Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley says that the crisis in the forestry and timber industry cannot be allowed to continue any longer.
Last Friday, Deputy Stanley and other TDs met with Laois farm forestry members at Clonad to hear directly from them about the problem they are experiencing.
This group represents 530 farmers who have forestry planted in the County.
According to Deputy Stanley, confidence is completely gone out of the farm forestry sector in the Midlands due to the crisis in the “felling licencing’’ system.
He said: “For example, in Laois over 400 hectares per annum was being planted in farm forestry and this reduced to just 26 hectares last year.
“There has been a massive drop off in the past 5 years and a complete collapse in confidence in the sector.
This is having a knock on effect on sawmills in the Midlands as they are forced to import some of their logs from Scotland.
“For example, within a few miles of Coolrain Sawmill there are forestry plantations ready for harvesting for the past 3-4 years but this can’t be cut due to the delays in obtaining the ‘felling licences’.
“Meanwhile the Sawmill, in common with many others, has to import some of their supply from Scotland.
“Currently there are over 5,000 felling licences held up in the Department of Agriculture.
“Immediate action is needed by the Minister Hackett and her officials in terms of extra staff etc to clear the backlog for licences.”
Deputy Stanley explained how the current system could be improved.
He said: “We also need a single consent system for planting, thinning and harvesting.
“We have to move away from the current system where 3 separate sets of consent are required.
“Other European countries have single consent systems for forestry, and we need a similar system here.
“Sinn Fein have been calling for this and I will continue to raise it until the matter is resolved.’’