A new report into the handling of ash dieback disease by the State has called for the disease to be treated as a national emergency, with a taskforce to be set up to clear infected trees and re-establish plantations.
The report, commissioned by Minister of State for Forestry Pippa Hackett, and published following today's Cabinet meeting, says it should be made clear to tree owners that the cost of site clearance and replanting should be borne by the State, while they retain any residual value from the trees.
It also recommends an ex-gratia payment should be considered for plantation owners in recognition of the absence of an effective State ash dieback scheme between 2018 and 2023, as well as a bespoke ash die-back re-establishment annual payment.
The report states ash dieback has impacted very severely on landowners who availed of grant-aided planting of ash over the past 35 years, causing very real anguish for owners, their families and the industry.
It also states there is an acceptance that the disease is irreversible at this point and that the action required is the urgent clearance of the diseased woodland and agreed decisions on the future use of the lands.
The Department of Agriculture is now due to draw up an implementation plan based on the report's recommendations which will then go to Government for approval in a few weeks.
Minister Hackett said that ash dieback has caused a lot of pain and stress for farmers.
She said the recommendations in today's report, which she commissioned last June, will be acted on.
"However there are three recommendations which will require further analysis within the parameters of the EU state aid rules, and when that work is done... in the next couple of weeks we will have a final implementation plan and I will be bringing that to my Government colleagues for approval," she added.
The report says there was clear evidence that Ireland was actively seeking ways to tighten up regulations on the free movement of ash plants prior to the detection of the ash dieback disease in 2012.
Both Ireland and the UK introduced emergency national legislative measures, only to be directed by the EU Commission that these measures were in breach of the EU Plant Directive and should be revoked.
The authors say there seems to have been no recognition at EU level that the island geography of both Ireland and the UK, combined with the economic and cultural importance of ash as a native hardwood, required special measures to be adopted to try to prevent the entry of the disease onto both islands from mainland Europe.
However, they also state that even if additional measures been introduced, given the wind-borne nature of the disease, its high transmissibility and the widespread distribution of ash trees across the island, it seems likely it would have established here at some point anyway.
Reacting to the report, Simon White of Limerick and Tipperary Woodland Owners, said everything they had put forward as solutions to the ash dieback situation has been accepted.
"People with ash dieback are potentially in a much better position now as the need to help them is recognised in this report. We welcome the report and we await the implementation plan."