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  • Writer's picturebrianleddin

Statements on Forestry Strategy

I intend to provide some balance to some of the commentary we have just heard and to tone down the rhetoric and incitement, which is not appropriate in this House, notwithstanding people's strong views on this issue or any other issue. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, whom I know personally, who is one of the most dedicated public officials we have in this country and who is passionate about resolving the challenges we have in this country in climate and forestry. I pay tribute to her and the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, who are both incredibly serious about their roles. They are performing those roles diligently.

I congratulate the Ministers on securing €1.3 billion in investment for forestry. What they are aiming to do is change for the better how we use land in this country such that we will secure our environment for future generations. I congratulate them on resolving the licensing issue that has plagued the system for the past number of years. That was no easy feat. Despite all the noise, cynicism and nonsense we hear in this Chamber, I firmly believe this Government is improving the forestry model. The forestry strategy sets out how forestry for the coming decades will go. It will be better. It will be better for commercial forestry, better for biodiversity, better for construction and better for our environment.

I am somewhat bemused by the characterisation of private capital as some kind of mendacious, foreign, malicious way of achieving our aims. For decades the environmental movement dreamed of leveraging private capital such that we could achieve our aims. Of course, these investment funds are not vulture funds by any definition; they are investment funds. They are Irish investors, not British investors. Of course, they do not care about biodiversity, or not necessarily, no more than if they were to invest in a rail project they would care about trains. We are using private capital to get what we want. The State is putting guidelines on this money such that we have overall a net positive benefit.

We have huge challenges in this country in how we use land. There are and will be trade-offs. The reform agenda is so great we will have many debates like this for many years ahead. The trade-offs are between agriculture, forestry, construction, the rewetting of land where necessary, and restoration of biodiversity as much as possible. However, none of these decisions are easy, and when one makes decisions one creates the space for people to disagree, to shout and to weaponise politics, and that is what is happening here.

In construction we do not use timber nearly as much as we could. In Scotland, our near neighbour, 75% or perhaps closer to 80% of home constructions are timber framed. It is closer to 20% in this country. We need to change how we do construction in Ireland. Concrete construction has a huge climate impact on this country, and we simply will not meet our climate targets unless we move from concrete to timber.

The double whammy here is that we will displace the emissions from cement generation and sequester emissions by using timber. That is a positive step. It might mean a great deal of commercial forestry and trade-offs, but it is the right thing to do from a climate point of view.

I am looking forward to the publication in a few weeks' time of the land use review. It is a major piece of Government work that has taken two years. I believe phase 1 will be published in the next two weeks and will be of interest to every Deputy. Phase 2 will be published in the autumn. Phase 1 is the information gathering exercise and will show us how we use our land, where the economic benefit and emissions are etc. Phase 2 comprises the relevant decision-making.

I wish to mention a local woodland, namely, Cratloe Woods, County Clare. Deputy McNamara, who has just left the Chamber, would know it well. The old oaks of Cratloe Woods were used in the construction of the royal palace in Amsterdam. It is just 20 minutes outside Limerick city and is a wonderful amenity. It is where I first learned about biodiversity. I used to race the Clare and Limerick hurling teams around the hills of Cratloe. I wanted to make special mention of Cratloe because the potential to develop it further as an amenity is immense. The woods there are underutilised. I would encourage the Minister of State in this regard and will speak with her on the matter in the weeks and months ahead.


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