The Committee chairmanships were also awarded, with Paul Frew of the DUP now presiding over the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and Anna Lo of the Alliance Party chairing the Environment Committee.
At the Trust we are delighted that there is tangible enthusiasm across the political spectrum to increase, protect and enhance Northern Ireland’s woods and trees. Three of the political parties holding responsibility for either implementing forestry policy or for scrutinising the Executive’s record governing the province made positive commitments to the natural environment. Of particular note were the following points:
- Sinn Fein pledged to continue the policy to ‘double the amount of forestry in the six counties’. The Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle O’Neill, has the opportunity to deliver on this promise as she will be responsible for forestry policy on behalf of the Executive.
- The DUP, the largest party in the Executive, committed to: ‘develop a partnership approach to increase woodland cover, enlarging existing native woodlands and creating links between them to encourage biodiversity and connectivity.’ Paul Frew as chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee will have the power to hold the Agriculture Minister to account if he believes that the Department are failing to meet their commitments.
- An Alliance Party MLA, Anna Lo, will chair the Environment Committee. At the election the Alliance pledged too: ‘double woodland cover by 2050’ and ‘safeguard against net area loss of ancient or long established woodland.’
One of the biggest challenges facing the nascent Executive will be reversing the decline in tree planting and thereby delivering on the manifesto commitments to increase woodland cover – the Northern Ireland Executive is already committed to doubling the forest area in Northern Ireland in the next 50 years. A starting point would be to ensure that the Programme for Government that is being written in the coming month contains an ambitious woodland creation target.
Lee Bruce, Government Affairs Officer