FSC-Watch

An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

FSC Ireland lurches into new crisis as key NGOs withdraw supportTags: Ireland, Soil Association Woodmark

FSC-Watch has reported numerous times on the shambles that is the FSC's Irish Forest Certification Initiative (IFCI), and the associated certificate issued to the state forestry company, Coillte. After more than six years of discussion, consuming copious amounts of funding and stakeholders' effort, IFCI has still failed to come up with a credible national standard.

Coillte, which controls 8% of the nation's land, was certified in 2001 under a weak draft national standard. The company, who's forestry practices have drawn widespread condemnation from environmentalists, has had much interest in ensuring that the national standard is not strengthened, and has kept a tight grip on IFCI. Many environmental and social stakeholders have remained outside the national initiative, citing multiple problems, including economic sector domination of the process, mis-management, and unprofessional behaviour.

Following a formal complaint from stakeholders, the FSC Secretariat stepped into this mess last month, as it had already been forced to several years ago. To his credit, Huberto Bonafos of the FSC's ASI informed the IFCI that its latest draft national standard is still completely unacceptable.

In a well-meaning but flawed effort to resolve IFCI's persistent problems, Bonafos invited a working group of stakeholders to try and reconstitute the process - but has then included in it some of the individuals who have long been at the centre of IFCI's problems. Most environmental and social groups have now withdrawn from the process (see letter below), and from all engagement with the FSC. There now seems little hope of FSC rebuilding any credibility in Ireland unless the national process is completely reconstituted and work started afresh on a national standard.

Meanwhile, FSC-ASI's report on the audit of Soil Association WoodMark, which now collects the certification fees from Coillte, has still not been published, 6 months after ASI carried out its inspection.

6th October 2007

Dear Mr Liedeker,

On 8th and 9th September, Hubert de Bonafos outlined a scheme designed to ensure proper procedures were put in place in IFCI in line with FSC requirements, and enable the development of a draft standard for Ireland that was in accordance with FSC requirements. The start point for this initiative is a meeting in Bonn on 12th October between three representatives, one for each chamber, facilitated by FSC, to develop a management plan for IFCI.

During the 9th September meeting M. de Bonafos agreed that it would be appropriate for excluded NGOs to propose candidates and thus to have representation at the meeting. This was viewed by excluded forestry and woodland NGOs as a major opportunity to play an important role in progressing, through FSC, the goals of sustainable forest management in Ireland.

It was with high hopes for real change and progress that the excluded NGOs proposed three candidates, one for each chamber. Each was chosen with their commitment to sustainable forest management firmly in mind. In addition care was taken to choose individuals known to be skilled in negotiation, with excellent knowledge of FSC, professional in approach, with experience in developing workable business plans and above all with a commitment to a fair and independent approach.

Our candidate for the Environmental Chamber was withdrawn after a short negotiation in favour of the candidate proposed by one of the IFCI Environmental Chamber members, FIE. This was done in order to minimise conflict and promote co-operation between included and excluded environmental groups as part of an ongoing bridge-building effort amongst NGOs.

Our candidate for the Social Chamber seat in Bonn was rejected by IFCI for unknown reasons. We are aware that our candidate is ideally suited to the role, is demonstrably better versed in FSC matters than the Social Chamber candidate and his independence, professionalism and commitment to SFM is unquestioned. Particularly in light of the well-publicised negotiation and compromise for the Environmental Chamber seat, the attitude of the Social Chamber in this case was a source of surprise and great disquiet among excluded NGO members. As our candidate is clearly unacceptable to the IFCI Social Chamber, any work carried out by this person will inevitably be viewed as equally unwanted. It is pointless attempting to force our candidate on IFCI and thus we must withdraw this nomination.

Our person put forward for the Economic Chamber position was ignored by the Economic Chamber. We have proposed an alternative candidate for this seat but have again received no response from the Economic Chamber.

It has been thus made abundantly clear that IFCI see no role for the excluded NGOs in the Bonn meeting initiative.

A representative for the excluded NGOs negotiated for two observer roles to attend IFCI meetings but was advised that two of our members were completely unacceptable by IFCI and thus excluded from even observing. This determination to exclude flies in the face of the core principles of FSC.

We are dismayed at the current stance of IFCI, particularly in light of the urgent need for inclusion, openness and transparency.

It now seems clear that IFCI have chosen to continue as they have done for the last eight years. The prospects for any real change in the operation of the Irish National Initiative therefore seem remote. Further, there seems no hope whatever that an intelligible, properly structured draft standard reflecting any interests but those of a small group within IFCI can be negotiated.

Therefore, the excluded NGOs in the Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders (IESS) Alliance and the groups, communities and individuals they represent formally withdraw from the Bonn meeting initiative and withdraw all support for IFCI and for FSC in Ireland.

Best regards,

Stiof MacAmhalghaidh

IESS Alliance calraige (at) eircom.net

Comments

Who are 'the excluded NGOs in the Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders (IESS) Alliance and the groups' and how are they excluded

Is this the Jane Small of the Ballinboy Residents Association? Big Jim wants to know if these are the people who settled their case with Shell? How much did you get, Peter? Leave the real campaigners alone and stop trying to make trouble for them.
Big Jim

Dear Readers,
As a member of the Social chamber and of the IFCI Steering Committee and in the interests of fair play I would like to respond to Mr MacAmhlaigh’s letter below. I do so in a personal capacity. Firstly he is correct in saying that attempts are being made by FSC to resolve outstanding difficulties in the process. However, Mr de Bonofos (FSC) asked that three representatives, one from each chamber, be selected by all involved stakeholders and not so-called ‘excluded’ stakeholders. (To date, no one has been excluded except for one stakeholder who abused and libeled IFCI Steering Committee members in the past. All other stakeholders have been, and are encouraged to participate in the process). Mr MacAmhlaigh acknowledged in a call I made to him On October 2nd that there was confusion as to who should go to Bonn as it was their understanding that they could select three representatives, one from each chamber. However, this is not the case. It is the business of each chamber to select its own representative. Whoever the Economic chamber select to represent its views is not the business of the Social or Environmental stakeholders and visa versa. This is confirmed by the acceptance by Mr de Bonofos of the Economic chamber candidate proposed by the Economic Chamber for the (now postponed) Bonn meeting.
After the meeting with FSC in Limerick on September 8th, I initiated consultation with all Social stakeholders inside and outside IFCI. A number of candidates were suggested for Bonn. The support for each of these candidates was assessed by the Social chamber members of IFCI. Subsequently, FSC asked that we give more time to the consultation process and the Social chamber referred the matter to the IFCI Steering Committee. It was clear that there was more support for a candidate who was not nominated by the stakeholders outside the process and based on the democratic will of all stakeholders (a majority decision) the Social chamber nominated the candidate that received the most support. I relayed this information to Mr MacAmhlaigh and it is therefore disingenuous of him to say that ‘Our candidate for the Social Chamber seat in Bonn was rejected by IFCI for unknown reasons’.
It should be pointed out that our discussion was without rancour and for my part, felt that it was very productive. However, Mr MacAmhlaigh in his letter failed to point out that alternative solutions were postulated. I suggested that though their candidate was not selected to attend the Bonn meeting that:
(a) their concerns would be taken by the chosen candidate and, without prejudice, discussed on an equal footing with all other proposals under the agenda items outlined by FSC
(b) that they nominate a permanent observer to attend IFCI Steering Committee meetings before and after Bonn in order to ensure that the Bonn agreement is ratified
Does this suggest that ‘It has been thus made abundantly clear that IFCI see no role for the excluded NGOs in the Bonn meeting initiative’ as Mr MacAmhlaigh states? Regarding Observers, Mr MacAmhlaigh did suggest that an Environmental observer was also required and I stated that I saw no problem with this, subject to discussing it with the Steering Committee. I did suggest a number of names and also made it clear that two particular individuals were unacceptable. One was the aforementioned person who IFCI will not negotiate with under any circumstances due to his past behaviour and the other, though less contentious, also leveled serious allegations against IFCI in the past and is not independent enough to progress matters. The person I suggested as a Social Observer is a member of the Woodland League who, I am told, are the majority social stakeholder group outside the process. However I did say that it was up to the IESS Alliance to nominate its observer as this is their business.
It should also be noted that consultation was initiated by Social stakeholders inside IFCI – IFCI was neither approached formally or informally by stakeholders outside IFCI. No effort was made by those outside IFCI to consult with stakeholders or members of IFCI. At best, messages were posted to public websites and until I initiated discussions with Mr MacAmhlaigh the Social chamber of IFCI did not receive any communication from the IESS Alliance.
It is important to put the record straight because, though it is clear that there are considerable difficulties within the FSC certification process in Ireland, efforts have and are being made to address them. There is still a possibility of agreeing a national standard for Ireland but it will require a focus on the future with clearly defined strategies from all involved.

Sincerely
Declan Little
woodlandsofireland@iol.ie

Dear Mr Liedeker,
On 8th and 9th September, Hubert de Bonafos outlined a scheme designed to ensure proper procedures were put in place in IFCI in line with FSC requirements, and enable the development of a draft standard for Ireland that was in accordance with FSC requirements. The start point for this initiative is a meeting in Bonn on 12th October between three representatives, one for each chamber, facilitated by FSC, to develop a management plan for IFCI.
During the 9th September meeting M. de Bonafos agreed that it would be appropriate for excluded NGOs to propose candidates and thus to have representation at the meeting. This was viewed by excluded forestry and woodland NGOs as a major opportunity to play an important role in progressing, through FSC, the goals of sustainable forest management in Ireland.
It was with high hopes for real change and progress that the excluded NGOs proposed three candidates, one for each chamber. Each was chosen with their commitment to sustainable forest management firmly in mind. In addition care was taken to choose individuals known to be skilled in negotiation, with excellent knowledge of FSC, professional in approach, with experience in developing workable business plans and above all with a commitment to a fair and independent approach.
Our candidate for the Environmental Chamber was withdrawn after a short negotiation in favour of the candidate proposed by one of the IFCI Environmental Chamber members, FIE. This was done in order to minimise conflict and promote co-operation between included and excluded environmental groups as part of an ongoing bridge-building effort amongst NGOs.
Our candidate for the Social Chamber seat in Bonn was rejected by IFCI for unknown reasons. We are aware that our candidate is ideally suited to the role, is demonstrably better versed in FSC matters than the Social Chamber candidate and his independence, professionalism and commitment to SFM is unquestioned. Particularly in light of the well-publicised negotiation and compromise for the Environmental Chamber seat, the attitude of the Social Chamber in this case was a source of surprise and great disquiet among excluded NGO members. As our candidate is clearly unacceptable to the IFCI Social Chamber, any work carried out by this person will inevitably be viewed as equally unwanted. It is pointless attempting to force our candidate on IFCI and thus we must withdraw this nomination.
Our person put forward for the Economic Chamber position was ignored by the Economic Chamber. We have proposed an alternative candidate for this seat but have again received no response from the Economic Chamber.
It has been thus made abundantly clear that IFCI see no role for the excluded NGOs in the Bonn meeting initiative.
A representative for the excluded NGOs negotiated for two observer roles to attend IFCI meetings but was advised that two of our members were completely unacceptable by IFCI and thus excluded from even observing. This determination to exclude flies in the face of the core principles of FSC.
We are dismayed at the current stance of IFCI, particularly in light of the urgent need for inclusion, openness and transparency.
It now seems clear that IFCI have chosen to continue as they have done for the last eight years. The prospects for any real change in the operation of the Irish National Initiative therefore seem remote. Further, there seems no hope whatever that an intelligible, properly structured draft standard reflecting any interests but those of a small group within IFCI can be negotiated.
Therefore, the excluded NGOs in the Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders (IESS) Alliance and the groups, communities and individuals they represent formally withdraw from the Bonn meeting initiative and withdraw all support for IFCI and for FSC in Ireland.
Best regards,
Stiof MacAmhalghaidh
IESS Alliance calraige (at) eircom.net

Dear FSC Watchers,

Though I am weary as can be of the years of the bickering that has accompanied the history of IFCI and have no wish to perpetuate what is a pointless discussion on this matter, I have been urged by numerous people to at least make some sort of response to Dr Little's comments above. And so with reluctance I will respond.

However, rather than perpetuate this seemingly unending round of gripes and snipes, I will try a different tack.

Firstly, let's get things in perspective here.

IFCI has been working for eight years to become a national initiative compliant with FSC requirements, and to produce a draft standard compliant with FSC requirements. FSC instructed Hubert de Bonafos of ASI to advise IFCI that in both cases their efforts had fallen short of the required standards. He also initiated a process aimed at trying to rescue the FSC process in Ireland, a task which he clearly undertook with all seriousness and determination.

What all this rigmarole is about, really, is just deciding what three people will sit down to design a management plan for IFCI to use in an effort over the next 12 months or so to meet FSC's basic requirements for a national initiative group, and for a draft standard text.

Regardless of whoever actually works on that plan - and three randomly chosen people with a bit of intelligence could probably, with some background reading, do a perfectly decent job of this - what will actually matter is whether IFCI itself is capable of following that plan and successfully aiming for and meeting FSC's requirements within the timescale allotted.

Now (skipping back a bit), a side-effect of the past history of IFCI has been the formation of an umbrella group/discussion forum for people who felt compelled to leave IFCI, people who felt unable to join IFCI or simply had never even known IFCI existed, but yet had a determination to see sustainable forest management in Ireland. We called that group IESS Alliance.

The IESS bit stands for "Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders" as the members are mostly just that. We like to pronounce IESS as "yes" as a sort of token gesture towards the sort of positive attitude the group encourages. The Alliance bit just means we're all getting together to see if we can make things better rather than sitting around griping about the status quo. IESS gave (and gives) people a place to go to and discuss the issues calmly and network amongst themselves and externally to the wider community.

Though the relationship between IESS and IFCI has been characterised by some as a battle or something similar, really there is nothing at all IESS members would like more than to see IFCI function as it should and produce a well-written, balanced and resilient national SFM standard.

Because of that, Hubert de Bonafos was asked by IESS, and he agreed, that the IESS people and those they represent could get a chance to play a part in designing the IFCI rescue management plan. This was seen as a way for people to express their enthusiasm to help make IFCI work, even from without. As bridges had started to be built between IESS members and some groups within IFCI, great hope sprang up that all this might actually lead to a healing, more relaxed interaction and maybe (imagine it! a bit of SFM in Ireland for once!). A token gesture, really, but nonetheless seen (rightly) as a potentially significant step forward at last.

Perhaps it should have been obvious, given past events, but the choice of who would fill the three seats in the planned Bonn meeting and discuss and settle on a plan rapidly became a competition. A quick consultation and discussion resulted, after a couple of days, in an almost consensus candidate (one objection, from inside IFCI) for environmental people both inside and outside IFCI. The IESS candidate was withdrawn as a gesture of goodwill to IFCI. However, it was the question of who would fill the Social place in Bonn that descended into a matter of who got the most "votes" and who "won".

Let's be really, really clear about this. There was and is nothing at all to win here other than one hard day of grind sitting in an office in Bonn, putting together a rescue management plan for a failing oranisation. I speak from experience in saying that this is NOT a prize. It is something you wistfully imagine inflicting on someone you really, really don't like. Promise.

Really the actual job will not be difficult, though it will surely end up that way due to the kinds of personal and group pressures that bedevil failed processes. This is ironic in a way because what will matter in the end is not the plan or the planners but the people who try and implement it. Again, I speak from painful experience.

If you like, a basic plan can be scribbled together in two minutes:

1) read the FSC guidelines and regulations for a national group,
2) discuss these to make sure people have not missed any important bits
3) choose a reasonable timescale to achieve the main objectives
4) start doing it
5) if things don't seem to be working properly, stop and rethink how it was done
6) try a different tack based on this experience

A simple plan like that shows up where the real challenges lie, ie not in developing the fine details of some policy or the wording of some document. Anyone with a bit of experience and an openness to consultation and patience can get something like that sorted in time.

The challenge lies in persuading people to actually find out what FSC regulations etc are, understand them and be willing to abide by them. The challenge lies in getting people to be patient, to take the time to do things properly rather than cut corners, to think about what is happening, to ask questions and welcome answers.

Even if this seems like hassle.

It is supposed to be hassle.

If it was a doddle, none of this would be needed because people would be doing it anyway. FSC is about raising the bar a bit and getting a reward for hopping over the bar.

It is not that the Irish people are inherently unable to do this. Ireland has produced all sorts of excellently run organisations from charities to a government, from sports clubs to manufacturing businesses large and small, from schools and universities to airlines. There are all sorts of rules and difficulties people have to work with to do these things. The FSC system, by comparison, is not all that complicated.

Now, all this would be laughable if there were no real consequences. If this was a group trying to set up a dance club or a toastmasters' club it might be ready material for a light comedy TV series. The trouble is, there are consequences and the consequences can be considerable. Even though Ireland proudly boasts one of the lowest levels of afforestation in Europe, that still amounts to about ten percent of the land surface of the state. That ten percent has an effect on a lot of the rest of the state environmentally, socially and economically. The reason people want to see a robust system for defining and regulating what passes for sustainable forestry management in Ireland is that they can see that effect and in a lot of cases they don't like what they see.

People would like a bit more accountability, more say in issues that affect them and their families. They would like wildlife and wild plants to get a bit of a break for once. People would like to see rural economies become a little more prosperous and with a more stable outlook for the future. People would like a nicer looking environment, a more diverse environment, a safer environment, a more enjoyable environment, and an envrionment with better opportunities.

That's what it all boils down to.

Truth is, they couldn't give a damn one way or the other what this or that person said or wrote or claimed or did. Nobody cares who goes to Bonn or who is in IFCI's Steering Committee. What people care about here really is SFM. IFCI only comes into the picture where it enables or prevents SFM.

So... how about you get on with it?

Dear Declan,

(and also dear Jane Small, whoever you are)

I'm one of the stake holders who never attempted so far to get into IFCI. For me there was a long way to understand the issues, and when I finally did, I had to conclude that IFCI did not deserve my and my groups full commitment yet.
I have no long term hazzle with IFCI, but attempted to understand the issues since about two years. I had put questions on the yahoo group where thankfully Declan and others, including only one other IFCI member, responded. I needed to study FSC documents myself. I had personal email discussions with the chair person of IFCI who refused open discussion on the yahoo group. No other contact from IFCI with non IFCI members was possible anywhere. IFCI only put up their website last year. There is no comments/discussion forum on this website.
Anyhow: I did mention my concerns to you on the net, and to the chair person in private. These concerns were not taken on.

I finally saw no other possibility than to write for CLEAN a grievance re the draft standard put out for public consultation, which IFCI then decided to handle as submission:
See: http://www.irishforestcertification.com/Submissions.htm

It seems that FSC agreed with this.

You, Declan, wrote in an email on natureireland on 3rd October as an answer to one of my questions:

"By the way: We have not received a final answer to CLEAN grivance re content and structure of 3rd draft. Will we get that soon?

RESPONSE: IFCI responded to you in May stating that your Grievance constituted a submission to the Standard and that this would be dealt with during consideration of submissions. FSC will discuss the standard in Bonn with the delegates and I suggest you await the outcome of this. IFCI did no realise that the format of the standard was not per FSC Guidelines last year beofore the public consultation process and have undertaken to use the FSC Guidelines to rectify this next time around.

I will repeat what you said: "IFCI DID NOT REALISE THAT THE FORMAT OF THE STANDARD WAS NOT PER FSC GUIDELINES LAST YEAR BEFORE THE PUBLIC CONSULTATION PROCESS." Despite my honest efforts to warn on this IFCI has not realised it before public consultation went ahead.
And this was after 7 years of IFCI in being, and after how many years of its accreditation?

Thought I should put this on record here.
Note:This is a personal comment, as I don't know at the moment whether CLEAN wants to proceed to make further efforts re IFCI/FSC.
Christine Raab-Heine


One of the root problem in the Irish FSC Process is that Woodlands of Ireland (Declan little) claimed to be a Social NGO and insisted on taking a seat on the Social chamber of the Irish Working group. Mr Little was a forest Project manager and a lecturer on forestry in GMIT. Woodlands of Ireland are an Economic group and Mr little clearly has an economic remit.
For 8 years now Irish NGOs have objected to Mr Littles presence on the Social chamber of the Irish working group but FSC has failed to implement their own guidelines. Mr little has refused to work with NGOs that have a clear mandate in the past and he continues to refuse to work with NGOs. The presence of woodlands of Ireland in the Social Chamber of the Irish WG is one of the reasons why FSC has failed in Ireland.

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