Further calls have been made for Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to intervene in Coillte’s plans to partner with private UK investment fund Gresham House to help the investor acquire 12,000ha of existing forestry and lands suitable for planting.
The private sector forester representative group Irish Forest Owners has argued that intervention at this level is necessary and alleged that the deal constitutes an attempt by Coillte to evade the EU rules preventing it from drawing down forestry premiums itself.
Chair of the Irish Forest Owners Nicholas Sweetman stated that Coillte’s moves will undermine already low levels of farmer confidence in afforestation, a confidence which has been damaged by lengthy licensing delays and missed targets.
“The announcement that Coillte is to team up with the asset management group Gresham House to buy thousands of hectares of new and existing Irish forestry is clearly not in the best interest of rural Ireland and will have a negative impact on recent efforts to restore confidence nationally in farm forestry,” Sweetman said.
A blow to confidence
The forestry group has claimed that the Coillte-Gresham House deal will have a “seriously negative impact” on the forestry sector and the objectives of the State’s new €1.3bn forestry schemes.
It warned that State funds will leave the country as a result of investor acquisitions of forestry land, as will direct farm payments linked to land sales.
Instead of this money going to farmers and staying in the local economy, the ... payments associated with the land ... will leave the country
“We had hoped that the new forestry programme, which was announced late last year and promises substantial increases in grants and premiums for afforestation, would re-engage farmers in forestry and entice them to plant,” the chair added.
“The financial supports for forestry in Ireland are paid from the national exchequer, and instead of this money going to farmers and staying in the local economy, the forest premia and single farm payments associated with the land acquired for planting will leave the country and go to corporate investors.
“We need to plant significant areas of land to meet our climate action obligations, but allowing a semi-state body like Coillte to promote selling land to outside investors in order that they can profit from Irish tax payer support for afforestation is absolutely not the way forward.
“Instead, we need to invest heavily in building a real and sustainable forest culture in Ireland by engaging Irish farmers and landowners and integrating forestry into every farming enterprise,” Sweetman commented.