To: The Minister for Agriculture, Charlie Mc Conalogue; Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath; Minister for Forestry, Pippa Hackett; The Minister for the Environment, Eamonn Ryan.
We, the undersigned,
strongly oppose the proposed joint venture between Coillte, the Irish Forestry Board, and international private investment funds, led by the Gresham House fund, to buy up to 250,000 acres of land and forestry - an area equal in size to County Carlow.
This deal would involve the publicly owned State forestry company and public grants and funds being used to finance and facilitate a corporate take-over of vast amounts of Irish land and forestry by profit-driven vulture funds.
It will result in the further expansion of Coillte’s failed monocultural Sitka plantation forestry model that negatively impacts on farmers, communities, biodiversity, water and soil quality, and which has failed to advance the sustainable afforestation we urgently need.
Public funds should be used to support farmers and local communities to develop a new sustainable forestry model which promotes sustainable rural development and timber production, climate action, biodiversity, nature and the common good.
As a matter of urgency we demand the Government intervene to:
1. Stop this and similar Coillte/Gresham/Foreign Equity partnership deals & legislate to protect agricultural and forestry land from vulture funds.
2. Reform the 1988 Coillte Forestry Act to fundamentally alter Coillte’s mandate, as proposed by the all-party Joint Oireachtas Committee Climate Committee report rcommendations in 2019.
3. Develop an authentic Sustainable Forestry model that promotes community forestry creation, full public participation, afforestation subject to planning, increased farmer support with a full suite of agroforestry options and a Just Transition funded plan for forestry contractors/companies to move away from the current failed forestry model.
We call on the Government to take immediate action to protect our communities, farmers, and nature from the negative impacts of this proposed joint venture.
The proposed Coillte/Gresham House/Equity funds partnership could lead to an increase in the average cost of an acre of land for farming and forestry, from €5,000 to €9,000. Additionally, Gresham House Fund and other vulture funds, as land-owners, would be eligible to access Public forestry planting and premium funds, which are supposed to support farmers and promote sustainable forestry in the interests of the common good.
The proposed plan also involves the Ireland Strategic Investment Funds (Public Money) controlled by the National Treasury Management Agency, (NTMA). We believe that Coillte, as a public body, must be reformed in order to deliver a genuine 21st century sustainable forestry model that is focused on the public good, for communities, Farmers, and nature.
We are also concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in this proposed partnership. Gresham House, which manages €3.9 billion of client assets in the UK, Europe, and Australasia, is one of the largest global forestry asset managers by value, and the largest in Britain. Records reveal that a company called the Gresham House Forestry General Partnership (Ireland) Limited was established in April of last year with Pat Cox ex Fine Gael TD and MEP as a Non Executive Director.
The company has also joined the Irish Association of Investment Managers, which is led by former Fine Gael Minister Michael D'arcy, who was also a Minister of State for the Department of Finance, who are the main shareholder in Coillte on behalf of the Public with 99 of the 100 shares.
Furthermore, many regions of Ireland are already facing significant challenges as a result of current government policies pertaining to the commercial forestry industry. Farmers and farms are being displaced and their numbers reduced as land is sold or planted. Communities, Biodiversity, and wildlife are all being negatively impacted - the proposed joint venture between Coillte and Gresham House will only serve to exacerbate these trends. Young farmers access to land, is already an issue which this forestry plan will exacerbate.
The Gresham House Fund as a land-owner would then be eligible to access Public forestry planting and premium funds and would pay Coillte to manage these sites. 1.3 billion euros of Public forestry funds have been allocated by the Government for the next 5 years. 35 million euros has been raised so far in order to expand this Coillte/Equity Funds Land Grab Plan for 100,000 ha’s of forests which equates to 250,000 acres by 2050.
The Coillte forest Strategy plan initially proposes that 50,000 ha’s will be commercial Industrial sitka plantations and 50,000 ha’s of native woodlands but with no evidence of how this 50:50 strategy will be achieved or regulated.
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