'Deere on the hills' - Photo by John Kilbride
Wicklow and the Proposed Sale of Coillte Harvesting Rights
There is serious concern in Wicklow Uplands Council regarding the proposed sale of Coillte assets. It is understood that, as agreed with the Troika, Ireland must examine the possibility of selling €3 billion worth of state assets. Over the coming months options on the proposed sale of Coillte harvesting rights for a period of 70-80 years will be presented to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin T.D and Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney T.D. They will make a recommendation to the full cabinet later this year.
It is unclear if the proposal applies to the entire Coillte estate or a portion of it and what, if any, constraints would be conditional on the sale. Wicklow Uplands Council’s position on this matter is clear - it is firmly opposed to the sale. It considers the 70-80 year timeframe of the proposed sale totally inappropriate. Conditions of sale cannot be assured for such a long period which could include the sale of up to two rotations of average yield class Sitka spruce. Furthermore, it cannot be guaranteed that any conditions of sale would remain in place throughout multiple governments which are likely during this period and the potential for the new owner(s) to resell harvesting rights would further diminish control.
Without a clear proposal, it is difficult to establish the potential impacts on Ireland’s forest and timber industry and on the general public. Wicklow Uplands Council wishes to put its concerns clearly on record as this proposal has the potential to have a severe negative impact on the local economy, local employment, on recreational opportunities and other wider public goods across County Wicklow. It has raised a number of key concerns from the Wicklow perspective and calls for full clarification on the proposal and a response from government regarding its concerns.
· The protection of local jobs in Coillte and the wider forest and timber industry.
· Timber supply to sawmills, processing plants and smaller operators which are a key sector of Wicklow’s rural economy.
· The ongoing maintenance of recreational facilities if the income from harvesting is sold.
· The ongoing implementation and resourcing of associated operations such as replanting, collection of illegal dumping, deer control and research and development if the income from harvesting is sold.
· Continued forest certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which independently ensures that Coillte forests are sustainably managed to meet the stringent environmental, social and economic standards set by the FSC.
Ireland’s state forests are a key asset which is most likely to increase in value over the next 70-80 years. Their value for production of forest products and renewable energy is likely to increase as land becomes less available and the world population continues to grow. A total of 21% of the land area of County Wicklow is forested in comparison with a national figure of 11% for the rest of the country. The Wicklow forest estate is not only a valuable resource; it is part of Wicklow’s heritage. It has been an important source of employment to generations of Wicklow families, a tradition which continues today.
In summary, it is not yet clear what is being proposed. This needs to be clarified before stakeholders can establish their position and an appropriate opportunity for consultation is provided. The Council calls for the conditions of the proposed sale to be clarified and made available to the general public as soon as possible.