An independent chairperson, with an ecological qualification and expertise, must be appointed to oversee an overhaul of the forestry licencing system, according to independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.

He raised the issue with the Tanaiste Leo Varadkar in the Dail earlier today, indicating that this person must chair a group of representatives from the various stakeholders in the sector.

Speaking on the matter, he said: “I welcome the news that Minister Charlie McConalogue’s request to waive the requirement for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed today by the Dail Business Committee  – of which Thomas Pringle TD, a member of our grouping, stands on.

“However, we can bring in all the legislation in the world, it won’t solve the primary problem. We need to change the entire mechanism within the department, as it is in turmoil.

“An independent chairperson, with an ecological qualification and expertise, must be appointed to oversee a complete overhaul. The chairperson needs to examine what has gone over the last four years and if people haven’t been doing their jobs then they need to be held accountable.

“Personnel within the forestry service need to be able to screen applications in or out, otherwise it will lead to a backlog when it comes to environmental impact assessments etc – as is the case we find ourselves in at the moment.

“If we haven’t the people with the correct qualifications doing this work then we are at nothing.

“Looking at forestry planting targets for 2016 right through until 2020, we are just a little over halfway when it comes to the approximate 37,500ha goal.

“The approval of felling licences has fallen massively in 2020 and now contractors are struggling to survive. A total of 12,000 jobs are at risk if immediate action isn’t taken,” Fitzmaurice concluded.

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