Deputy Sherlock outlines why he believes the Government should intervene to stop the controversial deal between Coillte and Gresham house
The Coillte-Gresham House partnership seems wrong on many levels.
It is an arrangement which, on the face of it, facilitates the expatriation of millions of euro from Irish taxpayers’ pockets into the hands of fund managers in places like London.
The pretence that the Irish Strategic Investment Fund will somehow yield a return to the Irish Taxpayer belies a deeper concern that fund managers in London stand to gain the most financially from this deal.
On that basis, let me state that we in the Labour Party vehemently oppose this arrangement. The taxpayer will not benefit to any extent from this entity and the language used to describe how much land will be acquired has varied from anywhere between 3,000 ha to 100,000 ha.
We do not know exactly how much land will be acquired. Moreover, as I understand it, the upper limit on how much land will be acquired has not been absolutely and definitely defined. Who knows how much land will be acquired and if it will have the effect of displacing farmers from farming activity?
This entity is hell-bent on acquiring as much land as it can grab and right now, neither the Irish taxpayer nor the Government has any say or control whatsoever. The Government was asleep at the wheel on this one. This would not have happened under “Old Fianna Fáil”.
It would not have happened on anybody else’s watch. The Government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party let it happen and did not put a halt to it. Now it appears it is signed, sealed and delivered.
It is an awful travesty that we would facilitate in this country a situation where a financial institution from the UK could come in and acquire so much Irish land or have the potential to do so.
It will walk away with the forestry premiums, let there no doubt about it.
The foresters are the people I feel sorry for in all of this, because they will end up being price-takers even though we know they plant all of the forestry in this country at present.
Once you start acquiring more land, you start acquiring control of the means of production and once you start controlling this, then you can set the price.
Before we know it, private foresters will end up being price-takers and many of them will become enslaved to this new entity. That is the danger I fear around what is being created here. It is a beast over which there will be no control.
It is a fallacy to assert that the creation of this Gresham House-Coillte entity is the way forward to achieve the 8,000 hectare afforestation targets to meet our climate change targets.
We know the national afforestation programme is carried out each year by the private forestry sector. Here you have a Labour Party Deputy standing up in defence of the private forestry sector because I see chapter and verse what it is doing on the ground in terms of putting plants into the ground and how they are trying to manage against the teeth of a forestry service that is, quite frankly, not fit for purpose.
The metrics are proof of that because only 4,779 ha have been approved for planting but 44,766 ha have been approved for felling.
We are cutting down more trees than we are planting in this country, and it pains me to say it, on the Green Party’s watch. That is the sad reality of it. The facts speak for themselves
The Government fell asleep at the wheel on this one. There may be hope for the Government to politically use whatever might and main it can to pull this back from the brink because we do not want a situation where taxpayers’ money by way of premia, ends up in London or wherever, on the backs and through the sweat of the Irish forestry sector.
Contact your government representative, be they in the Dáil, in the Seanad or in your local Council. Do not accept being fobbed off. Do not accept that their hands are tied. Demand better for our forests. Demand better for our foresters who are working on climate mitigation.
If the Government works with farmers and with the Irish forestry sector, it can deliver on its targets and within the means it has at its disposal but it must be looked at.
The Government must seek to revise and reverse this decision.