Forestry Resources: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 14 May 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 112 No. 10

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The following motion was moved by Senator Kiely on 7 May 1986:

“That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to prepare and implement a plan for the maximum exploitation of our forestry resources and rejects any attempt by the Government to dispose of State forestry to private banking and financial institutions.”

Debate resumed on amendment No.1:

To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following: “takes note that the Report of the Review Group of Forestry which was set up in accordance with the Government [1012] Plan —Building on Reality— is at present being examined by the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry and his Department with a view to deciding appropriate action.

Mr. Loughrey: Information on Joachim A Loughrey  Zoom on Joachim A Loughrey  I am delighted that my colleague from the west, who will understand what I am going to say, the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry, Deputy John Donnellan, is present. I was advocating last week that some rethink should be done with regard to small farmers along the western seaboard who are at present being harassed as a result of a court case, with which the Minister is only too familiar. That court case has resulted in factual rather than notional assessments for unemployment assistance. The net result is that those small farmers along the western seaboard are among the very few farmers who have to keep accounts — they do not have to pay tax — to try to establish their right to unemployment assistance. I can only say this is putting these people through their own type of western hell. The old phrase “To hell or to Connacht” takes on a new meaning. Some officers are making life a little easier for everybody while others are making it a little more difficult. The Minister will understand that at the end of the day for every £1 the small farmer produces his unemployment assistance is reduced by £1. If he produces £1,000 worth in the year, he ends up losing £20 per week.

Acting Chairman (Séamus de Brún): Information on Seamus De Brun  Zoom on Seamus De Brun  We are on item No. 3 and the motion deals with forestry.

Mr. Loughrey: Information on Joachim A Loughrey  Zoom on Joachim A Loughrey  The relevance of my submission will be clear in about 30 seconds. For every £1,000 he produces he loses £20 per week. The net result is that there is a total disincentive to the farmers along the western seaboard to produce stock at a time when there is a feeling abroad that we are grossly overproduced [1013] in any case in Europe. If it is a case that we are, and it is becoming evident that we are, then there is a double disincentive to these men. The relevance I hope will now come clear.

Acting Chairman:  I hope so, too.

Mr. Loughrey: Information on Joachim A Loughrey  Zoom on Joachim A Loughrey  I should like the Minister to set up a small committee to examine the possibilities of having a scheme to encourage the small farmers on the poorest land in the country to get into forestry. Obviously people involved in forestry cannot possibly wait until the crop is mature — either 20 years initially or a full 40 years to harvest it. That is just not on.

Could the financial institutions involve themselves in subsidising those farmers or in advancing something to them or could the State involve itself in subsidising them? My own motion is that these farmers, in the first instance, should not be in receipt of unemployment assistance. Lest the record show that I spoke against farmers I say immediately that it must, of necessity, be substituted by some other form of income. A form of income, I submit, could come from the Forestry Department by way of an incentive to get them involved in forestry. This could tide them over until such time as the crop arrives. If the State or the financial institutions become involved, they can bear the financial burden and allow farmers to sell trees on their own land and make a living.

Those are my few thoughts on the matter. I would be pleased, if, when the Minister is responding, he made reference to this submission, or, indeed, at some time in the future. I should like to talk to him privately because I believe there is some merit in it. There is no point in forcing small farmers to continue on unemployment assistance; nor is there any point in forcing them to produce more if western Europe is overproduced and if the unit cost of production on those small farms is higher than the unit cost of production on better farms with better type of land. I believe there is merit in the idea. Unfortunately, I could not put [1014] any figures on it but it might be worth while to put some flesh on those bones.

Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  I have no trouble with the motion or, indeed, with the amendment, because most of us here have matured enough that all we want to get are results which will benefit all the people of the nation. I should like to put on the record my personal thanks to former Members of both Houses, mostly backbenchers, who were responsible for the forests we have today. Ireland is in an unique situation to avail of the opportunities at present available in the whole area of timber development. The outlook for timber growing is excellent. We have both the soil and the climate to make Ireland the most suitable country in Europe for growing trees. Added to that, we have a huge area of marginal land which is highly suitable for forestry. However, the percentage of our land under forest at present is the lowest in the European Community. Approximately 6 per cent of our land is under forest compared with 25 per cent of the land in France and 30 per cent of the land in Germany.

The State have been involved since early this century in a direct programme of afforestation. A huge investment of taxpayer's money and resources, a sum in the region of £500 million, has been spent in this programme. This has directly and indirectly created jobs in the forestry sector and in transport. A wide range of skills, experience and technical expertise in forest industries has been built up over the years. We are now at the stage where 60 years of investment, hard work and dedication have paid off.

Trees take a long time to grow. Due to the wise decisions I referred to earlier, taken by some men and by not so many women, in the early years of the State we now have a forestry estate worth an estimated £1 billion to £1.5 billion. It is against this background that it came to light in Barretstown last year that the present Government, for short term financial expediency, might sell off some of our forests. I was glad to hear the new Minister for Forestry, Deputy Kavanagh, [1015] contradict that decision in his address to this House.

It would appear to me that the decision to sell off mature forestry is a mistake and an abandonment of the commitment of successive Governments who, since the foundation of the State, have adopted a vigorous programme of State afforestation. It also means, in effect, that the financial investment of the State in growing trees would be handed over to banking institutions and such like. This, to me does not seem right. There are ample opportunities for the banking institutions to take a stake in the private sector if they want to do so.

Even though the State has been successful in their afforestation programme, in recent years the planting rate has gone into decline. We now have a critically low reserve. State planting last year was about half of the Government's target. This had come about due to the fact that the Government have not acquired or planted land in a last three years. It is then of urgent necessity to get on target with our land acquisition programme.

The case in 1986 is stronger than at any time before. The EC is 50 per cent self-sufficient in timber needs. Britain imports 90 per cent of its timber requirements. In Ireland we spend £500 million approximately on timber imports. The case for developing our forests is perhaps more relevant today than in the past. If the Government wish to get away from policies which have been followed by successive Governments, then they should come out and clearly say so. If they want to follow the policies of Margaret Thatcher in the privatisation of forests, they should come clean and say so.

The general outlook for timber growing is that the demand is outstripping traditional sources of supply. Everybody agrees that, with national and international shortages, timber prices are likely to increase substantially and also at a faster rate than other commodities. Therefore, the outlook for forestry investment is extremely good and is likely to remain so.

[1016] I have no block about private or public.

I would welcome people who have money and want to invest it, people who can wait for the return and perhaps leave the assets of the private forests to their grandchildren or great grandchildren. Perhaps the State cannot wait that length of time. Despite the best State efforts there is, as I have already said, still considerable scope for timber growing. There are many opportunities for private timber growers to get involved now. I should like to call on financial institutions and, indeed, on the co-operative movement, to get more involved.

I should like to make a clear distinction between, on the one hand, the mature State forests being sold off to private banking and financial institutions and, on the other hand, asking private banking to buy land and plant the trees and by so doing creating jobs and employment, particularly when we have been spending so much time trying to think up job creation opportunities. This should be done. It is well recognised in the industry itself that the Government's system of operation is not adequate for the proper commercial management of our woodlands. The Irish Timber Council, which represents the sawmills, have already advocated the establishment of a commercial board to undertake this task. Indeed, the technical and professional personnel in the Forestry Division have come out strongly in favour of the new arrangement. In a recent report on forestry the former Minister for Forestry, Deputy O'Toole, also recommended the establishment of a special enterprise section in the Department to undertake this job. However, as far as I am aware, no such action has taken place.

The Government have ignored the advice of the Irish Timber Council and have totally ignored the advice of their own professional personnel. Very little land has been acquired for development by the Department. No work has been undertaken in the provision of roads infrastructure and in regard to the thinning process.

I will not start talking about roads, because that is for another debate. However, [1017] I should like to make reference to the western package. The uptake of the forestry provisions of the western package, in respect of which substantial grants have been offered, has been very limited due to the fact that no income is forthcoming in the early stages of development. Some method must be found to guarantee a payment of some kind to farmers who get involved in tree planting so as to encourage activity in this area. Perhaps something like headage payments might be encouraged in this area. The western package has been a little disappointing. There is some other incentive needed and perhaps the Minister might have another look at it for us. This might be achieved under structural systems at present before the EC Council. Encouraging forestry among small farmers would also meet another desirable objective, that of keeping our small farmers on the land.

I do not wish to see a situation develop in which the big financial consortiums would buy up plantable land, especially in the west of Ireland. It would be a repetition of the plantation of earlier times. Again, I repeat here if people in the private sector have sufficient money the best way of showing their patriotism would be by buying land that could be not be used for tillage or grain and using it for afforestation purposes. I trust this suggestion will be taken up by people with money to invest and who could wait for the return from it.

This would create wealth and jobs because even in the old days people had jobs in forestry. They may not have been highly paid jobs but they were very good jobs. Indeed, Senator Michael D. Higgins will remember many good families in Clare, neighbours of his, who were reared from the good forestry around Ruane and around the other side of the town. Those people reared great families. Afforestation should be encouraged again.

I do not have any trouble in supporting the motion and I have no disagreement with the Government amendment. My attitude is that, when something like this comes before us at this awful time in the [1018] nation when people want jobs if we can create them, that surely should be first and foremost in our minds. Together with Senator Kiely and other members of this party and, indeed, Members on the Government side I am glad that we have this motion before us. Some would say that it should have been taken sooner but I am glad to be able to speak on it this evening even if it is only to make the Minister look again at afforestation. I want to make it quite clear that I do not have any block about the private sector or the Department doing it if it gives jobs and creates wealth in this country.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I appreciate the generous spirit of the previous speaker who suggests that this House should be united in seeking the maximum employment potential from the development of forestry in Ireland. I would reciprocate and say that I have no difficulty with the motion in the name of the Fianna Fáil Senators which reads:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to prepare and implement a plan for the maximum exploitation of our forestry resources and rejects any attempt by the Government to dispose of State forestry to private banking and financial institutions.

In the few remarks I have to make this evening, however, I should like to deal with the question of the chequered history of forestry in Ireland, the present requirements, as I see them for the restructuring of future forestry development, and this very question of employment potential that might exist. You can summarise what I have to say by saying that the future of forestry is in sharp contrast to its recent history. It offers immense prospects if properly developed. For example, we are members of the European Community which supplies 50 per cent of its own wood requirements. Britain, our nearest neighbour, imports 90 per cent of its timber requirements and, indeed, looking at our own economy we import timber every year to the value of £300 million. There is a genuine belief [1019] that those imports into our economy could be replaced.

We are also in possession of a number of fine documents, including some that have come from the Forestry and Wildlife Service, telling us about the employment potential of the timber industry. What we should, perhaps, concentrate on in the motion are what are the obstacles to the development? I think the obstacles arise in relation to the tardiness with which the private planting policy has proceeded. Frankly, it is the State that has developed the major forests of Ireland and, secondly, there is the question of having an integrated approach that we are speaking not only of planting but about every stage of production and not only about timber but the total environmental context in which our forestry policy is prosecuted. Indeed, Robert Kane, if I may quote him, in his very famous inventory of the national resources of Ireland in 1844 said of the forests of Ireland:

In this country we may practically exclude wood from our consideration as a fuel. There is no feature of an Irish landscape more characteristic than the desert baldness of our hills which robbed of those silvanannas that elsewhere diversify a rural prospect present to every eye a type of desolation which has overspread the land.

When you think of Robert Kane writing that in 1844, one of the images that immediately came to my mind was the kind of despoilation that has taken place in some of the Third World countries where people in the absence of alternative fuels and energy have cut their trees, have, for example, produced charcoal and so on. When the Irish Free State was founded the situation was not very much better than what he described in the middle of the nineteenth century. When we look at the history of forestry which was my first point, we see a low level of initiative taken at individual level. I am not setting up an ideological point. I am simply saying if you want a forestry policy it will be State led. I believe that history [1020] indicates that. When we speak of the low level of initiative shown at individual or community level since the foundation of the State, I want to say further that, without the dedication of the Department of Forestry, the situation would be little less than disastrous. The State's contribution to forestry has been very substantial. In 1920, 1 per cent of the country was covered with forests and the programme of afforestation reached its peak in 1960 when 25,000 acres were planted and it has stayed at that level ever since. At present something like 5 per cent of the land surface of the Republic is forested.

Regrettably there has been a decline in planting policy in recent years. The motion is correct to identify that. I believe that the decision to cut back on planting was taken in the context of the absence of two fundamental policies that are crucial. One is in relation to forests specifically and I said that it has to have this element of integration and it is to the credit of the Forest and Wildlife Service that they always had an environmental context in mind for their policies. Equally, there should have been, perhaps, a land policy. People speak about integrating agriculture and food which is integration in the direction of the market, but, equally if you want to manage land perhaps there should be a wider land policy within which you would have forestry policy. Then there are all the human incentives which need, perhaps, to be built on top of economic incentives to induce people to become involved. I have no hostility to any private individual or interest who want to plant trees. I have, though, to private individuals, who not having planted the trees, not having put in the labour would seek the benefit at the end of the stream. When we look at the private record in planting, it is unfortunate and far from satisfactory. Indeed, one could be dismal about forestry and I think many people are and, unnecessarily so, if you look at its past record but the future for forestry is bright.

I have already quoted figured of the potential existing within the European [1021] Community, within our larger neighbour, its economy, and in terms of our own import substitution. I say in contrast to the private record of planting, development and planning, in contrast to the private record which has achieved so little, there is the State record from the very first time when a forestry branch was established in the Department of Agriculture and technical instruction in 1904. The Avondale Estate was purchased and a forestry center and school were established. In 1907, when a departmental committee recommended the acquisition of land for afforestation by the State, the State programme was under way. The increase from 1 per cent to 5 per cent is perhaps insufficient, but it is a proud record of State activity in planting, State activity in being interested in forestry, State activity in providing Ireland with trees. We are still short obviously of a fully developed forestry programme and a fully developed timber programme but that is hardly the fault of the public service. In the Government's plan, Building on Reality, there is a stated target for planting. It is unfortunate that in 1984 there was a shortfall between stated target and achievement.

Let us think about private forestry. In 1973, private forestry reached a total of 200,000 acres. Contrast that with the State investment. I am delighted that this motion is worded the way it is, correctly recognising — and I hope the House is united on this — that responsibility rests with the State to create the employment from forestry that we need, and to implement policies that are integrated and broad enough, that will include planting, education, harvesting, milling and the environmental aspects of parks. Explicit policies will help.

There is a very exciting future for forestry. Even the European Community is under-supplied in relation to its needs. There is an enormous imbalance in afforestation. France alone accounts for 45 per cent of the total area covered by forests in the Community. France, Germany and Italy together, account for 90 per cent of the Community forests. [1022] We think immediately of the related and potentially integratable industry, tourism. One has to consider the potential of afforestation not only in relation to short term jobs but to the employment that arises from lateral and verticle linkages. We should look at the models the Community offers us. There are some limitations to what we can learn from Scandinavian and European Community examples. First, the units there tend to be very much larger and, therefore, the potential for the multi-faceted development I am speaking about is perhaps greater there. It is possible, however, to develop within an integrated plan a set of linkages that will generate enormous employment.

There is the economic and employment potential of forestry on the one hand and the related question of the management of the environment. The increase of afforestation is an environmental issue. Here a question arises, a social problem. Let us take the structure of land holdings in the western countries. Two-thirds of the holdings are under 50 acres and many are held an multiple holdings which are fragmented and so forth. How could you, by a series of individual decisions, achieve the full potential of a forestry policy? That is one of the challenges that must be faced. The question arises of implementing some of the recommendations made by the Forestry and Wildlife Service in its publication on the potential employment in forestry and the National and Economic Social Council's document 46 which spoke of the various options of renting and leasing. In the Forestry and Wildlife Service's document there were initially six plans for the development of afforestation ranging from one very desirable one requiring a great deal of State investment, with massive employment potential, to one based on a thin level of incentives, the basic or minimum option. The studies are available and they tell us that through different, attractive, social and economic options land can be acquired but that you must get back to planting targets. That is crucial. If the State reduces planting [1023] levels the record shows that Ireland's forestry potential will not be achieved by the private sector alone. Let me immediately say that I am not setting up an ideological hurdle which would stand in the way of employment. The NESC report 46 to which I have referred spoke about a mixture of private and State initiatives in a number of State and semi-State areas. I wish to place on the record my belief that a policy that allows private participation at the final end of the life-time of a forest without having to accept any of the investment risk, any of the socially desirable obligations or any of the environmental obligations, would be a short term and a bad policy, would not be in the national interest and should not be implemented. It should be possible to put together packages that would attract to afforestation institutional investors, people who manage pension funds, people who manage other funds who are looking for long term investment. They will know from the findings of the Economic and Social Research Institute in 1981 that they can hope for a return on their money ranging from 2 to 7 per cent. There are other studies giving the suitability of various lands. All of these offer exciting investment opportunities. My plea therefore is this: excellent work has been done but the basic minimum requirement is maintenance of the long term fertility and productivity of plantations. Attention should be paid to new roles for forests other than the conventional ones. Forests should be developed and exploited in a way that minimises the risk of causing damage to any other form of agricultural activity. The landscape should be considered. The State needs to renew its commitment to research and development so as to enable the excellent work that has been carried out by the Forestry and Wildlife Service to be resumed and continued.

Finally, I would look forward to the National Development Corporation having within it a land development unit and within the land development unit a significant and exciting role for the Forestry [1024] and Wildlife Service in possession of a policy on forests and potential employment.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin David Senior Ryan  Zoom on Eoin David Senior Ryan  Anybody studying this question of forestry must regard it as something of a mystery that more has not been done in this area over the years. That is not to say that a good deal has not been done. A good deal has been done but far more should have been done. It is quite obvious that there is a tremendous potential for the forestry industry in Ireland and that that potential has not been realised. If we look at the problem against the background of Europe we find that Europe has a serious balance of trade problem in regard to foresty goods, which now runs into £8 billion. After oil, wood is the single biggest import into the European Community. Quite obviously the Community needs more home produced wood and although no policy has been yet evolved in regard to forestry the Commission has produced proposals.

The Commission realises that forestry must be encouraged, and I have no doubt that it will be encouraged and that eventually incentives will be offered to expand and develop the forests in Europe. We can rely on the fact that there will be help forthcoming from the Community in due course for forests. In general terms, something like 50 per cent of the world's forests are in the Third World. They have been seriously depleted by western demand up to now. If this demand continues to rise, which undoubtedly it will, supplies will become increasingly scarce. It will not only become scarce but also expensive if these countries eventually ban the export of wood in its ordinary form and export only processed timber. We can look at the problem in the sense that there will be a world shortage, particularly in Europe, and there will be every incentive to increase our forestry.

Ireland is in an unique position because we have the best conditions in Europe for forestry. Forests grow easier and faster here. Much of the land unsuitable for [1025] agriculture is ideal for forestry. We have problems at present in selling our agricultural produce. Much of our land which is unsuitable for agriculture or is growing agricultural goods which we cannot sell could produce wood for what is an assured market. Much of the land suitable for forestry is in disadvantaged areas and, in any event, even if the Community does not produce some very specialised policy on forestry, people in those areas could be funded from the regional fund.

The Irish Timber Council have submitted certain views about the position at present. They say that the mills are below capacity, that they are frustrated in getting supplies under the present system and, because of that, employment is far below its potential. They make some rather wide critisms of the present position. They say that the organisation and operation of the forestry service at present is disorganised. The deficiencies in operation which they say the Forest and Wild Life Service are responsible for are set out in Report No. 15 of the Fourth Joint Committee of the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, which states:

The alleged deficiencies in the operation of the Forest and Wildlife Service are stated to be: the absence of any specialist training for its management and staff; the inordinately high harvesting costs because of faulty methodology; the lack of any policy to improve timber quality by culling and proper resource management; the absence of any marketing ability within the service.

While the report of the Review Group on Forestry set up by the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry and which reported in November 1985, does not entirely agree with the criticisms of the Irish Timber Council, they do lend considerable support to these complaints and specifically agree that the approach of the Forestry and Wildlife Service should be a more commercial one and that the management needs to be restructured. This report is at present being considered by [1026] the Minister. It has not been implemented. There is good reason to believe that there is considerable room for improvement in management in that area.

One of the problems of private forestry is that it is a long term investment. I would like to take issue, to some extent, with Senator M. Higgins about his remarks on private forestry. We should have regard to the fact that in most European countries a very large element of forestry is privately held. Perhaps the reason we have such a low amount of forestry is that it is almost entirely State-owned and that private industry has not taken part in it. Instead of proving how bad the input of private industry has been, we should be encouraging it in every possible way. The potential that is there cannot be achieved entirely by the State. Consequently, we should encourage private input also.

One of the problems of private enterprise in forestry is the fact that it is such a long term investment. This is particularly true of the small landowner. Many of these landowners in suitable areas are of an advanced age and many are unmarried. There is very little incentive for them to tie up their land for a long period for people in whom they have no interest. There must be a way to pay an annuity or to make headage payments and some kind of forward selling to deal with this problem if we are to get results from private landowners.

It has been suggested to the joint committee that the involvement of the co-operative movement would be useful in this respect. The co-operative movement could provide the back-up structures, the encouragement and possibly, the kind of annuities necessary to encourage the private owner. This presents many problems. It has presented problems in the past. It is the reason why little progress has been made. These problems are capable of being solved.

Obviously, I support the motion. The maximum exploitation of forestry should be achieved for the benefit of the State and the people. It would be completely [1027] wrong to indulge in any kind of privatisation of State forests, certainly in any wide-scale way. However, one should not be completely rigid about this. A case might be made from time to time in small areas for the sale of areas of forestry coming to maturity and for the State to use the proceeds of these sales to plant more forests or to use the money for the benefit of State forests generally. It must be realised that the State has to sell at some stage. In some cases it might be good business to sell before cutting. By doing this they would save the cost of cutting and transportation. This is a decision which should be made on a commercial basis and is the kind of thing that is lacking in the Department. They need more flexibility and an ability to judge what is in their best interest at any given time and to act on that basis. If the recommendations of the report that is before the Minister and the recommendations that have been made by the joint committee are taken into consideration, we will have a flexible and commercial approach in the future.

We have a lot to learn from listening to the contributions to this debate which has been an extremely interesting and useful one. Forestry is an ideal industry for Ireland. We have possible advantage in developing the industry. There is tremendous potential for it. We should make sure that it is availed of. It needs better management, more flexibility and a commercial approach and I think that will be forthcoming. There is a great deal of leeway to be made up. It is not the kind of industry in which things can be done very quickly but in so far as they can be done every possible speed should be used.

Mr. Hourigan: Information on Richard V Hourigan  Zoom on Richard V Hourigan  I want to express my support for the sentiments expressed in the amendment to this motion. I join with those who emphasise the importance of forestry and the potential it offers. It is common knowledge that we are not at present reaching anything like our annual planting target of 25,000 acres. That target could easily be of the order of [1028] 50,000, which would be more realistic. We are not realising even 50 per cent of that. Over many years successive Governments, for various reasons, have been unsuccessful in meeting planting targets.

The western package forestry scheme has not met with the success it deserves in spite of the generous grants that have been available — 85 per cent of grants have been available in conjunction with the western package for forestry development. There must be innovative measures to attract the land for afforestation. That is the nub of the problem. There must be an attraction for people who have land to make it available for forestry. The acreage of land coming into the forestry pool will determine the success of forestry development. Forestry development must not be exclusively in one direction. It must be State-owned, privately owned, co-operatively owned, in part, and indeed a combination of all these three situations. That is important. Circumstances in any given area will determine which combination ought to be pursued.

Private ownership or co-operative ownership must start from the beginning, not when an objective has been achieved, and I would be against a matured forest being taken over by private ownership. If there is an important national asset consideration should be given to its disposal provided that the money accrued would be used for replacement of the forest. That is an important dimension.

In European terms, Ireland is extremely low in the production of forestry. The EC is far from being self-sufficient in timber and relies on massive import levels to sustain the Community's timber processing mills. We are talking of thousands of millions of pounds in value into the EC. Therefore, the potential is fantastic. The economic indicators all point to a healthy future for timber prices. That is important. The climate and soils here are extremely well suited to growing trees and there is a broad range of tax reliefs and benefits and so on available for persons who undertake [1029] planting. We must bear in mind that there is good employment content in the development of forestry right across the spectrum from beginning to end. This is something we must not forget, particularly when a lot of the manpower involved is unskilled.

I am certain that farmers and land owners with low yielding agricultural land need some extra encouragement to switch over to forestry. The gains from sales of thinnings and of the final crop of timber might be perceived as too long term having regard to the fact that timber only reaches full maturity in approximately 35, 40, 45 or 50 years, depending on the type of tree. Some sort of leasing scheme is required which would bring the benefits of forestry investment forward for the small farmer who cannot afford to wait for that length of time. Therefore, we are immediately into a leasing arena, whereby the man with the land would have that land leased from him by the State. He would receive an income during the intervening years and ultimately he would become the owner of the land with the trees on it.

There are many Irish companies very keen to invest in forestry. Their intentions in that direction are well known. The farmer needs to get an annual return. In return the State would get the use of his land and eventually he would become the owner of the mature timber.

There is a very good tradition of forestry in Ireland. Having regard to the whole philosophy of the ownership of land, the only way to get forestry developed is through a leasing system. We are at a stage where alternatives are needed to traditional or conventional types of farming, of which forestry is one. There are one million acres of land that is unproductive. That one million acres could produce forestry very effectively. There are one and a half million acres, if not two million acres of marginal land. There are, therefore, two million to two and a half million acres of land available for forestry development straightaway. That is a good proportion of the total land area of this island. That fact should not be overlooked. We could even be talking [1030] about a higher figure but that is a starting point. The outlook for timber growing in Ireland is very good. We have the perfect soil, the perfect climate and we can beat the United Kingdom and other European countries in growing timber, particularly conifers. We must not ignore the advantage we enjoy in this respect.

There is only 5.7 per cent of the land of this country under forests at present, compared with 25 per cent in France and 29 per cent in West Germany. Land which is marginal for agricultural purposes is most suited for forestry. This is the irony of the whole matter. The land in County Leitrim is second to none in Europe or anywhere else for forestry development while, as we all know, that type of land is very unsuited for agricultural development. The EC at present is, as I said, importing thousands of millions of pounds worth of timber each year and is only about 50 per cent self sufficient in timber. Britain, in fact, imports 90 per cent of its timber requirements. International studies predict that timber prices are likely to increase at a faster rate than that of other commodities in the years ahead. This is an extremely important factor in the whole matter.

I talked about the very generous grants that are available. I do not think they can be over-emphasised because for one reason or another people do not seem to understand that yet. There are 85 per cent grants available. There are liberal concessions in the taxation area and this again must not be forgotten. There is free advice available from the Forest and Wildlife Service and other advisory groups in the country for the planting and management of forestry right up to the selling of trees stage.

The growing of trees can be a very profitable enterprise for individuals. It is an extremely beneficial and profitable enterprise for the State, in fact forestry plantations established at presentday costs would produce up to £12,000 worth of timber per hectare over a crop life on rotation of 40 years. This represents a return of 4 per cent above inflation. If the owners understood some of the forestry aspects there would be no problem. The [1031] big difficulty we have is whatever road they are going to follow vis-à-vis forestry development the people must appreciate that growing trees is another crop. It is very long term and therefore the man who engages in this work, if he is 30 years or thereabouts, does not expect to see that enterprise being completed. As it is such a long term operation, there is a big selling job to be done, I believe the State has a vital function to make sure that the person who plants trees will see the year after he plants the forest, a return to him from that and that he will have an involvement in it.

We import approximately £300 million worth of timber. Apart from oil and food imports it is one of our highest import bills. In the EC context it represents more than 11,000 million ECUs on an annual basis. Portugal, of the 12 countries in the EC, is the only one that would be regarded as having a surplus with regard to timber. It is regrettable that there is no policy within the EC for forestry. I suppose one of the reasons for that is that it was never covered in the first instance by the Treaty of Rome. The second point I would suggest is that there was never an appreciation during the better years in agriculture of the value of forestry. You are starting at a position where in fact there is not an EC policy for forestry as such. We are badly in need of alternatives and must push very strongly that the common agricultural policy should include forestry.

I appreciate the time factor and I know there are other Senators who want to speak. In conclusion I emphasise that at a time when we have a vast surplus of milk, cereals and beef it is a very welcome alternative that we have forestry as something to develop. There are approximately two million acres of inter-marginal land that could be added on to the couple of million acres I have already talked about. It is an ongoing thing. The point of stopping might be several millions from the present stage we are at.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I am glad to get an opportunity to make a few brief observations [1032] on this important motion. I spoke on the same subject a number of times in this House and I do not want to repeat what I said then.

I would like to congratulate An Foras Forbartha and the Department of the Environment for their very well produced report “The State of the Environment”, which was published last year. It is a very comprehensive and full report. It covers all the aspects of the environment in very great detail and, for anybody who is interested in the environment, it is compulsive reading. Page 61 of this report shows a pattern of forest ownership in all the countries within the EC. For Ireland 77 per cent of the forest area is in State ownership and 23 per cent in private ownership. It is worth remarking, too, that the local authorities do not own any area of forestry. The only other country in the same position is the United Kingdom. It is a pity that this aspect is not brought into the open. Local authorities, as far as I know, are empowered under section 77 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, to undertake development of this kind. It is a pity that they have not done so. It is something that should be considered by local authorities.

With regard to wood it is worth while remarking that with the advancement in technological development and science no satisfactory substitute has been discovered for timber either in the decorative or structural sense. Plastics and other materials, to some extent, are substituted but they could never compete with the natural grain either for decorative or structural use. I do not think this is likely to change in the future.

Irish timber is as good as the timber produced in any other part of the world. There are various ways of stress grading and deciding on the strength of timber and there is also the method by which experienced timber people determine how good a timber is. Somebody who was involved in this area a long time back in my childhood told me that Irish timber was as good as timber anywhere else in the world if it got a chance. The big problem about timber in this country is [1033] that in past times was felled, sawn up and put into use immediately either on the roofs of houses or whatever. It did not get a fair chance.

It is unfortunate that we do not have a land policy. It is very important that we would have a land policy with regard to all the aspects of land production. We have suitable land for afforestation, as Members pointed out. The review group on forestry went into this in great detail. A paragraph of their report states:

The potential for forestry in Ireland is good. Agricultural Institute studies identify one million hectares at present in low intensity agriculture which would, we consider, be far more productively used in forestry. Of this one million hectares, at least 500,000 hectares of soils is ideally suited for forestry; another 500,000 hectares also has high production potential by European standards. The Farm Management Survey shows that the return to ownership from this land is negative after allowing for labour at Agricultural Wages Board rates. Family farm income on this land is very low and return on capital is negative. In forestry such land would be capable of yielding, on a net discounted revenue assessment, a return in excess of 3 per cent over inflation. The return to the economy would, of course, be much greater.

Senator Hourigan has taken a figure of 4 per cent above inflation which is fairly close to that. We have this potential at our disposal.

I have made representations, like many other public representatives, to have land drained. I have seen the advantages which accrue from drainage of land. I have seen crops grown on land which in the past grew nothing but rushes. There is that short term benefit but possibly a long term benefit too. Some people make the case that by and large, particularly with the increase of intensive farming, that the land which needs to be drained for agricultural purposes could be kept in its present state to preserve the fauna, the flora and the ecology of the place. [1034] In other countries, where they have to create this situation, it is a very costly operation. We have it at our disposal and we abuse it by draining it because we interfere with the environmental aspects. The land policy should take all that into consideration including the area of land where trees should be grown.

The main types of trees planted in these programmes are sitka spruce and lodgepole pine. With regard to the land policy a good case could be made for planning permission for these areas because we change the whole environment with the planting. There is an important reference in “The State of the Environment”, which brings out the point I want to make about changing the environment. It states:

Unless new coniferous plantations are sensitively designed and managed with due regard to the landscape character of the areas there may be a loss in landscape quality. Landscape quality is a subjective concept with no generally agreed basis. This concern is one of the major issues raised by an active afforestation programme. Another environmental issue is the creation of extensive tracts of coniferous monoculture. The associated fauna and flora are species poor, as coniferous litter does not encourage a rich ground flora. A feature of coniferous plantation soils is the accumulation of a partly degraded, acid needle litter. The pool of soil nutrients is not actively regenerated. On a long-term basis coniferous plantations on certain soils contribute towards podsolisation of the soil, which is the process by which nutrients are leached out or washed away from the upper soil horizons by acids formed from leaf litter. Additional problems may arise from the run-off of water from forestry plantations which leads to the acidification of streams and rivers which, in turn, affects river ecology and, in particular, fish populations.

This is a very important aspect. I feel that a case could be made for planning permission in this regard or that the State [1035] would be in a position to enforce a programme that would not interfere with the environment. From that point of view the State's role is most important. We are losing our native species, broad leafed trees. Local authorities could help in this area where new roads are made or widened. They could plant trees along these roads. They are not being planted at present. I wonder why. Local authorities could help here.

Land is being bought in County Leitrim for afforestation by private individuals, I do not see anything wrong with that. I believe that the price paid is such that local farmers who want to increase their holdings are unable to compete. This is unfair and could be attributed to the need for a land policy. People who buy this land will want it in close proximity to roads. An afforestation programme should involve the provision of roads for indepth development. I am sure this applies to many other areas as well as County Leitrim.

There are good grants available. I have found the Department very helpful when I needed information. A major problem with regard to afforestation is forest fires. One sees in the papers where fire has ruined thousands of acres of land. From the point of view of an investment it seems that when we talk about venture capital and getting money to invest in areas like that a forest fire must be a major problem. We must decide whether it would be better for the State or private enterprise to invest in afforestation. We must see which would benefit society most. I visit a park in Doonaree quite often, it gives employment, all the visitors bring business to the shops, the hotels and the surrounding areas. The State can take that into consideration. A private individual would not be constrained in that regard.

The co-operative movement has been referred to. It has done marvellous work. I mention in particularly Muintir na Tíre who have a branch in almost every parish in Ireland. When I was a youth I recall Munitir na Tíre doing marvellous work [1036] in my area in getting a large tract of land planted.

Senator E. Ryan has stated that the pay-back is long term. This is something that the State can cope with much better than private individuals. I have no ideological hang-up about this. Whichever is best for the country is the one that I would want.

Mr. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Whilst this motion has been on the Order Paper for some time, I am pleased with the discussion it generated in the House last week and this week. I should like to thank the Senators who contributed to the debate. The Fianna Fáil Senators who tabled the motion will be most satisfied with the debate and with the contributions made.

There is an amendment to our motion. I do not see any need for it. Senators Ferris and Michael D. Higgins spoke in favour of the motion. The amendment is unnecessary. The most important thing is that we had a frank discussion on a very important item, afforestation, which asks that we prepare and implement a plan for the maximum exploitation of our forestry resources. The amendment asks that we take note of the Report of the Review Group on Forestry which was set up in accordance with the Government plan Building on Reality. I would like to commend the review group for their report. It is a good report. As I stated last week, the amount devoted to forestry in Building on Reality was very little. The annual planting target is 10,000 hectares and the current planting rate is about 6,500 hectares per year, and the paragraph that is devoted to forestry in that document — paragraph 7.70, page 146, states:

Forestry: Government investment over the years 1985 to 1987 will aim at achieving the following results:

—the establishment of plantations at an annual average rate of some 7,500 hectares.

From that we have only to assume that the Government's policy on afforestation is to plant less than the 10,000 hectares per annum which is the target. This is a retrograde step. I believe many in the [1037] House will see it in this light. The target was not met in 1985. At the rate of progress of their planting programme it will not be achieved in 1986. The target of 7,500 hectares or 18,750 acres is not adequate for our planting requirements. It must be considered that there are 3,500,000 acres of wet mineral low-lying soil, which is particularly suitable for forestry. To plant this 3,500,000 acres at the rate of 18,750 acres per annum would take over 186 years to complete, if we are to plant all the land suitable for afforestation. This 3,500,000 acres does not include the acreage which will become available for plantation through re-afforestation.

The Minister stated last week that serious problems have arisen for farmers engaged in the production of the traditional agricultural commodities in oversupply by the adoption by the EC of corrective measures of restraint on production of commodities such as beef and milk. In the light of these developments farmers will have to examine an additional line of production such as forestry in which they can more profitably become engaged. I am glad that the Minister realises that such is the case and that there is an urgent need for diversification to afforestation from the traditional system of farming where there is overproduction.

It is understandable that there may be a reluctance on the part of farmers to change but if they are to be encouraged to plant their land, they need support during the development period while the trees are growing. The most important incentive which can be offered to landowners engaging in forestry is some form of planting grant. The State has provided planting grants through EC aid. Despite this, there are not enough farmers participating in afforestation.

The major deterrents are, of course, unfamiliarity with forestry techniques and lack of any interim income. There must be compensatory payments. I do not know if the Government intend making some compensatory payments to farmers who change from the traditional system of farming to forestry. I do not [1038] remember the Minister stating if such grants will be available. I am sure it is was considered at Cabinet level, the Minister would have referred to it last week.

I understand that in the new structural regulation 797/85 the EC have made provision for compensatory payments in lieu of headage grants for farmers who are prepared to put their land into afforestation. The western package grant scheme has changed the landowner's attitude to afforestation. There are pockets of land in all parts of the country also suitable for afforestation. In the same structural regulation 797/85, there is provision for a national grant system at rates similar to those in the western package. It is essential that these grants be adopted to match the western package grant.

I was disappointed when the Minister was speaking last year that he did not mention ash. He mentioned the community forest in County Limerick where a group of local people banded together to form a company to purchase and plant almost 40 acres of land. I was present at the opening and saw the plantation. There were 450 ash saplings planted. The Munster Council of the GAA launched a “grow ash” campaign last year. The council are prepared to make grants available to complement the Department grants for clubs which grow a minimum of two-thirds of an acre of ash. This is necessary and must be encouraged to ensure that there will be enough ash available to manufacture hurleys for this and future generations so that our traditional game of hurling will continue to be played.

I am worried about the tender system of purchasing timber from the Department of Forestry which is making the price too high and therefore prohibitive. I should like to see this changed. Mill owners outbid one another. I mentioned last week that processors in the north could not buy timber because of the tender system. A forestry programme would be beneficial to tourists. Private forestry must be encouraged and incentives should be given to farmers to plant. Oil is the largest commodity that is [1039] imported to the EC and wood is the next. I am delighted with the debate and I hope the Minister and the Government will act on it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Am I to understand, Leader of the House, that the amendment and the motion are to be withdrawn?

Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  We have had a very wide-ranging debate in which there has not been a disparity of views to the extent that would justify a vote. The Minister has indicated that he is considering the whole question at the moment. The most appropriate procedure is that we withdraw both the amendment and the motion and hope the Minister will take into account, in his final decisions, the many views expressed in this House.

Mr. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I agree with that. I am delighted that it generated such interest and I hope the Government will act on it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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