Ireland ‘needlessly importing timber’, as industry blames Government

Backlog of forestry appeals worsening the crisis, despite new legislation

Politicians last month passed new laws allowing the Department of Agriculture to streamline the process of deciding appeals against tree-felling licences. Photograph: Getty

Politicians last month passed new laws allowing the Department of Agriculture to streamline the process of deciding appeals against tree-felling licences. Photograph: Getty

 

Sawmillers warn that a Government failure to honour pledges to tackle a backlog of forestry appeals is worsening a crisis that is forcing the Republic to needlessly import timber.

Politicians last month passed new laws allowing the Department of Agriculture to streamline the process of deciding appeals against tree-felling licences to end a backlog that has left the State short of timber vital to home building.

However, sawmills say the department has failed to provide the resources needed to tackle the two-year backlog, despite knowing they would be needed once the new legislation came into force.

John Murray, production director of Murray Timber, which employs 170 people in counties Carlow and Galway, said on Tuesday that the business had to slash production by 20 per cent this month as raw material supplies shrank.

He warned that Murray Timber now had the choice of cutting production further, and not supplying its customers, or importing timber, despite the fact that commercial forests have more than enough trees to supply the industry.

Mr Murray pointed out that the department’s Forestry Appeals Committee was handling just eight appeals a week, while there were around 500 in the system, meaning it will take until Christmas 2021 just to deal with the backlog.

“There was a lot of effort went into getting this legislation across the line, but it is just not being acted upon,” he said.

“It should not be a surprise to the department that the legislation has come into force. They wrote the legislation. They were asked time and time again to ensure that the resources were in place, but they have not done that.”

Looming crisis

The Forestry Amendment Act, passed last month by the Oireachtas, streamlined the process for handling appeals against licences needed to plant or harvest logs.

Department of Agriculture officials said that the new law was a key part of its effort to end a logjam that has seen forestry licences tied up for two years in appeals, which created the shortage of logs in the first place.

Lobby group Forestry Industry Ireland, part of employers’ organisation Ibec, has been warning the Government of the looming crisis in timber supplies for several months.

State company Coillte supplies about 70 per cent of the logs used by sawmills to produce timber for construction and other purposes. Private plantations provide the balance.

Mr Murray noted that the department had fallen short of commitments to approve licences for private growers. Its officials have issued just 12 of these licences so far in October, despite promising to process 140, while they approved 60 such permits in September, against a pledged 120.

The Department of Agriculture did not respond to a request for comment.