Seanad bill seeks to align Coillte and Bord na Móna aims with green and biodiversity goals

Bord na Móna's mandate from State still emphasises its old role. Photo: Jeff Harvey

Caroline O'Doherty

AN attempt will be made this week to overturn the last-century laws that mandate Coillte and Bord na Móna to work against nature and the climate crisis.

Both state-owned companies have adopted policies that now differ from their original functions – Bord na Móna more so than Coillte.

By law, however, Bord na Móna’s primary duty is still to “produce and market turf and turf products”.

Coillte’s primary legal duty remains to “carry on the business of forestry and relative activities on a commercial basis”.

Following those mandates for decades has been disastrous for biodiversity and an obstacle to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Bord na Móna was until recently stripping peatlands for fuel while Coillte is still prioritising non-native monoculture forests for timber production over woodland management.

A new bill drawn up by Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins for debate in the Seanad tomorrow seeks to ensure the original remits are abolished and that any remaining unsustainable practices end.

Her Climate Action and Biodiversity (Mandates of Certain Organisations) Bill 2023 has the backing of more than 30 national environmental NGOs.

It also has the tacit support of Government as the coalition has an unfulfilled promise since 2020 to amend the Turf Development Act and revise the operations of Coillte.

The recent report of the Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity Loss also called for the remit of the two companies to be reviewed.

“The bill should be supported across the board politically. I can’t see a reason for opposing it,” Ms Higgins said.

“It would send a really positive signal to the public that they have been heard and it would send a positive signal to the EU that Ireland is beginning to move away from business as usual.”

The Government last year announced a €1.3bn investment in forestry over five years, with conditions that would require more woodland creation and preservation.

The European Commission has yet to approve it, however, after telling the Government that it didn’t go far enough as large sums of the proposed funds would go to support “business as usual/more of the same” practices.

The commission also said: “From a climate mitigation perspective the new forestry strategy is not ambitious.”

Ms Higgins’ bill does not propose ending Coillte’s commercial operations but says the company must “serve the public interest”.

It says Coillte’s principal objective should be “to carry on the business of forestry and other activities on an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable basis”.

It says Bord na Móna’s primary duty should be “to manage, protect, rehabilitate and restore bogs in the State”.

A commitment to a just transition for employees and communities where the company operates is built in to the bill.

It says the activities of Coillte and Bord na Móna must support the State’s objectives and obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

Ms Higgins said it was not sufficient that the companies create new policy when old law remained in place.

“Changing the law would be one clear unambiguous step away from business as usual.

“Instead of mandates for the turf business and the forestry business, this would be a mandate for nature.”

Dr Elaine McGoff of An Taisce and the Environmental Pillar, pointed out that Coillte was the largest landowner in the State, holding 7pc of the land, while Bord na Móna held another 1pc.

It was not acceptable that the law governing the companies governming such large tracts of land was out of date.

“Bord na Móna are changing their priorities so there’s no reason not to change their legal remit.

“Coillte are still operating within quite a narrow commercial mandate and it’s imperative that this is changed.”