Despite having a climate which is extremely hospitable to forestry, Ireland has a forestry covering far below the EU average of 43%. There was therefore much room for expanding this industry, which would provide much needed employment in rural Ireland where unemployment was traditionally highest. An expansion of forestry could also achieve environmental objectives of reducing Ireland’s CO2 footprint and of encouraging biodiversity.
The Irish Government therefore adopted several measures to encourage the development of forestry in the country. The Programme for Government committed to a target of 17% cover by 2030, with 30% of this being broadleaf so as to ensure maximum biodiversity. To encourage investment, the Government created significant tax incentives. In recent years, much of Ireland’s forestry output had been used for the construction. Following its collapse with the bursting of the property bubble, the Irish Government supported the reorientation of forestry towards exports and biomass energy.
All these efforts proved successful. Irish forestry grew 25% between 2009 and 2010, and now accounted for over 1% of GDP and employed 16,000 people. This made it a rare bright spot in an otherwise troubled Irish economy. The subsequent Government has recognised the key importance of investing in forestry, and have adopted only slightly less ambitious targets of 14,000 hectares planted per annum, which could create up to 500 jobs a year.