A Laois TD has launched a blistering attack on a local Minister for State over a controversial plan involving Coillte and a British investment fund.
The deal between Coillte and Gresham House involves the purchase of both planted and unplanted land from private landowners to increase forestry cover.
The deal between the two involves a new Irish Strategic Forestry Fund that is seeking investors to secure €200 million for the purchase of land and planting of forestry.
The forestry operations are to be handled by Coillte, while the land the forestry is planted on would be owned by the Fund.
The Irish Wildlife Trust has criticised the plan, with campaign officer Padraig Fogarty outlining that there is a fear any investor “will just want to get the cheapest land that’s available” with the tree species that produces the highest return.
And now, speaking after a Dail motion on the issue from Sinn Fein called on the plan to be halted, TD Brian Stanley has hit out at the Green Party’s Pippa Hackett.
This is after the motion failed because the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party TDs all abstained.
Deputy Stanley said: “I say to the Minister and the Minister of State that the proposed deal between Gresham House and Coillte is nothing short of a land grab.
“This time, it is not English landlords with an army in front of them clearing off the peasants but the Government, which is facilitating the transfer of hundreds of millions of euro to a British company to snap up large tracts of Irish land and to put it out of the reach of rural communities.
“See how this goes down in Camross and Clonaslee if the Minister of State thinks that people are behind her on this.
“The failure to meet targets to increase afforestation has been caused by the failure of the Government to put a proper framework in place and to sort out problems in the sector.
“The amount of land being planted has collapsed dramatically from 8,314 hectares in 2010 to just 2,244 hectares last year. We are way off target on climate and timber.
“Huge delays continue in obtaining felling licences and the Minister knows that. Some have been waiting for up to two years. We must do better.
“For commercial reasons, for the supply of commercial timber, for environmental reasons and to meet our climate targets, we need to plant a minimum of 8,000 hectares per annum. We need to increase the variety of trees that are planted.
“Coillte is a publicly-owned company. The Minister, the Minister of State and the Government are the sole shareholders acting on our behalf.
“As for the idea that the owners have no say, have their hands off the wheel, or are asleep at the wheel and cannot stop this, it is a ludicrous suggestion.
“This Government and the deal with Gresham House follows a pattern of moves by conservative Governments that use investment funds to control social housing and health services to run a lottery.’’
“They tried it with water – that was what they were lining up next – and now they are trying it with forestry.
“This is straight out of the playbook of Margaret Thatcher and the British Tories, and Senator Hackett should be ashamed of herself, as a Green Party Minister of State, to be going along with this right-wing move.
“People in rural Ireland and the midlands value semi-State companies.
“Alongside this, farmers want to be involved in sustainable and efficient farming programmes that deliver our needs in commercial timber and meet our climate targets.
“The Ministers must stop this land grab, implement immediately the recommendations of the Mackinnon report and a new forestry strategy, and start clearing the backlog of licences for forestry in the system.’’