A national asset
Having narrowly escaped privatisation under the last government, Coillte now finds itself in a far better place. The national forestry company, which employs 1,000 people and owns almost half a million acres of land, is expanding its profile to include wind farms and the provision of public amenities. In the past year, profits increased to €60.5 million and the future looks bright.
Attempting to avoid the attention of venture capitalists, Coillte has emphasised that its core purpose is to benefit the public good through the sustainable management of natural resources. In that regard, it operates 12 forest parks along with 180 recreation sites and opens up its land holding by creating public tracks, trails and cycling routes. About 18 million visitors use its facilities each year and bring hundreds of millions of euro into local economies.
The restoration of raised bogs in seven counties is also under way in association with Bord na Móna and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This EU-funded project will increase biodiversity, combat climate change and reduce the risk of flooding.
In spite of such ancillary activities, Coillte remains a commercial forestry company. Profits rose dramatically last year and more than 50 per cent of its sales were outside Ireland.
A Government plan to merge Coillte with Bord na Móna, which owns a further 200,000 acres of bogland, is on hold. Both companies are conducting strategic reviews to identify areas of mutual benefit, particularly in relation to green tourism, renewable energy, shared services and biomass activity. Between them, they own one-fifth of the land area of the State. The quality of the land may be poor, but the extent of the holding is remarkable and should not be valued on the basis of company profitability.
Coillte has plans to build six wind farms in the next three years and Bord na Móna is involved in solar power and biomass projects. Both are in the process of reinventing and modernising themselves. They should be encouraged to do so.