30,000 sign petition against sale of forests

 

THE WOODLAND League community group says that almost 30,000 people have signed its internet petition opposing the sale of any of the State’s public forests managed by Coillte.

The not-for-profit organisation says it is “not convinced” the new joint programme for government is committed to retaining forestry company Coillte and its forestry stock in State ownership.

The McCarthy report on public expenditure had recommended the sale of such State assets two years ago.

The Fine Gael-Labour programme proposes merging Coillte and Bord na Móna to create a new company, BioEnergy Ireland.

Earlier this week, Mountaineering Ireland, the umbrella group for up to 300,000 hilllwalkers, mountaineers and climbers, called for a Government commitment that BioEnergy Ireland would be retained in public ownership, and that Coillte’s current open access policy on its estate would be maintained over the long term.

Mountaineering Ireland said it would “oppose in a most determined manner . . . any sale of the Coillte estate that impacts negatively on access and the recreational benefits Irish people have enjoyed over many years”.

However, midlands-based environmental group Just Forests said earlier this month that the Labour Party was committed to retaining Coillte in State ownership.

It referred to a statement on March 8th from Labour Cork East TD Seán Sherlock – now Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise – in which he said that “plans by the outgoing government to sell off Coillte have been scrapped entirely”.

“Labour is on record as opposing the sell-off of Coillte,” Mr Sherlock said.

The Woodland League’s online petition claims that the Government is “moving closer to a huge sell-off of the public forests, currently managed by Coillte to private investors”.

It claims that “an area greater than one million acres, equivalent to two medium-sized counties, will be lost forever. This will include some of our most valuable native woodlands, wild places and some of the last refuges of our native flora and fauna”.

“Interest has been expressed by Swiss finance company Helvetia Wealth – which owns the International Forestry Fund – chaired by Bertie Ahern, as well as the China Investment Corporation,” it says.

The organisation says it has “been consistently warning the Irish public about the proposal to sell off their public forests since June 2009”, and that Coillte has been “managing the public forest estate for the benefit of private investors, pension fund companies and developers, since 1989”.

Coillte said it had no comment to make on the Woodland League claims.