14 August 2020
The consultation process initiated to restrict appeals for forestry decisions must be reconsidered along with the Minister’s priorities to address issues in the forestry system.
This is the call from Ireland’s leading environmental coalition, The Environmental Pillar, who have written to the Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett of the Green Party, urging her to reconsider her approach taken to the recently opened consultation, and forestry overall.
The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of 28 national environmental groups – has raised numerous issues in relation to: the timing and duration of the consultation; the content of Minister Hackett’s proposed legislative changes , and have taken issue with her priorities for addressing the many issues with Irish forestry.
Therefore, the Pillar is urging Minister Hackett to reconsider her approach and instead focus on:
- A proper re-evaluation and formulation of a new Forestry Programme for Ireland
- Ensuring meaningful engagement and evaluation of the Draft Bill takes place
- The revision and reform of the Forestry grants programme
- The resolution of existing issues within Ireland’s forestry legislation and system for decisions
- Extending the length of the consultation to enable public engagement
The contentious timing, duration of content of the Draft Bill
The public consultation for the Draft Bill opened late on the Friday of the August Bank Holiday weekend, and runs for only 28 days over the traditional summer holiday period. It also commenced just as the Oireachtas rose for the summer recess.
This compromises effective engagement of the public in the consultation, on a matter where there is already significant public concern, and people’s ability to engage with their public representatives on it.
The content of the Draft Heads of Bill is deeply problematic. It will curtail existing access to justice rights (appeals) on afforestation applications by, amongst other things, restricting who has the right to appeal, and it gives the relevant Minister the power to impose fees for appeals and limits environmental NGOs rights to appeal.
It also allows the Minister to specify restrictive criteria for what it takes to qualify as an environmental NGO, and establishes a new degree of control and influence over the Forestry Appeals Committee and its operations.
All of these new restrictions compromise access to appeal, which is a crucial safety valve mechanism that allows the public to appeal and mitigate against bad decisions that would have negative impacts on both the environment and local communities.
Environmental Pillar spokesperson Dr. Elaine McGoff said:
“It’s deeply concerning that Minister Hackett’s bill mirrors some of the controversial aspects of the bill to curtail access to justice which we saw the last Government try to bring in just before last Christmas. Limiting access to appeal is particularly problematic when there are such concerns over forestry decisions.”
Also speaking for the Environmental Pillar, Andrew St Ledger commented:
“The Environmental Pillar has called on Minister Hackett to revisit her priorities and to focus on developing a new overall programme for forestry, with a reformed grant system to support that, and compliant and effective decision-making system – where appeals then are less needed.”
Attracta Uí Bhroin, Environmental Law Officer of the IEN explained the potential implications of the appeal fees based on the rates for for planning appeals to An Bord Pleanala,(€220 to appeal plus €50 for an oral hearing), saying:
“Individuals and groups in counties with 70 to over 100 afforestation applications a year could be looking at paying out appeal fees of over €15,000 to €27,540.
That’s just for appeals on afforestation in their own counties, quite apart from ones in adjacent counties and other applications for felling and roads etc. which they might also need to appeal.
Even if they only appealed a quarter of afforestation applications that’s still significant money for people in counties such as Roscommon, Mayo, Leitrim, Clare, Kerry, Galway and many others.”
 The Draft Agriculture Appeals (Amendement) Bill 2020 is available at https://bit.ly/3gYsxlS