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 Header Item Forestry Sector (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Leaders' Questions

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 775 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] We need to do a series of other things to ensure we minimise job losses from this potential sale. That process is being worked through with the company and NewERA and we will seek any other advice we need to ensure we can do this in the most effective way next year to realise the full value of the asset and also to protect the public interest linked with it.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Has Coillte been consulted on this issue? What is its advice about the desirability of the Government policy in this regard? The Minister says the crop will strategically stay in ownership, but it will not. The most important thing in the forest is the crop which will not strategically stay in ownership. The Minister will be aware that, remarkably, our major mills are still at full production, despite the downturn in building here. This is because of the co-operation between Coillte Teoranta and the mills at the time of crisis when the housing market and the building sector collapsed. Is the Minister satisfied that if the crop was sold and there was a similar difficulty, we would have a similar happy result in the milling industry? If the Government sells the crop, who will have responsibility for replanting? What arrangements will be made and what consideration will be given to the impact of selling the crop and having harvesting activities outside of Coillte's control on rural recreational activities since some 45% of way-marked ways are through Coillte land? Will the Minister indicate what is the expected gross return for the crop? In other words, what is the total amount of money the Government expects to receive for the crop? Have discussions taken place with the troika about finding alternative ways to raise the same amount of money, as the Minister used to ask when in opposition?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney That is a series of valid questions. The Deputy is correct in respect of the mills in that most commercial mills are at full production. Many of them obtain 80% or more of their timber from Coillte forests and many have long-term supply contracts in place with Coillte. We will need to protect these supply contracts to ensure that if the forest, not land, ownership structure changes, one can stitch it into any sales process. This has been done successfully in other parts of the world. If we cannot do this, naturally we will have difficulties. I am not in the business of supporting any process that would put the timber sector out of business, an industry that has survived through a rather different building recession in Ireland.

On the management of the crop, it may well be the case that Coillte will continue to manage its forests, but it will no longer own them on behalf of the State. A series of financing models for any new ownership structure may be considered, but one may find that at the end of the process, if it is concluded successfully, Coillte will be essentially on a contract to manage the 1 million hectares or so of trees and more or less continue what it does, except that its management could be obliged to have a commercial relationship with the new owner. I would be slow to move away from the current replanting obligation, whereby Coillte plants approximately 15 million trees per year. In other words, when Coillte harvests them, it must replace the crop by planting. I expect any new owner to have the same obligation.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív What is the amount of money involved?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The valuations have differed. In truth, we will not know what the amount of money is until we go to the market, but the most recent valuation through NewERA is between €400 million and €600 million.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I regret I do not have time to call other Deputies, but I hope we will return to this issue.

Topical Issue Matters

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 27A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Brendan Griffin - the threatened loss of 30 jobs at Simpson Strongtie, Killorglin, County Kerry; (2) Deputy Jim Daly - the need, in the interests of the safety of road users, to deal with unmaintained roadside verges; (3) Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan - the further delay in publishing the report on State involvement in the Magdalen laundries; (4) Deputy Michael McGrath - the investigation by NAMA into the purchase of one of the agency's properties by a former employee and the removal of confidential information; (5) Deputy Peadar Tóibín - the suggested cutbacks to health services in the north-east region; (6) Deputy Regina Doherty - the delay in reconnecting electricity customers who have had their service cut off; (7) Deputy Pearse Doherty - the need to reinstate the children and adolescent mental health outreach services in Dungloe, Killybegs, Ballybofey and Buncrana, County Donegal; (8) Deputy Brian Stanley - the impact of the industrial dispute at Laois Vocational Education Committee; (9) Deputy Willie O'Dea - the future of St. Enda's community school, Limerick; (10) Deputy Catherine Murphy - the delay in awarding back-to-education allowances; (11) Deputy Billy Kelleher - the impact of the current budget deficit at Beaumont Hospital on services; (12) Deputy Patrick O'Donovan - the need to update the processing system for payments in the Department of Social Protection and allow for the sharing of information with other State bodies; (13) Deputy Thomas P. Broughan - the need to provide an update on the implementation of recommendations made in the pyrite report; (14) Deputy Patrick Nulty - the need for a statement on recent serious incidents of so-called gangland crime; (15) Deputy Dessie Ellis - the closure of Santry post office, Dublin 9; (16) Deputy Clare Daly - the incidence of violent crime and home invasion perpetrated recently against elderly people in rural areas; (17) Deputy Joan Collins - the plight of workers at M&J Gleeson, Cherry Orchard Industrial Estate, Dublin; (18) Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin - the selection criteria used to decide on the locations of the priority primary care centres as announced on 17 July 2012; (19) Deputy Jerry Buttimer - the need to prioritise householders when considering requests from energy providers to increase prices; (20) Deputy Mick Wallace - the increase in public transport fares; (21) Deputy Seán Kyne - the introduction of a levy or toll for trucks and lorries entering the State; and (22) Deputy Charles Flanagan - the need to review the arrangements for school transport serving Heywood College, County Laois.

  The matters raised by Deputies Michael McGrath, Regina Doherty, Thomas P. Broughan and Charles Flanagan have been selected for discussion.

Leaders' Questions

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall, teams from the HSE and the Department of Health and the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, agreed an objective set of criteria, internationally recognised, relating to urban and rural deprivation to be used in selecting primary care centres. They decided to select 20. However, behind the back of the Minister of State and parallel with all of this, the Minister seemed to have a different thought process entirely. After consulting Cabinet colleagues, he took a unilateral decision to add a further 15 to the 20, including two in his constituency. He published no criteria or provided no evidence base to justify this unilateral decision.

Public private partnerships have a significant commercial dimension. They involve general practitioners, allied health professionals, therapists and so forth. For this reason, above and beyond anything else, there must be objective criteria, fairness and transparency because various interests and consortia are entitled to bid and tender for such centres and projects. Is it appropriate that a Minister should ride roughshod over existing agreements and criteria and take decisions unilaterally which can benefit private sector interests? These are multi-million pound ventures with profit as a desired objective. There is nothing wrong with making a profit, but that is the key ingredient in this issue. It is equivalent to tendering, which is the reason Ministers should be at one remove from such decisions. Did the Minister know at the time of his decision who the preferred bidder for the Balbriggan site was? Was this disclosed?

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has described this as stroke politics. Others have described it as naked clientelism, but I am saying it is more than this. The commercial private sector dimension is significant, which is why the Minister is wrong in the decision he took. Does the Taoiseach agree that the Minister's actions were inappropriate and unacceptable?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Primary care development is a fundamental part of the strategy to reform the health sector. Clearly, primary care centres have enormous capacity to take people in, rather than having them go to accident and emergency units in the first place. Given the range of facilities that can, should and will be provided in primary care centres, they are important. There were broader criteria used than just the deprivation index in the selection of primary care centres. The criteria also included the impact on acute services in hospitals, competition and GP co-operation. The Minister and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform accepted that competition was required to ensure there would be a cost-effective GP buy-in and on that basis the number of potential primary care centre locations was determined.

It is important to note that this is part of the overall stimulus package announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform some time ago, which included expenditure in the areas of road development, schools and primary care centres.

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