“Systemic & fundamental reform of forestry policy required” – Matt Carthy TD

 

Matt Carthy TD addresses Timber and Pallet Confederation (TIMCON) AGM

 

The Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has said that systemic and fundamental reform of forestry policy is required.

 

Carthy, told the AGM of the Timber Packaging and Pallet Confederation (TIMCON) that forestry policy should “be good for the environment, good for communities and good for the economy.  At present, our strategy is not delivering in full on any of this metrics”.

 

Addressing the TIMCON conference in Dublin on Tuesday morning on ‘Current and future policy challenges for the timber sector’, Deputy Carthy said:

 

“A good forestry strategy is one that delivers for the environment, for local communities and for the economy.  At present, government strategy is not delivering in full on any of these metrics.

 

“We know that Forestry will be pivotal aspect of meeting our Climate Action targets.  If we don’t deliver on forestry – then we won’t deliver on Climate.  At the moment we’re nowhere near delivery.

 

“The Programme for Government sets a target of planting 8,000 hectares of new afforestation each year.  Last year we reached about a quarter of that – this year could be even less.

 

“All the numbers that are recited about 2030 and 2050 climate targets work under the assumption that we have actually met our 2021 and 2022 targets.  So, in reality, every year of missed milestones results in the need for even greater numbers in the coming years.  Nobody within the sector has the slightest confidence that this will be realisable within the current framework.  The implications for our Climate Action and biodiversity plans are incredibly worrying”.

 

Carthy also referenced the hostility to forestry that has developed within many communities and within farming as a result of a failed policy.

 

He said:

 

“In some parts of this country, forestry has become a dirty word.

 

“The failure to adequately engage with local communities, the concentration of forestry (especially the blanket planting and subsequent clear-felling of Sitka Spruce) within a few regions, and the failure to ensure that local families, farmers and wider communities see the economic benefits of afforestation; has led to widespread hostility and ill-feeling in those regions.

 

“This was and is entirely avoidable.  A forest is something that people should want to live beside.  They should have the benefits of clean-air, good living and economic benefits that afforestation can represent – when it is done correctly.

 

“And those economic benefits can only happen when there is a functioning, vibrant timber industry.  And, that means that you have to have a sustainable, constant, free-flowing supply of wood”.

 

On farmer participation in forestry schemes, Deputy Carthy said:

 

“Farmers have become resistant to participation in forestry – primarily due to past negative experiences.

 

“The failure, sometimes the refusal, of successive governments to ensure that the process of engagement of farmers in forestry was a positive one – has meant that their friends and neighbours largely now refuse to even contemplate forestry as an option for their lands.

 

“The lack of support for those affected by ash die-back disease is a case in point.

 

“Unless this is turned around we will be fighting a losing battle”.

 

And, in outlining a new course, the Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson insisted that systemic and fundamental change is required:

 

“It appears evident to me that the problem is rooted in the fact that the implementation and delivery of forestry policy rests within the same section, of the same department, with the same culture – that has overseen the development of the crisis in the first place.

 

“Therefore, unless there is systemic and fundamental reform of the forestry services then old mistakes are bound to be repeated until the crisis becomes an emergency.

 

“A commitment to that reform of forestry policy and services in Ireland will be the essential first step”.

 

Full text of Matt Carthy Address to TIMCON, timber industry and pallet confederation, AGM 13th September 2022.

 

A chairde,

 

Go raibh maith agaibh as an cuireadh go dtí an gcomhdháil inniu – chum labhairt ar an ábhar tabhachtach seo.

 

I am delighted to have been asked to address this important conference which is taking place at a crucial period in a perilous economic cycle – one that I know is of concern for those gathered here, for your suppliers, your customers and for your employees.

 

The timber industry is an important part of our economy and society.  Its value is particularly evident during times of uncertainty and volatility.  Forestry and timber manufacturing don’t just up and leave when recession hits.  They are an integral part of the communities in which they are based.

 

Many of the companies represented here today played a crucial role in restoring growth following the financial crash, for example, and acted as economic drivers for regions that desperately needed them at that time.

 

Likewise, as we face the new realities and challenges of post-pandemic supply strains, post-Brexit complications, a cost-of living emergency, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ambitious Climate Action targets – your industry will be called upon to be a beacon of sustainable, and stable, economic activity.

 

I know that your members are up-to, in fact eager-to, play your full role in that regard.  It is important that public policy is equally up-to providing the framework in which you can operate and expand with confidence and certainty.

 

That is why, at the heart of getting things right, is a forestry strategy that works.

 

I have often said that a good forestry strategy is one that delivers for the environment, for local communities and for the economy.

 

At present, our strategy is not delivering in full on any of this metrics.

 

Climate Chane is happening; and every individual, company and state must take action.

 

The bigger the entity, the bigger the responsibility.

 

For Ireland, we know that Forestry will be pivotal aspect of meeting our Climate Action targets.  I would go so far as to say, that if we don’t deliver on forestry – then we won’t deliver on Climate.  And, at the moment, we’re nowhere near delivery.

 

The Programme for Government sets a target of planting 8,000 hectares of new afforestation each year.  Last year we reached about a quarter of that – this year could be even less.

 

All the numbers that are recited about 2030 and 2050 climate targets work under the assumption that we have actually met our 2021 and 2022 objectives.  So, in reality, every year of missed milestones results in the need for even greater numbers in the coming years.  Nobody I know or have spoken to within the sector has the slightest confidence that this will be realisable within the current framework.  The implications for our Climate Action and biodiversity plans are incredibly worrying.

 

So too, is the fact, that in some parts of this country, forestry has become a dirty word.

 

The failure to adequately engage with local communities, the concentration of forestry (especially the blanket planting and subsequent clear-felling of Sitka Spruce) within a few regions, and the failure to ensure that local families, farmers and wider communities see the economic benefits of afforestation; has led to widespread hostility and ill-feeling in those regions.

 

This was and is entirely avoidable.  A forest is something that people should want to live beside.  They should have the benefits of clean-air, good living and economic benefits that afforestation can represent – when it is done correctly.

 

And those economic benefits can only happen when there is a functioning, vibrant timber industry.  And, that means that you have to have a sustainable, constant, free-flowing supply of wood.

 

Of course, there will be a growing need for soft-wood.  If for no other reason than that we will need it to build the houses that my party want government to deliver.  And for furniture, for pallets, for the vast array of products that can be produced most sustainably when they’re produced with timber.

 

So, my view has always been, that when the required timber can be sustainably produced in Ireland, that this is where it should be produced rather than Irish companies being reliant on imports.

 

The balance needs to be a correct one.  One or two counties should not be expected to accommodate wildly disproportionate levels of mono-culture afforestation.  There must be a regional balance as well as a species balance across the board.

 

So, how do we get to the place where we deliver a forestry strategy that delivers for the environment, that delivers for communities and delivers for the economy and your industry.

 

The simple answer is that we plant trees – but how do we get there, considering the current dismal numbers?

 

Primarily, we must get serious.

 

I want to tell a tale of two countries and two governments.

 

The Scottish Government employed the services of a consultant, James Mackinnon, to make recommendations in relation to resolving their forestry crisis.

 

An Irish Government did the same.

 

Following the completion of the Mackinnon report in Scotland, within 24 months the Scottish forestry sector saw the annual afforestation rate rise from 4,600 ha to 12,200 ha. They are now setting targets of upwards of 18,000 ha.

 

The Irish Government commissioned a Mackinnon report.

 

They then received the completed Mackinnon report.

 

What happened?

 

Following the report, there was a review of the report, followed by an analysis of the review of the report.  The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine carried out a series of hearings and made its own report with recommendations – which essentially said implement the Mackinnon report.

 

And, government continue to carry out reviews, assessments, analyses and audits.  All the while Ireland, since the commissioning of the Mackinnon report has seen numbers plumet to the point that this year we are set to witness the lowest rates of afforestation since the middle of the second world war.

 

I know that there are people here today who could tell me that the Scottish system isn’t perfect or point out the obvious and real differences in Scottish and Irish land-ownership models.  The point I am making is that where there is a determined will on the part of government and stakeholders to deliver a change in policy – then it can happen.

 

So, to get to the crux of the situation in Ireland today we have to get to the source of the resistance to change.

 

I believe that government mean it when they say they want to reverse the current trajectory – it was they, after all, that set the targets that they are missing.

 

It appears evident to me that the problem must be rooted in the fact that the implementation and delivery rests within the same section, of the same department, with the same culture – that has overseen the development of the crisis in the first place.

 

Therefore, unless there is systemic and fundamental reform of the forestry services then old mistakes are bound to be repeated until the crisis becomes an emergency.

 

A commitment to that reform of forestry policy and services in Ireland will be the essential first step.

 

That must be followed by leadership at public level.  Every government department, every state agency and semi-state body, every local authority – should be obliged to adopt a tree-planting strategy, especially in respect of our Climate Action targets, utilising public lands for tree-planting projects and setting the example for all others to follow.

 

You have heard this morning the outline of Coillte’s programme of future work – it contains ambitious and laudable objectives that I hope it can meet.  But I’m sure Ms. Hurley will acknowledge that a significant factor in Coillte’s ability to achieve them will be their ability to source land.

 

Because, of course, you can’t plant trees if you don’t have land.

 

And, farmers are the crucial landowners that we need as partners in afforestation schemes.

 

But, farmers have become resistant to participation in forestry – primarily due to past negative experiences.

 

The failure, sometimes the refusal, of successive governments to ensure that the process of engagement of farmers in forestry was a positive one – has meant that their friends and neighbours largely now refuse to even contemplate forestry as an option for their lands.

 

The lack of support for those affected by ash die-back disease is a case in point.

 

Indeed, we have reached a point now whereby a significant portion of even those farmers who seek afforestation licences don’t actually proceed to planting.

 

Unless this is turned around we will be fighting a losing battle.  Some important progress has been made in shaping the new CAP in a way that allows forestry schemes to align with other measures.  But, we have to go much further.

 

There must be a substantive consultation with farmers and their representatives in order to map out a route to large scale farmer buy-in to forestry.  Every farm should have a tree planting element to its work but this needs to be on the basis of partnership rather than on punitive threats to payments.

 

Without such partnership, every afforestation strategy is doomed to fail.

 

The entire licencing framework must be reassessed.  This can be done in a manner that protects environmental standards, upholds the principles of good planning practice and ensures that communities voices are heard in the process.

 

The legislative changes to the appeals system were welcome and necessary.  More is now required.

 

Considerations around thinning, road construction and felling licences should form part of the initial planting licencing and planning processes to ensure that we don’t have substantial delays at every stage of the forestry life-cycle.

 

As soon as the current backlog is under control, we must implement a statutory timeframe into the licensing application and appeals process to provide certainty to applicants. As the Mackinnon Report recommended there should also be a Customer Service Charter which could assist in building confidence for all stakeholders.

 

None of these suggestions are ground-breaking; but none of them will happening easily.

 

As I said, if we depend on the same institutions to resolve the problems they themselves created then we are going to run around in circles.

 

We can deliver a forestry strategy that works for the environment, communities and the economy.

 

The role of your industry will be critical and I welcome your eagerness to engage with policy makers.  I look forward to our future conversations and discussions.

 

Above all I look forward to a new beginning for Irish Forestry and timber sector.

 

Go raibh maith agaibh go leor.

 

ENDS

Systemic & fundamental reform of forestry policy required

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