Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Area Under Forestry.

Thursday, 27 June 1985

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 359 No. 11

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3.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  asked the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry if, in view of the fact that this country still has a smaller area under forestry than any [2336] other EC country, he will indicate the measures the Government are taking to increase areas under forestry; if he is satisfied that the powers to acquire land for forestry at present are adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  While the proportion of the land area of this country devoted to forestry is undoubtedly low, I would point out that the planning rate Per capita is the highest of any developed country.

The Government are fully committed to expanding the area under forestry by both the State and private interests. In so far as State forestry is concerned the economic plan, Building on Reality 1985-87, aims at the establishment of planta-ions at an annual average rate of 7,500 hectares. It is also Government policy to encourage private planting and, to this end, very generous grants and a free technical advisory service are now readily available. I am glad to say that there is evidence of an increasing interest in private forestry in recent times.

The statutory powers in relation to land acquisition for State afforestation are quite adequate. I might add that the annual level of offers of land to my Department for foresty is of the order of 12,000 hectares at present and the funding allocated for land purchase is the highest ever provided for the purpose.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  I asked the Minister if, in view of the importance of forestry and the low level of forestry here — 5 per cent as against an EC average of 23 per cent — he will indicate if he recognises the fact that in Europe it is expected that in the next 25 to 30 years there will be a grave shortage of timber. Already it is a huge item on the important bill of the EC. Will the Minister agree that now is the time to expand our forests? Does the Minister intend to increase the level of planting? His reply does not indicate any increase in the level of planting and I want to know the plans, if any, for increasing the amount of forestry so that we will be able to contribute to the expected shortage of timber in the next 30 years.

[2337] We would be able to provide timber if we started now.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  I am aware of what the Deputy has referred to in relation to the shortage of this commodity in the European market and the increasing shortage in the years ahead. What I have said may have escaped the Deputy's attention. We are in a unique position in that 85 per cent of our total afforestation is in State hands. On the European front it is 50:50 or better on the private sector side and I endeavour every time I open my mouth to encourage private afforestation here. Deputies should undertake to do that because it is in the interest of the future of our economy that they should do so. There is evidence to show that, because of the generous grant-aid available, and the free technical advisory service, the private sector is showing a very keen interest in this. I can see a major expansion in that sector.

In regard to State involvement I should like to remind the Deputy, and the House, that like everybody else I must stay within the confines of financial requirements but, despite that, we are providing money at a rate higher than was ever provided for acquisition and management of State forests. However, it is the private sector that needs encouragement to take up this very viable and worthwhile operation.

Mr. D. Gallagher: Information on Denis Gallagher  Zoom on Denis Gallagher  Will the Minister accept that in many areas where planting has been done by the Department there is no liaison — we all accept that it is good to have more trees planted — between his Department and the Department of Agriculture in regard to the amount of bogs that have been taken over? There is a serious problem in many areas of the west through overplanting. No consideration has been given to the provision of turbary. I should like to ask the Minister if a cost benefit analysis has been carried out as to whether it would be of more [2338] benefit to develop marginal land for farmers in backward areas or to plant trees on it.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  A cost benefit analysis has been carried out on comparative figures by An Foras Talúntais. I do not have the detailed information with me, but I can tell the Deputy that on marginal land — I mean marginal land in the technical sense; we are not talking about one cow per acre but one cow per ten acres which would pertain in our part of the country — the return on timber grown would be greater than the return on milk production. That figure has been given to us by the experts and it is a question of getting the message across.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  May I appeal to all Deputies to conform to Standing Orders by asking questions and refrain from making speeches? That is a reasonable request. Deputy Mac Giolla.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  I agree entirely with what the Minister said in his reply, but has he endeavoured to get this point across by propoganda? It may not be sufficiently understood that forestry is a very good cash crop and I do not think the Minister has successfully got this across. Does he have many plans to do that? My second question relates to money being made available. Is the Minister pushing the fact in Cabinet that this is a capital investment in forestry and should not be considered——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy is making an argument.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  ——part of the cutbacks in his Department? This is an important employment and capital investment——

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  I accept that I have not been successful in getting the message across, but not for want of trying and I will continue to try. Plans are now in train to sell the idea through publicity later this year. I am not prepared to comment on what I press for in Cabinet, except to say [2339] that in relation to forestry. I have not been subjected to cutbacks.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  Is there co-operation between the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Social Welfare, in terms of job creation? There is tremendous potential for job creation in the forestry industry. The Minister for Social Welfare is making unlimited amounts of money available to keep people unemployed. Will this Minister immediately enter into negotiations with the Minister for Social Welfare with a view of providing a job creation programme in the area of forestry?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  A question please.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  Every forester will tell the Minister that there is great job potential in this area and the Minister is failing to provide these jobs. The answer he gave today was that he did not have sufficient money available to do so. Will the Minister enter into discussions with his colleague, the Minister for Social Welfare——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  That is repetition.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  ——with a view to creating more jobs——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I am doing my best to have an orderly Question Time but I am not getting any help.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  While what is being proposed by Deputy Hyland might sound laudable and worthwhile, it is an oversimplistic view of the problems we face in the unemployment area. It is so simplistic I will not comment on it. This is the kind of drivel that is being dished up day in and day out as a solution to our unemployment problems. Fianna Fáil on this side of the House were faced with the same problems and found that solution unacceptable because——

[2340]Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  The Minister is dealing with public money.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Order please.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  This is an opportunity for job creation.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  This is just drivel——

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  The Minister is spending public money keeping people unemployed when they could be employed in the forestry industry.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Deputy Hyland must restrain himself.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  The Minister is talking about drivel when I am bringing forward what is an obvious solution——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Deputy Hyland is out of order.

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  I am talking about spending public money.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy will have to restrain himself. I am calling Deputy Daly.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  The Minister is aware that the present land reservice are at a critically low level. The capital programme is in decline. It has not reached its stated objectives, and while additional finance may be provided this year——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy is giving a lot of information.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  I am asking a question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Ask it quickly or I will move to the next question.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  Because of the increase in the price of land at present, even though more finance is being made available less acreage is being required. Is that not the position? Can the Minister tell the House what the present land reserve is and what acreage will be acquired this year? What [2341] has become of the leasing arrangement——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  If the Deputy wanted to know that he should have put down a question.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  There was a misunderstanding as the Chair is well aware. It was not anticipated that the question on the Order Paper would have been withdrawn, but that is beside the point.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Chair is not aware of any such thing.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  Can the Minister reply to my three questions?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  They are separate questions.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  What is the present land reserve? How many acres will be acquired this year? What has become of the leasing arrangement we heard so much about earlier this year?

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  They are totally different questions.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  They are related to the question before the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  They are obviously different questions.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  If the Deputy puts a question I will reply in detail.

(Interruptions.):

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I am calling Deputy Kirk.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  How many acres are at present in land reserve?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  You have asked that question several times but you did not put down a question about it.

[2342]Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  The Minister should know the answer.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I am sure he has that information in his Department.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  How many acres will be acquired this year?

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  I will let the Deputy know in writing.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  If Deputies insist on trying to break up Question Time I will adjourn the House.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  That is your job. We are not breaking up Question Time. We are being responsible. We have asked questions to which we want replies but we are not getting any answers.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  You have no questions down.

Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Has the Minister any plans to extend the level of grant-aid available in the 12 western counties to the rest of the country, bearing in mind that there is a considerable amount of marginal land outside the 12 western counties?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  This is a general question and you cannot take it parish by parish——

Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Will the Minister agree that unless he is prepared to extend that type of grant-aid to these areas people will not become involved in private afforestation because there is no adequate cash flow to encourage them to invest in this area? I am asking the Minister if he has any plans to extend the level of grant-aid to the rest of the country? If he has such plans, when does he intend to bring them before the House so that we can get private afforestation underway in the areas in question?

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  The Deputy must know that the level of grants applying to the 12 western counties was agreed in 1980 with the European Commission and there were very good reasons why it was [2343] confined to the 12 western counties. The programme for the 12 western counties is a ten year programme and I had no control over it, nor did my party when it was agreed.

Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Having regard to the Minister's earlier reference to the fact that there could be a greater return from marginal land than from dairying, would he not agree that the time is opportune for the level of grant-aid for the rest of the country to be the same as it is in the 12 western counties, if his stated intention to encourage private afforestation is to mean anything?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy has already asked that question. That is repetition. Question No. 4.

Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  May I ask another supplementary?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  No, I am calling on the Minister to answer Question No. 4.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Patrick O'Toole  Zoom on Patrick O'Toole  I do not accept what the Deputy says.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Will the Minister please answer Question No. 4?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  This is very unfair because we are talking about a very important industry.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy will please resume his seat.


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