By Joe Barrett
Speaking in the Dáil on a Sinn Féin proposal on Tuesday 24 January that instructed the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Senator Pippa Hackett to halt immediately Coillte’s proposed venture with the British based investment fund Gresham House, local TD Brian Stanley described it as nothing short of a land-grab.
The proposed venture between Gresham Hose and Coillte sees the investment fund supply the capital needed to create new forests with the state owned Coillte providing the expertise to manage the estate.
There has been unease in many rural and forested areas around the country since the proposed venture was announced.
In his speech in the Dáil on Tuesday Deputy Stanley said that the proposed deal between Gresham House and Coillte, “is nothing short of a land grab. This time, it is not English landlords with an army in front of them clearing off the peasants but the Government, which is facilitating the transfer of hundreds of millions of euros to a British company to snap up large tracts of Irish land and to put it out of the reach of rural communities.
“See how this goes down in Camross and Clonaslee if the Minister of State thinks that people are behind her on this.’’
He said: “The failure to meet targets to increase afforestation has been caused by the failure of the Government to put a proper framework in place and to sort out problems in the sector. The amount of land being planted has collapsed dramatically from 8,314 hectares in 2010 to just 2,244 hectares last year. We are way off target on climate and timber.
“Huge delays continue in obtaining felling licences and the Minister knows that. Some have been waiting for up to two years. We must do better. For commercial reasons, for the supply of commercial timber, for environmental reasons and to meet our climate targets, we need to plant a minimum of 8,000 hectares per annum. We need to increase the variety of trees that are planted.’’
“Coillte is a publicly owned company. The Minister, the Minister of State and the Government are the sole shareholders acting on our behalf. As for the idea that the owners have no say, have their hands off the wheel, or are asleep at the wheel and cannot stop this, it is a ludicrous suggestion. This Government and the deal with Gresham House follow a pattern of moves by conservative Governments that use investment funds to control social housing and health services to run a lottery.
“They tried it with water – that was what they were lining up next – and now they are trying it with forestry. This is straight out of the playbook of Margaret Thatcher and the British Tories, and Senator Hackett should be ashamed of herself, as a Green Party Minister of State, to be going along with this right-wing move.”
“People in rural Ireland and the midlands value semi-state companies. Alongside this, farmers want to be involved in sustainable and efficient farming programmes that deliver our needs in commercial timber and meet our climate targets. The Ministers must stop this land grab and start clearing the backlog of licences for forestry in the system.”
Following the Sinn Féin proposal being passed by the Dáil, Deputy Stanley said: “The Government should now respect the democratic mandate they now have.”