Those readers who were I interested in my previous blog on the forestry industry in Ireland will be interested to read an interview that Peter Sweetman gave to the Irish Independent. I have selected some highlights from the interview:
Peter Sweetman is not opposed to forestry, he says, he’s opposed to the Government “getting around EU legislation”.
Known for his numerous submissions, the Mayo-based environmental activist currently has 21 outstanding objections against Coillte, but says he’s not to blame for any alleged shortage of felling licences, which others claim is causing a shortfall of timber in the country.
“They are accusing me of stopping all the wood because I have these 21 appeals. On August 5, 2020, Coillte put in 300 applications for felling licences. If I have 21 out of 300 they lodged I am not causing the world to stop. It’s all spin — inefficiency always needs a scapegoat.
“I am not against forestry. I am very tree mad and am surrounded with them here. I am objecting to the fundamental principle of getting around European directives and court cases. I believe in the old-fashioned Fine Gael thing of compliance with the law.
“A felling application is also an application to re-afforest. If the land was never afforested properly the first time around, and never had an EIA when it should have, it needs one next time around, but we ignore that.”
Sweetman says his major complain is that foresters are not doing a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) when applying for felling licences.
“If you want to plant 90ha of forestry in the one place, you put down 45ha in one year and then three years later you can plant the other 45ha, without an EIA.”
A cow shed, he says, over a certain size requires planning permission. “The fact whether you build an extension one year or ten years from the original shed, you still need planning permission, but the forest service and the Minister says as long as you put it (forestry) three years after it’s OK.
“I would say a proper EIA on forestry could be throwing up the fact the flooding on the Shannon is caused by the draining of the bogs in Leitrim. It’s quite likely. These are things that have to be looked at.”
Sweetman is also critical of the recently announced public consultation by the Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett on changes to the Agricultural Appeals Act. These changes would restrict the ability, and eligibility, of some people to appeal forestry decisions, including the giving of licences. It also introduces a fee to lodge an appeal.
Another proposal is that the Minister can issue directives to the Forestry Appeals Committee.
Sweetman maintains that the Bill contravenes the Habitats Directive, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive, the Strategic Environmental SEA) Directive and the Aarhus Convention.
“I’m looking for full compliance with the EIA, Habitats Directive and the Aarhus Convention. The only Minister in Europe diminishing the Aarhus Convention, which is a green convention, is the Minister for Forestry, Pippa Hackett. That’s pretty awful from a Green Minister,” he says.
He also says the Forestry Appeals committee claims to be unattached to anything, but the new forestry act would give the Minister power to make directions at them. “They could say all Coillte decisions have to be passed.”
Sweetman is highly critical of what he calls “secrecy” within the forestry sector.
“EU law is public but the entire forestry sector is secret. When you apply for a felling licence, you have to put a site notice up and you have to put a copy of the site notice into the planning office. But the copy of the site notice that goes on the public file in forestry has the name of the owner blacked out. It’s part of the secrecy.
Sweetman says he has no axe to grind with farmers looking to plant or fell forestry.”If the farmer sends me the relevant information, which would cause me to say it’s fine, I will withdraw any application. The actual assessments — if it requires an EIA, if there is adjoining forestry how much land and if it needs an NIS, you have to submit that. That’s all I want.”