Social Democrats spokesperson for Agriculture, Holly Cairns TD, and the party’s spokesperson for Climate Action and Environment, Jennifer Whitmore TD, believe that the Government’s new Forestry Bill is significantly flawed and in direct contravention of EU Directives and the Aarhus Convention which protect people’s rights to appeal decisions in environmental planning.

Deputy Whitmore and Deputy Cairns sent a submission to the Minister of State for Fisheries and Forestry, Pippa Hackett, as part of the public consultation process on the newly published Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill, which is due to be introduced when the Dáil returns.

Cork South West TD Holly Cairns said:

“The Bill’s content and sentiment are flawed and will not address the underlying issues in the sector. The forestry licencing system, as administered, is not fit for purpose, which is putting the sector at risk and simultaneously hindering afforestation and biodiversity strategies.

“In response, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should ensure timely processing of appeals in order to protect public participation and the industry.

“The forestry industry, including cooperatives and farmers/growers, have been highlighting issues with the administration of the licencing system for some time. The backlog has negatively impacted both industry and environment, with the result being the potential for an increase in imported timber and there is nothing environmentally friendly about that.

“Inaction has pushed this sector to breaking point, leaving little option for them but to accept whatever resolution the Department proposes. The clear solution is to improve the appeals process, not to remove it.

“This point is furthered by the short public consultation timeframe for the Bill and its occurrence during the summer holidays/Dáil recess.”

Wicklow TD Jennifer Whitmore added:

“I am very concerned with the legality of this Bill as it stands, which appears to be in direct contravention of EU law and conventions to protect the public’s right to access justice in the form of an appeals process. The Bill, as currently written, will undermine community groups, NGOS and interested citizens’ participation in the environmental planning process.

“It would set a dangerous precedent for this Government and I believe the Minister and the Department must urgently seek advice from the Attorney General and/or the EU Commission on the matter.

“There are obvious problems within the forestry sector. However, it would appear to me that this Bill will not find a solution to these difficulties and that overall reform of the sector is required to deliver a new forestry model that meets both the needs of the sector and of our environment – and does so in a manner which is accessible, appropriate and feasible in compliance with the Aarhus Convention and relevant EU Directives and laws.

“This Government must directly address the source of the problems inherent in a particular sector instead of legislating short-sighted workarounds of flawed policy. This Bill is an example of such an approach and I would urge the Government to reconsider this proposal.”

August 29, 2020

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