A damning assessment of Coillte’s forestry partnerships was delivered at the Oireachtas committee on agriculture on Wednesday.
In an opening statement on behalf of two landowners who are in dispute with Coillte, solicitor Donnacha Anhold claimed that his clients maintained that their plantations had been poorly managed, there was an absence of consultation, and no transparency around revenues from thinning operations.
The committee hearing was called to examine complaints from landowners regarding the operation and returns from a forestry partnership they entered into with Coillte.
Anhold pointed out that while his firm represented a number of farmers who are in litigation and arbitration with Coillte in relation to the performance of forestry partnerships, his statement to the committee related primarily to the experiences of landowners Geraldine Corcoran and John King.
The manner in which plantations were thinned was one of the main reasons why relations between Coillte and his clients had broken down, Anhold told the committee.
He claimed that thinnings sometimes took place too late, or not at all.
Where thinnings did take place, some growers had not received any payment.
In addition, Anhold told the committee that where farmers did receive thinning profits, there were no details or particulars provided to the farm partner regarding the volume of timber removed, the price achieved at sawmill, the name of the sawmill or details and particulars of costs.
He maintained that queries were raised on behalf of some farmers requesting a detailed breakdown of the thinnings, costs and profits.
“Coillte has classed this as commercially sensitive information and we did not get the details requested,” Anhold said.
The growers also alleged that there was a “lack of proper management” and forests were “not performing as they should”, Anhold maintained.
He said a “lack of engagement” and “agreed management inspections” had exacerbated these problems.
Coillte disputes the landowners’ claims and pointed out to the Irish Farmers Journal that the vast majority of its approximately 660 forestry partnerships were “working well”.