The determined efforts of the Department of Agriculture’s forestry service and Minister of state Pippa Hackett to put a spin on the outcome of the first meeting of the ash dieback taskforce, portraying it as an already successful collaboration, is totally misleading. The truth is that it was patently clear to everyone at that meeting that the taskforce faces an impossible task. Because of the lack of sufficient funding within the scheme allocated to each step in a complicated process, the stakeholders who will be tasked with carrying out the work made it clear that they will not clear and plant the majority of these affected sites because they would lose money if they attempted to do so.

It is an unviable proposition to take contracts to clear and plant the older sites due to the relative extra cost of removing and clearing the dangerous trees, which have a serious health and safety aspect that has to be addressed.

The press release portrays the makeup of the taskforce in a misleading fashion. There is no mention that there are four Department staff on the taskforce, making what amounts to a dictatorship, in my opinion. The framework of the scheme has already been determined by the Department and the minister without paying any regard to the knowledge and experience of the stakeholders, which was one of the major elements of the ash dieback review recommendations that this is supposed to implement. Almost all of the invitees to this taskforce expressed the view that the plan as announced is unworkable without radical change and more funding, if it is to achieve what is it supposed to accomplish – clearing and replanting these dead sites.

The Department chair was emphatic in ruling out any possibility of any review of this scheme. This is it and it is written in stone, he said. When asked to agree the terms and conditions of the taskforce that was only given to the participants the evening before the first meeting, the majority of stakeholders said they could only do so with expressed reservations and under duress. Bearing in mind that most of these depend on the Departmental forestry schemes for a major proportion of their business income it is clear they were in an invidious position if they opposed the terms of reference.