Existing government policy, related to forestry, will decimate the social fabric of Co. Leitrim and requires an immediate and effective response from those who believe that trees should not replace population in the coming decade.
This was proposed by Marian following discussion with groups of people in Co. Leitrim adversely affected by afforestation who are determined to challenge a policy which, they contend, encourages pension funds, corporations and large farmers from outside of Co. Leitrim to purchase land for afforestation. Such investment was designed to provide either carbon credits, to offset future charges that could arise from intensive farming or to avail of substantial grant aid and tax free returns on investment in forestry, she said.
“This is a serious issue currently for farmers in Co. Leitrim, and their communities who, under present government policies, cannot compete for the land needed to ensure their future viability in farming and vital to the retention, and necessary increase, of population to ensure local community viability”, she said.
When land was planted under current regulations, it really meant that it can never again be brought back to support food production and it also meant cutting off and displacing families and communities, she said. It is very clear from planning policy on afforestation that it was much easier to plant trees than build a home, she said. “There is another important issue around the non use of the Environmental Impact Assessment directive as the cumulative effects of forestry are not adequately taken into consideration and I will be raising this issue with the European Commission”, she said.
Co. Leitrim had, over the decades, being faced with a consistent attempt to replace farming with tree production and to do so without concern for the communities affected, she said. “The prospect that Ireland faces substantial EU fines for failure to meet emissions targets has further encouraged policies which incentivise blanket forestry with little diversity of species”, Marian Harkin said. Grants and tax breaks effectively meant that farmers wishing to achieve future viability could not compete for land in the areas concerned, she maintained.
Official statistics indicated that Leitrim had the second highest acreage of forestry at 16.7%, just behind Wicklow at 17.7%, she said. “These figures are out of date and evidence on the ground from speaking to people in Leitrim strongly suggest that this figure of 16.7% has significantly increased”, she said. Every county needed to take responsibility for contributing to the afforestation effort but what was happening in Leitrim was totally disproportionate. ”What about the ‘polluter pays’ principle where CO2 emissions are concerned – Leitrim shoulders far more than its fair share and this must be tackled immediately, she insisted. For example, the situation where the amount of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere from all the cars and homes in Dublin with less than 6% in Dublin under afforestation needed to be examined, she suggested.
She urged all concerned with the issue of excessive afforestation in Co. Leitrim to come together to see what structure could be established to assist farmers to acquire land offered for sale, especially land adjoining theirs which would help to make a holding capable of sustaining a family farm into the future.
“As an immediate step I would urge all interested to attend the meeting being organised by the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) for Carrick on Shannon on Friday, January 19th which will deal with this contentious issue which has huge implications for the future sustainability of communities in Co. Leitrim”, Marian concluded.