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Written Answers - Departmental Agencies

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 14.  Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy  asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney  if, in regard to any potential sale of all or part of Coillte, he can assure Dáil Éireann that each of the following factors are being explicitly considered by him in advance of any decision on the former, the potential role that Coillte can play in mitigating the effects of the State’s carbon emissions, the potential for private interests to become involved in the Irish carbon capture market, the potential loss of public amenity countryside and forestry-related tourism, the issue of harvesting rights; if he will list all other such factors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7200/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I wish to advise the House that no decision has been taken by the Government in relation to the potential sale of Coillte. As I have advised the House on a number of occasions, I consider that it is essential to maximise the information available to the Government in order to make an informed decision which will not compromise the State’s core asset, which is the land Coillte manages on behalf of its shareholders, amounting to some 7% of our land mass.

To assist in its examination of options for the possible disposal of State assets, the Government requested the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in consultation with relevant line Departments and NewERA, to consider a number of possible State assets for disposal. In addition, they will advise the Government in relation to the appropriate valuations to be placed on the assets in question, the most appropriate method of disposal, likely timeframe and economic impact of any such disposal, in order to inform any decisions that the Government may wish to make in this regard. Coillte has been included in that valuation exercise.

In addition to the economic aspects, the issues which the Deputy has raised are also important considerations. My Department is considering the role that Coillte’s forests, both pre-1990 (under Article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol) and post 1990 afforestation (Article 3.3), play in climate change mitigation. The potential for private interests to become involved in carbon-capture in forestry will be influenced by the upcoming proposed Regulation on Land Use, land-use change and forestry (LULUFC) which is being prepared by the European Commission following the conclusions reached on the matter at the Durban climate change conference. The role of Irish forestry as a carbon sink is an important current and future factor.

I am conscious that Coillte, as part of its management of some 442,000 hectares of the national forest estate, plays a significant role in the provision of forest recreational activities, Coillte’s forests provide a range of recreational opportunities for the general public continuing [102]a long tradition of open access to state owned forests. The company currently manages 10 Forest Parks and over 150 recreation sites throughout Ireland and has done significant work developing recreational facilities, with assistance for other state bodies such as Fáilte Ireland.

Such recreational facilities are very valuable resources in their own right as tourism attractions in the various regions. One of the conclusions of a joint study, undertaken by Coillte and the Irish Sports Council in 2004/2005, was that economic activity generated in local communities by visits to the forest is worth some €270 million per annum. Both in terms of their importance to citizens for ongoing recreation and to visitors during their stay in Ireland, as I have previously advised the House, any sale will take account of public access to recreational land.

In relation to the issue of harvesting rights, as I mentioned last October, one of the ideas under consideration is that a crop, or asset, could be sold through harvesting rights for the next 30 or 50 years, depending on how much value the State wishes to maximise. At the end of the process, the land would revert to the State, with a requirement in place for reafforestation. While the sale of harvesting rights is an option, I want to reiterate that no decision has been made on the sale of Coillte as a company or in terms of forest assets. The large-scale of Coillte land is not an option.

Other factors to be considered include strategic issues relating the forestry sector overall, implications for employment, carbon rights and the protection of the People’s Millennium Forests, some of which are located in the Coillte forest estate. I wish to assure the Deputy, and the House, that, given the wide range of issues involved, the consideration of the possible sale of Coillte or its separate assets will be detailed and comprehensive and that no decisions on asset sales have been taken by the Government to date.

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