Last week the Cabinet approved the Forestry Bill 2020 which aims to reform the way appeals lodged against forestry licences are processed.
It has brought forward what is essentially emergency legislation - the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Pre-legislative scrutiny was dispensed with and the Bill, proposed by Minister of State for Forestry Pippa Hackett, will be brought through the Seanad and the House within a week.
The bill will allow the committee to increase in size and hear more than one appeal at a time. While it received overwhelming support by politicians, the bill was met with opposition by Save Leitrim, Irish Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Irish Environment.
The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) is extremely concerned about the undue haste with which new forestry legislation is being rushed through the Oireachtas. In a statement, it said “This legislation proposes to introduce fees for objectors for the first time and was part of a broader set of recommendations to reform Ireland’s failed forestry model. Yet this one aspect of the review has been singled out for urgent action ahead of root and branch reform which would address legitimate concerns that forestry is not compliant with environmental law.”
Save Leitrim, IWT and FIE are calling on the government to suspend this legislation and to prioritise a new forestry programme that addresses the biodiversity and climate emergency.
Save Leitrim are not happy they will now need to pay to appeal and raise concerns of “reasonable and legitimate concerns about law breaking and many negative impacts of large scale plantation policy.”
Local Fianna Fail Senator Eugene Murphy said the bill will enable the forestry appeals system to be more efficient and reduce the current backlog of appeals with the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC).
Senator Murphy said, “This is important legislation which aims to get the forestry sector moving again. The sector has warned that tree planting has collapsed and 12,000 forestry-related jobs are threatened by a massive backlog in the Government's licensing and appeals system and if we didn’t do something about it, it would take 3 years to clear that backlog.”
FF Deputy Marc MacSharry said: “I support the right to object and indeed the need for it but in everyone’s interest we must have a short and defined time frame for assessments to be made and decisions to be turned around so that communities and the timber industry can have certainty.
“Together with colleagues Cllr Sean McGowan and Cllr Paddy Farrell, I visited Masonite in south County Leitrim where continuity of timber supply is crucial to their business.”
He continued saying if the new legislation is to be successful to assist companies like Masonite, who employ 140 people, “we must immediately increase resources in personnel to ensure both applicants and appeals alike are afforded due process as quickly as is necessary for all concerned.”
Save Leitrim is calling on Minister of State Pippa Hackett to visit Leitrim and see the effects of large scale afforestation on communities and on individuals.