Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020
The Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Pippa Hackett has announced that the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 commenced on enactment yesterday. The Minister also confirmed that the secondary legislation required to give effect to the main provisions of the Act comes into force today.
Minister Hackett emphasised the priority associated with the legislation to align her Department’s licensing process with other planning processes as set out in the programme for Government.
The Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act will provide a legal basis for the Forestry Appeals Committee to introduce procedures that allow for the better management of the volume of appeals in the system. The draft Bill was open to public consultation in August. It prompted significant public engagement with nearly 9,000 submissions received by the closing date and over 80% of these submissions in favour of the draft Bill.
The Minister said, "These new arrangements will put in place an improved licencing and appeal system which will be more fit for purpose and better serve all stakeholders. I am moving quickly now to further resource the Forestry Appeals Committee so that it can deal with the backlog of appeals, which will bring certainty to those awaiting the outcome of those appeals."
In parallel with these developments, fees are being introduced for forestry applications, submissions and appeals. In addition, a forestry portal, with all application and site details available in a single website, will soon be opened to ensure more visible and transparent access to the forestry licensing process.
The Department is also addressing the backlog in processing licences. A project management plan is in place to deal in a systematic way with increasing the number of licences issued. Extra staff has been appointed in order to improve processing time. This includes additional ecologists, forestry inspectors and new administrative staff.
Main provisions of the Act:
- Increasing the capacity of the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) to determine appeals by enabling it to sit in divisions of itself;
- Enabling the FAC to determine appeals without an oral hearing where it is possible to properly dispose of an appeal in that manner;
- Providing the Minister with a regulation making power to specify, inter alia, the procedures in relation to appointments to the FAC and for other FAC related matters generally;
- Introducing fees for appeals, by means of regulation;
- Allowing all interested parties to appeal directly to the FAC, with no restrictions on access.
- Introducing a quorum of 2, rather than 3 for FAC committee hearings. This aims to increase the efficiency of the Committee and includes the safeguard that where there is no unanimous decision, the appeal will revert to a Committee of more than two;
- Clarifying the role of the FAC; i.e. that it in terms of licence decisions of the Minister it may vary the decision, allow the appeal and set aside the decision, set aside the decision and remit it, or substitute the decision.
- Providing clarity as to the circumstances in which the Minister might issue a general policy directive i.e. in prioritising certain classes of appeal the Minister shall have regard to the need to support economically and environmentally sustainable forest goods and services in the State. Forestry Regulations introduced on 7th October, 2020
- S.I. No. 417 of 2020 - Forestry (Licence Application and Submission Fees) Regulations 2020.
- In accordance with Section 25 of the Forestry Act 2014, these regulations provide for the charging of a fee of €20 per forestry licence application, and per submission in relation to such applications.
- S.I. No. 418 of 2020 – Forestry Appeals Committee Regulation, 2020
- As allowed under the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020, these regulations provide for certain matters pertaining to the forestry licence appeals process and for the charging of €200 for all classes of appeal.