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State Forestry: Motion (resumed) [Private Members]

Vote from 27/02/2013

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett on Tuesday, 26 February 2013:
That Dáil Éireann:
notes, with dismay, the Government’s intention, under the Troika deal, to sell the harvesting rights to our national forests;
notes that:

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Background information

The following motion was moved by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett on Tuesday, 26 February 2013:
That Dáil Éireann:
notes, with dismay, the Government’s intention, under the Troika deal, to sell the harvesting rights to our national forests;
notes that:
— Ireland’s publicly owned forests are one of our most precious natural resources and a priceless part of our culture and heritage, that must be nurtured and protected in the interests of current and future generations;
— since Coillte was created it has already sold over 40,000 acres of forest land; in 2009 it sold €33 million worth of forests, in 2010, €38 million and in 2011, €37 million;
— the national forests represent 11% of the landmass of Ireland, 745,000 hectares (1.6 million acres); and that the Coillte estate owns and runs 7% of the landmass, which includes maintaining 11 forest parks, 150 recreation sites and 23,000 kilometres of road- ways;
— according to the Irish Forestry and Forest Products Association (IFFPA), in 2010 Irish forestry and the forest product sector generated €2.2 billion in annual output (1.3%of GDP) and forest products to a value of €286 million were exported;
— the sector employs 12,000 people across the State;
— over 18 million individual visits are made to the national forest estate each year and according to IFFPA total economic activity generated by domestic users is an estimated €286 million and overseas visitors a further €138 million;
— in 2008, 517,000 tourist visitors participated in forest walking while holidaying in Ireland, spending an estimated €364 million;
— according to IFFPA, for every 15,000 hectares planted, 490 jobs will be created, indicating enormous potential for employment creation;
— much of the State’s forest land and associated industry and employment is based in rural Ireland and is a vital part of the rural economy;
— the percentage of afforested land in Ireland, at 11%, is well below the European average, representing an enormous unrealised potential for the State and its citizens to generate thousands of jobs and a reliable source of income;
— Ireland has agreed to the Europe-wide target of 30% forest land;
— a country such as Switzerland, which is half the size of Ireland, through prudent and sensitive management of their forestry, employs 100,000 people in the forestry and forestry related sectors, setting a standard that Ireland should seek to emulate;
— no other country in Europe has privatised state forestry or harvesting rights and higher levels of afforestation and related employment have been achieved where the state retains substantial ownership and management of the national forests;
— in Sweden part-privatisation of state forestry was recently reversed and the sector taken back into public ownership;
— in the United Kingdom recent proposals for the privatisation of state forestry were abandoned after there was enormous public outcry, leading to the establishment of an independent committee which recommended greater community participation and development of native species;
— there has been no consultation with stakeholders on the planned sale of Coillte harvesting rights and the potential impact of privatisation in terms of amenity loss, security of supply, environmental impact, job losses and other social and economic consequences;
— the intergenerational commitment implicit in the creation and stewardship of forests means that they are best owned by altruistic and long surviving institutions such as nation states;
— forests play a huge role in mitigating climate change and regulating the tem- perature of the earth’s atmosphere and, as a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland is committed to reducing CO2 emissions; and that Irish forests stored 2.2 million tonnes of carbon in 2010 alone;
— the specific habitats of Irish forests will be threatened by privatisation, and it is unclear how the Government intends to address reforestation, species mix, environmental design, forestry inventories and other regulatory environmental issues which, if not planned, will have a detrimental knock-on effect on wildlife;
— privatisation of some state forests in New Zealand has led to major problems with public access, job losses and contracting of the wood processing sector;
— the 745,000 hectares (1.6 million acres) of forests in Ireland represents an integral part of our heritage which should be developed and expanded; and
— the reported valuation by NewERA of Coillte harvesting rights of €700 million, which equates to approximately €580 per acre of trees, is almost certainly a gross under- valuation of these forests; believes that the commercial pressure to make immediate profits, that would be on any private investor who might take over the harvesting rights of Coillte, would critically militate against the imperative to maintain public access to our forests, to invest in long-term sustainable management of those forests in the interest of the public and to generate much needed employment; and calls on the Government to:
— abandon any plans to sell the harvesting rights of public forest lands under the control of Coillte;
— maintain Ireland’s public forestry in full public ownership in perpetuity;
— establish a major forum involving all stakeholders and concerned groups on the future of Irish forestry;
— rapidly accelerate afforestation in Ireland to at least the European average over the next ten years and to meet the existing targets of 30% forestation;
— establish a major programme of public investment and public works in Irish forestry with a view to creating jobs in this sector and boosting the ratio of forest related employment to forest acreage from the current low level to levels similar to countries such as Switzerland;
— put a particular focus on developing and expanding the cultivation of native hardwoods and developing local community involvement in the development of Irish forestry;
— improve the utilisation and development of public forestry with an emphasis on increasing our low forest cover with our native hardwood species which would help al- leviate flooding, maintain soil fertility and reverse the acidification caused by conifers; and
— increase the use of timber as fuel for local communities by coppicing; protect water sources; and restore rivers and lakes to bring back freshwater fish stocks.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“recognises that for the duration of the EU-IMF financial assistance programme the Irish authorities have taken, and will continue to take, all the necessary measures to ensure a successful implementation of the programme and to minimise the cost to the taxpayer, while protecting the more vulnerable;
- in this context, welcomes the fact that half of the proceeds from the Government’s State assets disposal programme will be available to the Government for reinvestment in job-rich projects to help job creation, with the other half, while eventually destined to reduce public debt, also being available, in the first instance, to be constituted as a fund to underpin additional lending into Ireland, for example, by the European Investment Bank, in support of further investment in job-creating initiatives;
- further recognises that the use of the asset disposal proceeds in this way, for stimulus and, in time, for debt reduction, will support economic growth and preserve long- term fiscal sustainability, including programme targets;
- notes the Government’s decision that the harvesting rights to Coillte forests be considered for sale and, at their request, the National Treasury Management Agency, via its NewERA Unit, has been actively engaged with Coillte, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine over recent months to examine the financial and other implications of a potential transaction;
- acknowledges, from evidence gathered from similar transactions completed in other jurisdictions, that a transaction can be structured in such a manner as to include provision for the maintenance of the Open Forest policy, reflecting public access to recreational land, the continuation of the existing replanting obligations and the incorporation of biodiversity requirements; and notes that it is the Government’s intention that similar appropriate provisions will be included in any sale of Coillte harvesting rights; and
further notes that:
— the process has also included engagement with potential acquirers of harvesting rights, when requested by them in accordance with the published Government protocol; and the two Departments and NewERA have also, when requested, met with interested stakeholders to discuss their position on the sale of the harvesting rights;
— the steering group, including NewERA, is working closely with Coillte and its board in giving consideration to the implications of a transaction for the company and also for the wider forestry sector, taking account of a series of reports commissioned by Coillte in 2012 from specialist external advisers; and
— as part of this process, the steering group have met with the Coillte group of unions in January where they outlined the process involved and received the view of those unions and copies of the report by Peter Bacon, which was commissioned by the unions; and it was agreed that a further meeting could be held as and when appropriate”
- (Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform)

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