Plan to sell Coillte harvesting rights may be shelved
Senior Coalition figure says Coillte plan ‘not a priority’
People attending the “Walk in the Woods” protest on Sunday. Photograph: Eric Luke
The Government is moving closer to dropping its plan to sell off the harvesting rights of State forestry company Coillte as part of a privatisation plan agreed with the EU-IMF troika.
Certain Government sources are adamant that the initiative remains in the balance but remarks two days ago by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte are said to point the way for the plan to be shelved indefinitely.
Mr Rabbitte told the Dáil that the “mooted privatisation of Coillte looks more unlikely every day”, after which Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a point of saying the matter remained under consideration.
The stewardship of Coillte falls under the remit of Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and he is not expected to bring the matter to the Cabinet until Tuesday week.
In Government circles, however, expectation is building that the Coillte plan will be set aside. “It’s not really a priority,” said a senior Coalition figure.
While a potential merger of Coillte assets with Bord na Móna is also under examination, a definitive move in that direction is not imminent .
Amid public protests at the prospect of selling off the Coillte harvesting rights, there is a sense in Government that the uncertainty over the company’s future should be put to rest soon.
Last Sunday crowd of about 3,000 people – including actors, artists and politicians – gathered in Avondale Park, Co Wicklow, to protest at plans to sell the harvesting rights.
The march, organised by the Woodland League and the National Resources Protection Alliance, featured poetry readings and picnics and a tree was planted by actor Sinead Cusack. Singer Christy Moore played at the protest.
Of more immediate interest than Coillte in Government circles right now is the push to sell off Bord Gáis Energy. An information memorandum is to be circulated to prospective investors in the coming days.
The Government hopes to execute this sale – and the disposal of ESB power station interests in Amorbieta, Spain, and Marchwood, England – by the end of the year.
By contrast, informed sources said questions over the valuation of the Coillte assets and potential investor demand have emerged in the official examination of the harvesting rights.
While certain well-placed observers insist these issues are not insurmountable and that a reasonable level of investor interest could be expected should the sale process go ahead, others say the sale process is now very unlikely to proceed.
Five separate valuation exercises have been scrutinised by the Government, three of them by the NewERA division of the National Treasury Management Agency, which oversees commercial semi-State bodies.
In the Dáil last February, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said the official examination of the Coillte assets was complex and that the Government was proceeding with caution.
He said then that the Government must bear in the mind the need to ensure the stability of the entire timber industry, which was important from the jobs perspective, and the need to maximise the recreational and biodiversity value of Ireland’s forests.