not change.
He also questioned whether key department officials should be allowed to remain in their current jobs if there was no improvement.
Committee members were responding to a statement from Colm Hayes, assistant secretary general of the department, pledging that it would meet its target of issuing 4,500 licences this year.
He told the committee that the department had issued 1,236 forestry permits up to the end of last week, which was 15 per cent ahead of the same time in 2020, when the crisis first emerged.
“We are committed to achieving this target and we remain confident that we will do so,” he said.
He stated that officials would have to issue 100 licences a week for the rest of the year to reach the goal. “Last week we issued 101 licences,” he added.
However, Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard pointed out that the total number of licences that the department had issued by the end of last week was only 30 per cent of the those processed during the same period in 2019.
Mr Lombard also argued that other EU countries, including Belgium and France, had interpreted rules governing tree felling in special conservation areas differently to the Republic, leading to easier regulation in those states.
Timber prices have risen as much as 20 per cent in the Republic as a result of the shortage, while sawmills are importing the commodity from Scotland to maintain supplies to customers.
The State normally exports timber to the United Kingdom and other European countries, where prices are also rising rapidly as construction steps up to meet growing housing and infrastructure needs.