IMPACT trade union, which represents Coillte staff, today (Monday June 3rd) called on the Government to clarify its intentions about the proposed sale of Coillte’s timber harvesting rights. The union said that, while individual Dáil members had indicated that the plan is unlikely to go ahead, it was now time to end the uncertainty over the future of the company, which sustains thousands of jobs in tourism, forestry and the timber products sector.
The union, which has been at the forefront of the Save Our Forests campaign to prevent the sale, said the proposed sale would cost the taxpayer money and threaten rural jobs, tourism, and public access to Coillte forests.
Speaking today, IMPACT spokesperson Niall Shanahan said the union was ready to explore any reforms that could genuinely enhance the operation and profitability of Coillte and increase its ongoing contribution to exchequer funds. “Coillte sustains thousands of jobs in the timber, tourism and wood products industry, and returns significant sums to the exchequer each year. It is potentially damaging to the company and the industries it supports to have uncertainty hanging over Coillte’s future,” he said.
Coillte made a profit of €52 million between 2010 and 2011. It provided a dividend to the State of €10 million in 2011 and an interim dividend last year of €2 million.
“Coillte’s open forests policy provides a fantastic resource to the public, with 18 million visits to Coillte forests each year. Coillte staff are enthusiastic about contributing to and further enhancing this contribution to Ireland’s environment and economy. What we need now is for the Government to end the uncertainty, and announce a decision on the future of our forests” said Mr Shanahan.
IMPACT’s Coillte branch made a decisive intervention in the debate about Coillte’s future by commissioning the report by economist Peter Bacon, which concluded that the proposed sale would cost the State €1.3 billion – almost twice as much as it could hope to raise in a sale.
In a presentation to the Oireachtas agriculture committee in May, IMPACT national secretary Matt Staunton told TDs that Bacon’s report found that the financial return on the sale would only manage to pay three weeks worth of interest on the State’s debts. Mr Staunton described the return as “grains of sand in a desert of debt”.
Last year, IMPACT’s Coillte branch launched the Save Our Forests campaign and website, which won support from a range of community, environmental, sporting and countryside groups. The unions’ document, also called Save Our Forests (links to PDF download), argued that a sale of Coillte harvesting rights would “destroy the character and quality of Irish forests and limit countryside access for the general public,” while jeopardising jobs in tourism and the 12,000-strong Irish forest products sector.
This formed the basis of IMPACT’s lobbying and information campaign, which helped win broad political support to oppose the sale, which could see harvesting rights sold off for up to 80 years. Peter Bacon’s findings later undermined any budgetary or economic rationale for the sale.