Irish News

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Sale of harvesting rights abandoned

Published 19/06/2013|17:20

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Simon Coveney said the Government will focus on creating a new company to develop commercial bio-energy and forestry interests

The sale of the harvesting rights for the country's state-owned forests has been abandoned.

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Simon Coveney, Agriculture Minister, said the Government will instead focus on creating a new company - merging Coillte and Bord na Mona - to develop commercial bio-energy and forestry interests.

The minister said the decision to stall the sale of about one million acres of trees was based on concerns for jobs, public access and financial losses.

The sale had been forecast to make anywhere from 400-774 million euro but economist Peter Bacon had warned the Government that this could lead to a loss of 1.3 billion euro over time. It was also estimated that about 12,000 rural jobs would be in jeopardy.

Mr Coveney said the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land on 23,000km of roads, environmental and social impacts and consequential implications for Coillte were all taken into account. He said now was not "the appropriate time" to sell the forests.

A future sale has not been ruled out with the Government saying that it will reconsider all options in relation to Coillte in 18 months' time, once the restructuring and merger with Bord na Mona is complete.

"As I have said, on numerous occasions, the Government will continue to proceed carefully with the finalisation of any decision on this matter as we are determined to realise commercial potential but also to protect the public value that Coillte offers by maintaining public access to its forests and supporting the broader timber industry," Mr Coveney said.

Mr Coveney said the Government considered a number of detailed financial, technical and specialist reports by external consultants in relation to Coillte before the decision was taken.

Richard Boyd Barrett , People Before Profit TD who has campaigned against the sell-off, said it had been a scandalous proposal. Several thousand people had attended protest walks in forests over the last months to oppose the sale. He said the decision was a "stunning victory for people power and public protest". "It is absolutely clear, as much as the Government may wish to deny it, that Ireland's public forestry has been saved from privatisation as a result of a huge campaign of people power," he said. "The minister said there was a plan for restructuring, so while this is a victory we need to keep an eye on what this means and make sure there isn't privatisation by stealth."

Coillte was one of a number of companies, including the Government stake in Aer Lingus and parts of Bord Gais Energy and the ESB, being suggested for sale on the back of the EU-IMF Troika bailout.

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