The core policy objectives of Ireland's forestry strategy must be reassessed and redirected, that's the view of Ireland North West MEP Luke Ming Flanagan.

Speaking after the INHFA conference in Carrick-on-Shannon, convened to discuss the expansion of forestry in the western region, he said that the forestry program of 2014 - 2020 set the roadmap for the issues now coming to the fore.

For the first time ever, non-farmers and institutional investors were given the same level of premium support as the farmer.

This, he said, equates to, in some instances, a premium increase in excess of 200% to non-farmers.

This coupled with the eroding of environmental schemes in Rural Development has driven the hidden agenda of the last two administrations in relation to land use in the west of Ireland.

"The overarching policy of substantial expansion of the dairy industry with a corresponding increase in forest cover to offset increased agriculture emissions must be questioned and challenged.  It is unjustifiable to continue down this road permanently altering the landscape and depopulating the area." stated the MEP.

"In addition the manner in which this is being carried out, a foreign company is brought in, given access to EIB finance at preferential rates raises its own questions," he added.

"Have the Department taken account of the EU’s “Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive when implementing this forestry programme?” asked Mr Flanagan.

"DAFM as the programming authority, must assess the likely significant effects of its plans and programmes on: “the environment, including issues such as biodiversity, population, human health, fauna, flora, soil, and water including “secondary, cumulative, short, medium, and long-term, positive and negative effects."

In conclusion he said: "This deliberate manipulation of land use must end, and the integrity of our rural areas must be maintained and supported equally.  Farm supports must give the farmers options as to which type of enterprise they wish to engage in not skewed in a manner which drives farmers down a cul-de-sac leaving them with only one option."

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