A crisis in supplies of timber is set to deepen as overseas sources of logs dry up, industry figures warn.
Department of Agriculture delays in processing licences needed to cut and plant trees, and lay roads to transport logs, have left the Republic short of timber needed to build new homes.
Mike Glennon, joint managing director of sawmill Glennon Brothers, warned on Thursday that the shortage would worsen in coming weeks as shipping in alternative supplies is becoming unsustainable.
His company has been bringing in shiploads of timber from Scotland every five or six days since last year to meet customer demand, but competition from other markets now threatens that source, said Mr Glennon.
Parts of Scotland that are free from pests likely to threaten Irish plantations are the only viable source of imported timber, noted the sawmiller.
However, global demand is driving up prices for logs from these regions. “It is becoming unsustainable; that supply source is not going to keep going,” said Mr Glennon.
He said the Republic was growing more timber than it needed, but ongoing licensing delays meant that the trees could not be felled. “So it does not make economic sense to ship logs from Scotland to process them,” he added.
According to Mr Glennon, department officials have licensed 11,700 hectares of forest for felling so far this year, against 57,000 in all of 2019.
The department is issuing permits at a faster rate than last year, when 18,000 hectares were licensed in total.
However, Mr Glennon argued that 2020 was “a catastrophic year” when licensing fell far behind the Government’s targets.
His business is now quoting six- to eight-week delivery delays to builders seeking timber to build houses. The same timber used in construction is also needed to make pallets, vital for exporting goods. Supplies for these products are also under threat.
“The industry is grinding to a slow halt,” warned Mr Glennon. He said the crisis is now two years old. The sawmiller called for an amnesty on licensing for a period to allow forest owners to go ahead and cut trees.
Otherwise, he argued that the Department of the Taoiseach should establish a special unit to tackle the problem.
While State company Coillte is the biggest source of logs in the Republic, farmers who planted part of their land decades ago with the aid of Government cash are now seeking to harvest trees but cannot.
“They know that international prices have never been so high, but they can’t fell their trees to cash in their crop,” added Mr Glennon.
He argued that the system is “too complicated” and had left the Department of Agriculture unable to hit its own targets.
“No one else would be expected to wait 18 months to harvest their crop,” said Mr Glennon.
The spring reopening of construction, which the State locked down in the first quarter of the year, sent demand for building materials, including timber, surging.
The department did not respond to a request for comment.