Ireland lags well behind most other European countries in timber construction and design.

The Timber in Construction Steering Group (TCSG), which was established last October, plans to rectify this. Chaired by J Owen Lewis, the group aims to:

  • Create the conditions to increase the use of sustainable and safe timber in construction.
  • Examine regulatory and standardisation challenges.
  • Maximise the use of home-grown timber.
  • “Five thematic groups have been identified to deliver the specific work packages,” said a Department of Agriculture spokesperson.

    The TCSG will produce a number of reports to influence policy, which will be supported by individual groups addressing the following themes:

  • Timber market opportunities.
  • Regulation, standards and compliance.
  • Public procurement and demonstration projects.
  • Research and development.
  • Communication, education, training and public awareness.
  • Market opportunities

    The main challenge facing the group under this theme is to identify current and future adoption of timber in the marketplace including timber frame and mass wood, such as cross laminated timber (CLT).

    The group will identify inadequacies in the supply chain from sawmilling to manufacture of finished product, including opportunities for increased use of home-grown timber and incentives such as developing a CLT manufacturing facility in Ireland. The group will also investigate the potential of timber in retrofitting buildings.

    Regulation, standards and compliance

    This group, charged with researching regulation, standards and compliance, has a complex brief. It will “identify, examine and report any specific regulatory and market challenges to timber frame and mass timber, including the use of home-grown timber. It will also identify and address wood safety related issues – fire, durability, water ingress and moisture management – which have been solved for two decades in Europe and North America.

    The group will review technical guidance and standards, research, reports and codes that have been developed internationally in relation to the design and use of timber frame and relevant engineered wood products and their relevance to the Irish market.

    Other objectives include supporting the development of a national technical specification for the use of engineered timber “to address all design, performance and construction aspects and [this] should provide a means of demonstrating compliance with building regulations”.

    Public procurement and demonstration projects

    This group will examine and develop proposals regarding government procurement requirements to promote the use of safe sustainable and renewable products, including timber.

    This theme will “explore options and identify pilot exemplar public and private sector buildings for construction which demonstrate compliance with building regulations”. It will also inform the development of technical guidance using timber, and will consider demonstration projects at Mount Lucas, the National Construction Training Campus in Daingean, Co Offaly.

    Research and development

    At a time when multi-storey mass buildings have been completed throughout Europe and North America, the group plans to “identify and build links with national and international bodies with expertise in building with timber”.

    This approach along with current research and development in Ireland will help identify gaps in knowledge of timber usage. The R&D group will explore the methodology involved in “Whole Life Carbon (WLC) calculation associated with the use of timber in the built environment”. The R&D group will also examine to potential opportunities in timber frame housing, where Ireland lags well behind Europe.

    Communication, education, training and public awareness

    Aware of the low profile of wood, this group will support a continuous professional development (CPD) scheme along with education and training projects across the wood chain to inform architects, engineers, builders, surveyors, specialist installers and other specifiers.

    The group will “support the integration of training for timber construction into existing third level and craft training programmes”. It will also create greater awareness of the benefits of using wood and the role it will play in climate change mitigation.

    Comment: New group’s objectives are laudable but it faces multiple challenges

    The TCSG’s emphasis on promoting home-grown timber is laudable but needs to acknowledge the reality of Ireland’s massively under-performing afforestation programme.

    A Department spokesperson said the TCSG will “deliver on the main recommendations outlined in COFORD’s 2022 publication: ‘Forest and Wood Products, and their Importance in Climate Change Mitigation’, which envisages “a greatly expanded afforestation programme, reaching some 16,000 hectares per year over the duration of the programme.

    While the COFORD’s recommendations may be out of reach, a good start for the TCSG would be to convince the minister to aim for an 8,000ha annual planting programme as outlined in her own forestry strategy.

    By the end of the current programme (2023-2027), Ireland will have achieved 20 years of afforestation programmes where an 8,000ha programme has been surpassed only once and is currently running at less than 2,000ha.

    A continuation of this level of performance is likely to result in Ireland’s forests becoming a carbon source rather than a sink. While this scenario is outside the group’s remit, its implications on the sustainability of timber production are not.

    This was starkly illustrated in the recent study by Henry Phillips on future commercial timber supply. “The collapse in the afforestation programme since 2010, combined with a future significant loss in the commercial productive area of mainly spruce forests will result in a reduction in future timber supply of sawlog and pulpwood material of 18.7 million m3 by 2040 if current afforestation levels do not improve,” Phillips said.

    Few sectors have a greater degree of interdependency than forestry. How the various links along the forest value chain perform and interact determines the viability of the sector as a whole. Without acknowledging and promoting this interdependency, there will be a disconnect between the forest and the market place in the TCSG’s findings.


    As well as encouraging more innovative architects and specifiers to use wood, the group also needs to seek the views of forest owners and foresters who will choose the tree species for future forests. It should also hear the views of sawmillers, who will process the logs, and who are currently absent from this process.

    While Ireland has a masonry rather than a wood culture, Irish architects and designers have produced a number of excellent projects where wood is the inherent element. The biennale competition Wood Awards Ireland illustrates how they are capable of working with wood – engineered and solid – or combine it with masonry.

    The TCSG is an important and ambitious initiative by Minister Hackett and deserves to succeed. For example the aim to develop a CLT manufacturing facility in Ireland is a major statement. Likewise, the aim to build a mass timber medium rise demonstration building will be a major landmark in the group’s journey, which began last October.

    The TCSG has a timeline of 18 to 24 months to deliver its final report which should be issued by the third quarter next year.