Government shelves plan to sell Coillte harvesting rights

Merger of Coillte and Bord na Móna now a priority

Wed, Jun 19, 2013, 18:01

The sale of the harvesting rights for the country’s State-owned forests has been abandoned.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the Government will instead focus on creating a new company — merging Coillte and Bord na Móna — to develop commercial bio-energy and foerestry interests.

The minister said the decision to stall the sale of about one million acres of trees was based on concerns for jobs, public access and financial losses.

The sale had been forecast to make anywhere from €400 million to €774 million but a report by economist Peter Bacon found the sale would incur costs of €1.3 billion in profit flow and pension liabilities. In addition, Coillte would still be required to maintain forest lands.

It was also estimated that about 12,000 rural jobs would be in jeopardy. Mr Coveney said the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land on 23,000km of roads, environmental and social impacts and consequential implications for Coillte were all taken into account.

He said now was not “the appropriate time” to sell the forests. A future sale has not been ruled out with the Government saying that it will reconsider all options in relation to Coillte in 18 months time, once the restructuring and merger with Bord na Mona is complete.

One of the most vocal opponents to the plan, Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit Alliance, said the Cabinet decision was “stunning victory for people power and public protest.” He had described the plan to privatise the harvesting rights to Ireland’s state forestry as “an act of cultural and economic sabotage.”

Mr Boyd Barrett said the government’s u-turn was a direct result of the scale of popular protests and campaigning. Organisations such as Natural Resources Protection Alliance, the Woodland League, Keep Ireland Open and environmental, walking and community groups had objected to the plan.

The Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, which held a series of hearings on the subject, welcomed the announcement. Committee chairman Andrew Doyle said it was evident to the committee that the consensus was against the proposed sale of harvesting rights. “However there was a general agreement about the need for reform of the current structure as we know it,” he said.

Mr Doyle said he would now write to Mr Coveney asking that the committee be given sufficient time in September and October to discuss how the restructuring and merger should proceed.

Impact trade union also welcomed the news. Last month its secretary Matt Staunton told the committee that selling the rights would generate only enough money to pay three weeks’ interest on the nation’s debts while jobs were jeopardised, sawmills closed down and tourism dealt a devastating blow.

Additional reporting PA