This latest report on the selling of our natural resources to help pay for the debts incurred by Fianna Fail and the ruling classes are now upon us and are imminent. The current coalition Gov are actively pursuing the sale of our Forests, one of our most valued natural resources which is essential to maintain our islands environmental eco system and habitat.
According to this report the selling of the harvesting rights cannot be justified on economic grounds. The report finds that the state would remain liable for costs of 1.3 billion, for example Coillte have debt liability of 172 million and a pension liability of 130.million, following a sale of the harvesting rights. To cover these costs the selling price would have to be at 78 Euros per square metre, the current price paid for Coillte supplies to saw mills has been around 43 euros per square metre. This means that instead of generating an income for the state a sale of the harvesting rights would burden a substantial loss to the state. If this sale proceeds it will lead to more job losses in the order of approx 310 from staff in the forest division and 45 job losses from support staff. The potential loss to the economy of these job losses would be 19 to 20 million and more importantly the loss it will have on the people and the community and the sense of worth.
Let’s look at the long term consequences of losing control of our forests and the long term environmental and social damage. There are many stakeholders in our forests they include rural communities in every county, the thousands of workers who work in the Irish forest products industry and the thousands more who work in the tourism sector who all depend on forests and forestry. Local and national groups, sporting and social groups and all the people who make 18 million visits to Irish forests each year. What about the effects this sale will impose without public ‘rights of way’ the access to our forests will have a devastating effect which is available to walkers, biker’s school group’s tourists and the general public. (Private Property KEEP-OUT) Forests store carbon, cleans the air, mitigate water movements, prevents soil erosion and provide habitats for flora and fauna. Most of these services have not been valued, but in the area of Carbon Capture, Irish forests planted since the early nineties store over 4 million tonnes of co2 per year. This creates a net saving for the Irish taxpayer of 44 million Euros per annum in Kyoto penalties. Who will be the gate-keepers watching over the environmental impact when the private harvesting of our forests takes place.
Coillte was created in 1989 and ‘gifted’ the land bank of the forest service (up till then managed by the dept of Agriculture). It was set up as a semi state body with two shareholders, the minister for Finance, Albert Reynolds holding 99 shares, and the minister for Energy Michael Smith with 1 share on behalf of the public. The land commission that was set up in the 1800’s to redistribute land to the people after the victory of the land League was dissolved on the same day and all of its remaining assets transferred to Coillte. There is no record of the size of this land bank or what other assets came with it, e.g. properties etc. One of the first acts that Coillte conducted was to commission a Geological study of the land beneath the trees. This study was recently confirmed to a Dail committee in Oct 2012, the results of which are not in the public domain. From its inception, Coillte was excluded from FOI (freedom of information) making it impossible to obtain information regarding its business, its employees operate under the official secrets act. This is bizarre for a company whose remit is the planting and growing of trees to increase the public forest estate and manage this gift wisely. Since 1989 Coillte have posted over 300 million in profits and today are carrying debts of approx 300 million. They have acted as the largest unofficial land developer in Ireland and have sold thousands of acres of lands including the 400 acres of land to facilitate the Shell refinery in Mayo.