A Sinn Féin motion to Waterford Council calling for Coillte to halt its proposed venture with Gresham House, which would up to 50,000 hectares of land sold to a British-based private investment vehicle. The motion also called for the new forestry strategy to be published as a matter of urgency, for communities and farmers to be prioritised over foreign investment funds, and for immediate action to address the licensing backlog.
The motion was proposed by Sinn Féin councillor Conor McGuinness and seconded by his party colleague Jim Griffin. It secured the backing of all councillors with the exception of the two Green Party members who voted against, without contributing to the debate, proposing a counter motion or explaining their position.
“This outrageous deal would result in an unprecedented sell-off of a precious natural resource. It is nothing less than a corporate land grab to line the pockets of large institutional investors at the expense of the Irish public and smaller local operators.
“Government have tried to pin all the blame on Coillte but this only tells half the story. Not only was Green Party forestry Minister Pippa Hacket aware of this deal since March 2021, but the Department of Agriculture actually issued a shareholder letter of expectation to Coillte giving the semi-state company a clear direction to engage in a deal of this nature.
“My motion motion calls on Government to publish a comprehensive new forestry strategy that would support a sustainable approach that would empower farmers, public bodies and communities to play a part rather than enriching investment vehicles.
“Instead of selling off huge tracts of land to investment funds we should be supporting communities, farmers and the public sector to support our afforestation targets instead of frustrating, delaying and preventing their involvement.
“This Government, with Green Party Minister Pippa Hacket in the driving seat, has seen Ireland fall far short each year on its annual afforestation target of 8,000 hectares per annum. In fact last year the figure was just over 2,000 hectares. This level of annual afforestation represents the lowest level since World War Two.
“For some reason, best know only to Minister Hackett and Minister McConnalogue the rate of afforestation has all but collapsed since this Government came into office. Applications for tree planting has been paused, with no new applications being accepted by the Department.
“Some, including a number of local councillors, have tried to mistakenly blame Coillte for the delays. The reality is the responsibility for licensing rests entry with the two ministers.
“A cynic could be forgiven for thinking that smaller-scale and locally based forestry operators are being frustrated to facilitate the corporate-scale institutional investors.
“If we fail on forestry then we will fail on Climate Action. And, this government is drastically failing.”