Minister Charlie McConalogue addressing last week’s IFA AGM in the Lavey Inn.

Minister urged to ‘put an end to this madness’ of new Coillte partnership

“It stinks”, was Maurice Brady’s summation of the deal struck by Coillte and an asset management company.

The Cavan IFA Chair was addressing Minister Charlie McConalogue at the association’s AGM in the Lavey Inn last Tuesday night.

The matter was raised on numerous occasions at the event, which was well attended despite the hazardous driving conditions.

The minister described it variously as a “proposal” and “commitment option”, suggesting the issue wasn’t finalised. He added he would meet with Coillte to discuss the matter later that week.

Maurice Brady raised the topic saying: “The recent development by Coillte to get into bed with an English investment fund sends a very poor message to those already involved, or hoping to get involved [in forestry]. In fact I’d go as far as to say it stinks!

“The forestry programme has been dogged by delay and failure over the years, with felling licences and ash dieback problems but two examples. There is simply no way that Irish CAP funds - in other words farmers’ funds - can be diverted to premiums to go to a foreign country who are not even a member of the EU.

“I’m calling on you to use everything at your disposal to put an end to this madness.”

Cavan Forestry Chair Cathal Rudden, also raised the issue saying he didn’t want a repeat of the Scottish experience of this type of arrangement.

“That’s the worry here, if they get in, this investment company will have all. They are talking about buying ground to plant, they are talking about buying ground that’s already planted? Where is the carbon credits going to go? Is the premiums going to go to another country as well as the carbon credits?”

The minister noted the forestry policies they have pursued had been designed to favour farmers. They will get a higher premium of €1,137/ha tax free for 20 years for broadleaf native trees, compared to 15 years for non-farmers.

“The objective is about encouraging farmers to look at how they can, and you can, incorporate forestry into your platform.”

Addressing the same topic later he expanded that the issue arose out of Coillte’s attempts to resume their afforestation work.

“That’s something that they had done in the past and they stopped doing because there was a state aid ruling which meant they couldn’t draw premiums. And they have been looking at that aspect of it, and from what I’m aware so far, it’s a 3,000ha commitment option that they are looking at with regard to the arrangement that they have engaged in.

“That’s something that is within their individual mandate to consider that.”

The press statement released after Ministers McConalogue and Hackett met with Coillte didn’t expressly state it was a done deal.

The statement reads: ‘Coillte outlined to the Ministers its intention that the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund will plant an average of 700 hectares of new forests across each of the next five years, and how the total area of new forests planted through the fund will deliver roughly 3.5% of the 100,000 hectares of new forests Coillte has committed to enabling by 2050. Of the State’s overall national target of 450,000 hectares of new forests by 2050, the fund will plant less than 1% of that total.’

Any reference to the fund has been in the context of five years, not to 2050. Therefore the Celt asked the Department what percentage of the new forests Coillte has “committed to enabling” by 2027 will be delivered through the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund?

They had not replied by the time of going to press.

The Celt further asked the Department to confirm if the ISFF is now going ahead, and is not “a proposal” as Minister McConalogue described it in Cavan last Tuesday? Also, if either minister has signed off on the arrangement. Again they had not replied.

After the Coillte meeting saying Minister McConalogue said: “In addition to the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund, we have asked Coillte to consider the range of models it will use to deliver on its targets for new forest creation between now and 2050 including potentially working more closely with farmers or acquiring land directly in a way that supports the environment, the rural economy and farm family incomes.”

On the same issue Sinn Féin was due to table a motion in the Dáil last night.

“The Ministers for Agriculture and Public Expenditure are the shareholders, on behalf of the Irish people, of Coillte,” said Deputy Matt Carthy ahead of the motion. “They can, and they should, instruct Coillte to immediately stall this plan – Sinn Féin’s motion will give those Ministers a Dáil mandate to do just that.”