Evidence from home and abroad pours cold water on proposed Coillte sell-off
The controversy surrounding the proposed sale of Coillte, or rather the harvesting rights for a period of up to 80 years, continues unabated.
There is considerable uncertainty and confusion throughout the industry, not helped by a lack of any clear statement by the Government of its intentions.
The fear at this stage is that if a sale is to go ahead, it will be purely the result of a knee-jerk reaction to the need to raise short-term cash with little or no thought given to the strategic consequences to the industry.
While the proportions vary from country to country, a mix of State and privately-owned forest is the norm throughout the developed world and the State is almost without exception the largest single forest owner.
Currently, in Ireland, the respective proportions of public and private ownership are 54pc and 46pc respectively, putting us in the same general bracket as countries such as Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands.
In Austria, France and Britain, for example, there is a greater proportion of private ownership, whereas public ownership predominates in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Switzerland.
Privatisation did hit the agenda in some of these countries in recent times, but these plans have since been dropped. In Sweden, 65pc of the State forest was privatised but was subsequently restored to public ownership. Last year a decision by the British government to sell up to 300,000 hectares of Forestry Commission land was rapidly shelved following a public outcry.
Proponents of a sale of Coillte's harvesting rights frequently point to New Zealand as an example of a 'successful' privatisation of public forest.