Deputy Martin Kenny
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for Agriculture, Martin Kenny TD, has asked the Minister for Agriculture to stop incentivising non-farmers to plant forestry and to prevent anomalies in land prices that have arisen.
Deputy Kenny sought confirmation from the Minister that "in the context of that review, consideration will be given to restoring priority to farmers in relation to grants for afforestation as opposed to the people who buy up the land and get farmers to apply for the grant".
The Minister responded that reinstating the farmer-non-farmer premium differential is not an option being considered by his Department and the 2014-2020 forestry programme will pay the same premium to all landowners to ensure that the maximum amount of land is available for afforestation.
Expressing his disappointment, Deputy Kenny said: “(This) is not what I wanted, nor does it reflect what the vast majority of farm organisations and people involved in the industry, certainly in the North West, want to see happen."
The Sligo-Leitrim Deputy said that mid term review should be postponed until issues including problems with contracts with Coillte and Ash Dieback, are resolved.
Deputy Kenny said large sections of the North West are "being taken over by a mono-culture of Sitka spruce forestry".
"This is having an absolutely devastating effect on communities and farmers trying to buy adjacent land. These farmers may be competing with farmers from very far away who are buying the land to obtain carbon credits from forestry to offset against other activities," he noted.
"They are legitimately entitled to do this but, from the point of view of the people who live in the areas where the forests are being planted, it is devastating. The Government needs to halt the review, go back to the drawing board and come up with solutions. The existing solution is not working for the communities.”