Thursday, 27 June 1985
Dáil Eireann Debate
Tomás Mac Giolla: 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  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.
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: 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.
Mr. 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: 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  benefit to develop marginal land for farmers in backward areas or to plant trees on it.
Mr. 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.
Tomás Mac Giolla: 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——
Mr. 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  that in relation to forestry. I have not been subjected to cutbacks.
Mr. 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?
Mr. 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——
Mr. 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——
Mr. 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——
Mr. 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  has become of the leasing arrangement——
Mr. 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?
Mr. 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: 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  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: 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?
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