Proposals by Coillte to work in partnership with Gresham House, a UK asset management company, are a major threat to rural communities and must not go ahead, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has said.

INHFA council representative for Leitrim/west Cavan, Patsy Daly said that many communities are dealing with the scourge of a failed forestry policy that has prioritised the interests of investment funds and multinationals ahead of local farmers and the rural economy.

This has, he added, seen local farmers unable to compete for farmland in their area as forestry premium and tax exemptions has given forestry investors a critical advantage in the purchase of land.

Asset management company

"In assessing the proposals by Coillte to partner with both the UK asset management company Gresham House and Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), it will provide Coillte, through these funds, access to State support through the forestry establishment grant and the annual forestry premium, thereby creating a land management and acquisition monster that no farmer can compete against," he said.

There is an urgent need to reassess this proposal, he argued and the INHFA is calling on both Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State Pippa Hackett to defer the signing of any agreement.

Particularly, he said, until such time as there is a full debate on the implications for farmers and rural communities arising from the transfer of national territory to a foreign entity.

"This proposal by Coillte should also provide a wake-up call to the Government and those promoting the investor-led forestry policy that continues to undermine many rural areas," he said.

It is time to change and implement a policy that promotes firstly, native woodlands and native broadleaves ahead of forestry mono-culture according to Daly.

Supports for farmers and communities ahead of management companies and vulture funds as well as a policy that will see trees as part of our farms and not replacing our farms are also needed.

This, he concluded, is a policy we can support and one that farmers and communities will support, but critically a policy that ensures our lands remain in the control of Irish farmers who are invested in their communities.