The Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has called on Fine Gael and Labour to honour their pre-election pledge not to sell off Coillte to private investors. During a debate on Coillte, Deputy Ferris quoted from Labour’s Seán Sherlock and Fine Gael’s Andrew Doyle who during the election campaign in 2011 assured voters that no such sale would take place.
Deputy Ferris said: “Deputy Sherlock rightly asked, and I quote: ‘Do we really want to end up in a situation where this for-profit company could turn around and do whatever it feels like with a natural resource that rightly belongs to the Irish people, including many of our forests, rivers and lakes?’
“If he still feels that way, he knows what he should do.
“The same applies to other government TDs who were responding to my revelation that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was involved with a company that has expressed an interest in acquiring either forestry harvesting rights or even Coillte land.
“As the Bacon Report concluded, the sale of forestry harvesting rights would ‘in effect bring an end to Coillte as a commercial entity’. Not only would such a sale be financially bad: entailing a loss of €1.3 billion, but it would also hardly make sense to have Coillte remain in existence at all if the objective is to realise value from such a sale.
“The clear implication is that a sale of harvesting rights is in effect the first step in full privatisation. It also has massive implications for other uses of the seven per cent of the state’s land that is under Coillte stewardship.
“What for example will happen to any mineral deposits under Coillte land? There was a geological survey conducted some years ago but Coillte are very coy with regards to what it revealed. When I raised this before Christmas at a Committee meeting I was told by Coillte that they have a ‘ball park’ notion of where potentially valuable mineral deposits are to be found.
“I wonder do some of the potential privateers also have a similar ‘ball park’ notion, and is that one of the motives for wanting to gain access to Coillte lands? No doubt certain people know more about those potential deposits than any of the rest of us.”