Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy
Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called for a change in state forestry policy to give the people in counties such as Leitrim a real stake, to protect the county’s unique and beautiful environment and provide more local jobs.
The Midlands North West MEP was speaking at a packed public meeting in the Kilbracken Arms Hotel in Carrigallen, which was also addressed by Sligo/Leitrim TD Martin Kenny, Gerry Loftus of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, Jim McCaffrey of the Save Leitrim group. Members of Co. Leitrim IFA were also in attendance and contributed to the discussion.
The meeting was received a presentation from Julia Christian, who had travelled from Brussels for the meeting, representing FERN - a European organisation which seeks to promotes sustainable forestry and which works with communities who live in areas of forestry. She commended local groups for their campaign and vowed to offer assistance and share successful ideas from other countries to further Leitrim's concerns.
The meeting was chaired by Leitrim County Councillor Caroline Mulvey.
Matt Carthy said: “In Leitrim, the wider problems facing rural Ireland have been given added dimension by Government forestry policy, which is having a damaging social and economic impact.
“There is a clear intention of the Government to use Leitrim as a ‘carbon sink’ to outset environmentally damaging sectors, operating in other parts of the country.”
Carthy said there are huge concerns about the monoculture approach of sowing sitka spruce and that the current low-cost loan scheme, co-funded by the EIB and the ISIF for the purchase of land by foreign investors in parts of Ireland is not available to farmers and is resulting in land falling out of the hands of local communities.
He said:“The reality is that Leitrim farmers are being are being unfairly pressurised by investors to sell their land.
“There is no equal playing field for farmers and capital investors, who are entitled to the same amounts of forestry premiums from exchequer funding.”
"If things continue this way the land grab will have real consequences not only for local dwellers, but for the entire western economy. Selling off land without any hope for a return of profits or job creation for the local economy is a direct betrayal of these communities”.
He commended Martin Kenny TD who has raised concerns in the Dáil about the impact of forestry in Leitrim.
“The Government has failed to ensure that the economic benefits from the forestry sector are retained in areas like Leitrim. There has been no IDA investment in Leitrim in the past year and no attempts to increase jobs in off-forestry or forestry dependent employment.
“Martin Kenny and myself are seeking that the Government introduce a maximum 50km radius limit for establishment grant and forestry premium payments. This would mean that the recipient’s main residential residence must be within 50km of the forestry site. For companies, this should apply to their main headquarters to ensure that the economic benefits are retained in the local area.
“We are also calling for different premium levels for farmers and non-farmers and we want to see an overhaul of Government policy to encourage the establishment of local plant nurseries for job creation and to avoid having to import saplings and young trees.
“Sinn Féin also wants to see proper policing of the 30% broadleaf requirement which is being currently being circumvented”.
Carthy called for a participative forestry model that includes farmers and communities in the process of growing, thinning and felling, including site visits.
Concluding he said: “I believe we need a positive vision for rural Ireland. A vision to make it a sustainable place to live and work. A place where the quality of life is matched by the quality of public services.
“This includes a policy commitment to keep rural post offices, libraries and Garda stations open and to maintain services that connect people with their local towns.
“It also means devising a sustainable forestry policy which gives a real stake to local communities, protects Leitrim’s unique and beautiful environment and provides jobs for local workers.”
"I am encouraged by the commitment of local groups, who have come forward with real concrete proposals to save their county from foreign speculative investors. And I will be using my position as an MEP to put as much pressure as possible on the Government and the EIB to stop this sell-off.