The Irish Forest Owners (IFO) group has called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to ban State forestry payments for investment companies.

It has called for a reverse of the current Government policy which allows investment funds to draw down exchequer-funded forestry grants and premiums, under the forestry programme launched last year.

IFO is a network of private forestry producer groups aimed at developing private forestry and private forest ownership in Ireland.


IFO chair Nicholas Sweetman said: “The outcry over the Coillte deal with Gresham House is a clear message that Government should not allow State companies to be involved in any scheme to sell Irish forestry to investment funds.”

Responding to comments made by Minister McConalogue at the Oireachtas agriculture committee on Wednesday that “the deal is done” between Coillte and Gresham House, Sweetman warned “this does not mean we have to stand by and watch taxpayer money be siphoned off by large investment funds”.

“The ethos under which forestry premiums are paid is to cover the income foregone by farmers resulting from afforestation of agricultural land.

“They should go to farmers and the rural economy and must not be used by the State to encourage investment funds to purchase Irish land and forestry,” he said.

Not too late

The IFO chief suggested that it is still not too late to ban investment funds from accessing the payments, as it claimed the new forestry programme has not been officially sent to the European Commission for state aid approval.

Sweetman also renewed his group’s call for the premiums for broadleaf and native forests to be extended to 35 years for farmers.

Mandatory planting of broadleaves on all afforestation sites will be increased in the new forestry programme from 15% to 20% and is now restricted to native species.

“Although this is beneficial for biodiversity and forest resilience, it reduces the economic viability of forestry for farmers.”

“Broadleaf trees require more extensive management compared with conifers and any return on investment by a farmer is only seen by the next generation. The premium duration must reflect this and should be extended to 35 years,” he said.

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