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Concern have been raised in East Clare over Coillte's proposed Irish Strategic Forestry Fund (ISFF).

Forestry partnership plan with UK fund branded ‘bizarre’ 

PROPOSALS to sell Coillte lands to an overseas investment fund in order to meet climate targets through afforestation have been described by Deputy Michael McNamara as “a bizarre construct”. 

Under the planned deal, thousands of acres are to be planted through the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund (ISFF) launched by Coillte and Gresham House. This aim is attract investors to plant as well as acquire forests across the country to meet Ireland’s climate targets.

The Scariff-based TD launched a scathing attack on the deal. “It is a bizarre construct whatever way you look at it,” he said.

“To give State funds earmarked for environmental measures to foreign investment companies to fund forestry practices that are not environmentally appropriate is just baffling.” He noted that once the crop is harvested, those profits will go back to funds based outside of Ireland. 

Deputy McNamara accepted that forestry does have the potential to store carbon and to have environmental benefits, but he was adamant that Coillte’s practices do not. “The kind of monocultural planting they do is not ecologically beneficially beneficial or sustainable,” he said. “We know there is damage done to our water courses.”

Calling for the deal to be paused immediately, Deputy McNamara said it was essential that the Department of Agriculture examine the potential impact. “I am very concerned about this,” he said. “”Large tracts of land will be used by investment funds and it is ironic that this is being allowed under a Green government in the name of the environment.”

Deputy McNamara’s concerns were shared by Councillor Pat Hayes who said there is significant anger at Coillte’s deal. “The government is now deciding that having thousands of acres of land under forestry is the best way to manage it,” the Caher man said.

“This is creating a lot of anger, especially in the context of very successful agri-environment programmes like the Hen Harrier Project and the Burren Programme. These have been altered radically and rolled into the new ACRES scheme despite the concerns of farmers who are going to lose out on payments and will not have the same incentives to engage in as many environmentally-friendly farming practices.”

The Fianna Fáil members said people felt the deal would be detrimental for rural Ireland. “There is a crisis in rural Ireland and now the land is being sold out from under people,” he said.

“Word has started to spread locally and people are very concerned. Any acres that is sold, and there will be tens of thousands of acres, will mean that that land will not be farmed. If we are to continue having spruce trees planted, that will be the death knell for rural communities. I am very much against this approach.

“These organisations would be far better off working with local communities. I am not in favour at all of this approach and have told our Oireachtas members this. The best way to address climate change is to work with local groups and communities and incentivise things like organic growing. As it is, many farmers are looking to get out of suckling. They are now losing money at a huge rate and looking for alternatives.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin is among those to call for a review of the plans. This week Minister for Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue is due to meet Coillte over the proposals. Concerns have been raised by farmer representative groups including the IFA and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA). 

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