Coillte management is to meet with the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State Pippa Hackett in the coming days to discuss its controversial joint venture with UK investment fund Gresham House.

The Coillte-Gresham House deal was “not something that required for me to give approval for or that I gave approval to but I’ll meet them now to discuss it”, Minister McConalogue told Irish Farmers Journal.

He pointed out that farmers get preferential treatment on afforestation, with 20-year premium payments for farmers versus 15 years for investment funds.

But he defended the payment of forestry premiums to investment funds.

“For it [new forestry planting financed by investment funds] to be economically viable, they have to be in a position to actually be able to draw premiums,” Minister McConalogue said.

The minister maintained that the Coillte-Gresham House deal was “not something I’ve had a role in until now”.

“It doesn’t require ministerial approval, because it’s not a direct investment for me as minister,” he said.

However, Coillte managing director Mark Carlin told the Irish Farmers Journal that the State forestry body had been asked by Government to become more active in afforestation.

He explained that the various Government departments had been informed on an ongoing basis during the development of Coillte’s strategic vision to plant 100,000ha of native and commercial woodland by 2050.

“Throughout the development of the strategic vision, and then the various funds and vehicles that we have put in place for afforestation, we have engaged with the Department [of Agriculture] and the ministers,” Carlin said.

The Coillte managing director insisted that no Coillte lands are being sold to the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund that it has established with UK asset management firm Gresham House.

Carlin also pointed out that the fund will purchase between 3,000ha and 4,000ha of bare land.

The remaining 8,000ha to 9,000ha that the fund plans to acquire will be made up of standing forests.

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