A quarter of forestry target planted in ‘worst year since 1946’, committee told

Non-performance of forestry service has done ‘real damage to confidence’ in sector, TDs and Senators told

The “non performance” of the forestry service of the Department of Agriculture has done “real damage to confidence” in the sector, from growers to end users, the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture has been told.

The committee heard that last year just 2,000 hectares of forest were planted, the lowest level since 1946, it was claimed.

Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture Jackie Cahill said he was deeply concerned about the sector which had a planting target last year of 8,000 hectares, four times that which was achieved.

He told Minister for State for Forestry Pippa Hackett, the service held “ a bias in favour of Coillte” the State-owned forest company. He said in one week recently Coillte had received licences at a rate of three to one versus the private sector. Mr Cahill said last year’s planting was the “worst since 1946” and added “future generations will ask what went wrong in 2020”.


Teige Ryan, chairman of the Social Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland (Seefa) told the committee there was no certainty in the timeline for a licence application from the forest service . He said just 18 percent of applications were achieving a decision within the target timeframe. Applications he said seemed to go “into a black hole” and emails remained unanswered. He said farmers, growers and landowners were being forced out of the sector through frustration.

Mr Ryan said the industry had told the forest service in 2021 that 7,000 licences would be required in 2022 for the sector to function and retain current employment levels. But he said in January the department outlined a plan to issue 5,250 licences for 2022, which he said the department had described as “highly ambitious”.

He said “taxpayers have invested almost €3 billion in private forestry over the past 30 years” but “ the opportunity is being squandered because the department have proven inept and remain incapable of issuing the licences that are legally required”.

“The non-performance of our department has resulted in real damaged confidence in the forest sector, from growers, to end users ,” he said.

Matt Carthy TD said he had heard the administration of the sector described as “ inept and incompetent” and in heated exchanges he asked Ms Hackett “have you any proposals to address the dysfunction in the system”.

Ms Hackett responded that many of the speakers in the debate had made remarks that personalised their criticism, and she asked them to refrain from doing so.

Ms Hackett said “ we could be planting 9,000 hectares by the end of the year” although she said there were issues to be addressed.

Ms Hackett said when future generations asked what happened in 2020, the answer was that forestry had been operating outside environmental regulations and this had to be addressed. “ That is why we are where we are,”she said.

She said in total the forest service issued more than 4,000 licences last year, a 56 percent increase on 2020. “This included 2,877 felling licences, with a volume of nearly 8.5 million cubic metres. This is the highest volume issued in a single year.” She said 2021was also a much improved year for forest road licences, with some264 kilometres of roads approved.

She said her department has recently recruited “a number of external ecologists who will, for the present, focus exclusively on afforestation. Once these ecologists are trained and bedded in, I am confident that the output of afforestation licences will increase significantly”.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist