Opportunity and danger in plan for Coillte
Despite farmers overtaking the semi-State body in the amount of trees planted, seeing its forests put into private ownership could pose problems
According to my dictionary, a red herring is the term used to describe "an irrelevant distraction". It's hard to think of a more apt description for the recent furore over the rumoured sale of Coillte's lands than just that, an irrelevant distraction which did, however, promote some good discussion regarding the future of the company.
It all began with Colm McCarthy's Bord Snip Nua report, which suggested that the sale of some State assets was desirable and this, in turn, fuelled the rumour machine.
Fine Gael had stated its intentions for Coillte quite clearly in its election manifesto and proposed a merger with Bord na Mona.
Furthermore, I am sure Labour would dislike the thought of any semi-State company being sold to the highest bidder. Apart altogether from the politics of the issue and the dislike socialists might have for private ownership, the land under Coillte's management belongs to you and me.
Everything in State ownership is, of course, owned by the taxpayers of Ireland and I doubt if, deep down, any of us would like to see 7pc of the Republic of Ireland's land mass in the control of a foreign multinational.
The public's perception of Coillte is a bit like their feelings about Marmite. You either love it or hate it -- and a lot depends on who you are talking to.
Some are unhappy with the return we are getting from this huge land resource of well over 1m acres and question Coillte's commitment, especially in recent years, towards replanting those parts of its land which have perhaps suffered fire damage or simply been clearfelled.
It is generally understood that Coillte's primary function was, and is, to grow trees and to keep on increasing the planted area, not to leave land idle or sell bits of it for wind farms and other developments.