Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 17 December 2018

Coillte revelations have 'damaged' forestry: Doyle

Minister calls on Coillte to restore trust and blames 'legacy problems' for payment delays to farmers

Minister of State Andrew Doyle
Minister of State Andrew Doyle

John Downing and Louise Hogan

Forestry Minister Andrew Doyle has challenged Coillte to undo the "damage" done to the confidence of farmers and other potential tree growers.

Mr Doyle said the revelations of the past week over payment delays and a lack of contact by Coillte in long-established forestry partnership schemes had damaged ongoing efforts to promote forestry in Ireland.

"There is no doubt that damage has been done and there were serious legacy problems with Coillte.

"The big challenge now for the organisation is to resolve these problems as quickly as possible and that will be the ultimate test of them," Mr Doyle told the Farming Independent.

His comments come as the Government is to offer higher grants and premium rates for planting trees in a drive to increase afforestation rates to help achieve targets on climate change emissions. Ireland has fallen short of the targets of planting 7,100ha a year as the attention focuses on emissions from agriculture.

The Wicklow Fine Gael TD (pictured inset), who has a direct knowledge of the forestry business, said that the Coillte problems were "legacy issues." He said some of it was due to the recession and recruitment embargoes which reduced the numbers of foresters.

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"Maintenance is required, be it in land, machinery or business relationships. And it is clear that has lapsed in some cases. Now that must change," added Mr Doyle, ahead of meeting Coillte in the coming days.

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Coillte along with the farm organisations and a number of affected farmers are due to come before the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee later this month to discuss issues raised.

Asked if they feel it will damage the Government's forestry drive, a Coillte spokesman insisted commercial forestry "represents an excellent investment proposition" and stated it "constantly works to improve communication with our farm partners".

Coillte have confirmed they have begun a detailed review of over 600 farm partnerships agreed between 1993 and 2012, and expect issues with less than 50 partnerships.

Some farmers have complained that they have not received payment for thinnings. Coillte stated most of the agreements were based on thinning not taking place before year 20. However, it did occur earlier in a number of cases.

"During its review of its farm partners Coillte has become aware that in a very small number of cases, payments to farm partners have been missed.

"This is highly regrettable," it stated, adding that the cases would not exceed single figures. It has hired KPMG consultants to independently review how the farm partnership payments are calculated.

A helpline set up has received over 55 calls, with 25 issues resolved, around 20 on track and eight complex cases being examined. Coillte admitted communication has "fallen short" in the past and it will provide an annual statement detailing any payments made, due and the calculations involved.

Oireachtas Agriculture chair Pat Deering said the key issue is "transparency" and clarity for all involved in the partnerships, with concerns raised over non-payments in some instances. He said farmers would be able to air their concerns in the committee meeting.

Joe Codd, from commercial forestry company Veon, said they have been fielding a high number of phone calls from confused farmers after Coillte concerns were raised publicly.


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