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Clare TD probes controversial Coillte deal

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SERIOUS questions continue to been raised over Coillte’s proposed deal with investment fund, Gresham House, with a Clare Independent TD suggesting it represents “greenwashing”. 

During a debate on forestry, Deputy Michael McNamara probed the deal that is tipped to see forests acquired and land planted to deliver returns to investors and help meet climate targets.

“This deal has made people sit up and take a look at the role of investment funds in protecting or enhancing the environment, and at Coillte’s relationship with investment funds,” the Scariff TD said.

“Both are important matters to consider. A number of questions arise. Why did Coillte select Gresham House? What procurement process was put in place? Gresham House came up with a great blurb but it is not unique in that. Many investment funds around the world are into greenwashing these days. Were all the other greenwashing investment funds allowed to bid? If not, why? Why did Gresham House choose Coillte?”

Deputy McNamara was also highly critical of Coillte’s responsibilities to the environment. Using Dáil privilege, he said the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) “looks the other way” when the company transgresses environmental codes.

“It is easier to go after the small man than Coillte,” he asserted. “Forestry practice in general is undoubtedly responsible for a degradation in water standards across Ireland, in particular, in Clare,” he added.

“In east Clare, the Slieve Aughty mountains that I have mentioned to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, on many occasions, is heavily afforested, much, but not all, of it by Coillte. The local authority waters and communities office, LAWCO [sic], has carried out surveys into water quality.

“There is a marked degradation in the Bleach river, in the Lough Graney catchment all the way down into Scariff and the Lough Derg special protection area, SPA. There is also a degradation on the other side, in the Slievebernagh mountains, as well as in the Owenogarney river and the Anamullaghaun river.

“The Anamullaghaun river, I must declare, flows through a beautiful farm that I am fortunate enough to own. Freshwater pearl mussels, recorded there right up to the 1970s, are gone. Coillte recently commissioned an environmental study because of a project that it is planning to carry out there. It did not look at eels because eels are, of course, protected under European law. They did not look at it specifically because eels were found there as recently as a couple of years ago by Inland Fisheries Ireland. They look away.”

Deputy McNamara added that, “Coillte is not treated equally to others in any way, shape or form. Of course, an investment would want to partner with it.”

Responding, Minister Pippa Hackett said: “I believe it is right that Coillte, as the State foresters, should play a role in our afforestation targets. She described Coillte as “fully entitled” to enter a deal with an investment fund. “I understand from Coillte that Gresham was appointed after an independent procurement process; something that a Minister should not interfere with,” she said. 

Minister Hackett repeated that “the preferred model of delivering on our forestry targets is for farmers to plant on their own land”. A new forest strategy to 2030 is due to for publication.

Meanwhile, East Clare-based Andrew St Ledger, PRO of the Woodland League described the Gresham House deal as “barking mad”.

The group protested outside Leinster House last week to highlight  their three-point camapign to have the deal abandoned; to reform Coillte and develop a new sustainable forestry policy. The group has called for €1.3 billion in forestry grants and premiums to be invested in farmers, communities and the local economy.

To-date almost 5,000 people signed the organisation’s petition at Saveourforests.ie.

The League a not for profit organisation and previously campaigned successfully with Richard Boyd Barrett against the sale of Coillte.

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