Merger with Bord na Mona will jeopardise Coillte’s forestry, environmental and social operations

Tuesday 19th November 2013

A merger of Bord na Mona and Coillte would leave the state forestry company as a small and relatively weak voice within a much larger company focused heavily on energy production, according to IMPACT. The union fears that a rebalancing of company priorities following a merger would likely divert wood to energy usage rather than maintaining its most economically-advantageous use. This would seriously weaken Coillte’s economic base with consequences for its ability to sustain its social and environmental functions, including access to state forests for recreation and tourism.

In a paper called Coillte: The way forward , published today (Tuesday), IMPACT’s Coillte Branch says that, following a merger, pressure will immediately fall on Coillte to provide wood biomass for Bord na Mona’s electricity generation operation, which is required by regulation to guarantee that biomass products make up 30% or 300,000 tonnes of its fuel by 2015.

The union says it would be impossible to meet the demand for biomass in Bord na Mona’s peat burning power station without compromising over 100 jobs in two Coillte panel board processing plants in Clonmel and Waterford. Thinnings from Coillte forests also support many jobs in the private wood products sector and fulfil an ever-increasing demand for firewood.

The union therefore fears that a merged company would divert substantial amounts of higher-grade timber to energy generation, with significant adverse effects on Coillte’s forestry, environmental and social operations.

IMPACT national secretary Matt Staunton said: “If Coillte activity is rebalanced in this way, the economic return from the public forest will be weakened. The social and environmental benefits will then diminish because they are sustained by the economic return from forestry operations. Irish forest output should generate the highest possible value economically, environmentally and socially. This will not be the case if there is a rebalancing in favour or energy production, which would be virtually inevitable in merged company.”

Last year Coillte made an operating profit of €35 million and returned a €2 million dividend to the state. The company exports products to 32 countries and generated revenues of €11 million on new product lines last year. Irish forestry currently employs 12,000 people and generates €2.2 billion of activity and €286 million of exports a year. Eighteen million visits to Irish forests each year generate €270 million annually to local economies.

IMPACT’s Coillte Branch has successfully campaigned against the sale of Coillte forest harvesting rights. It’s publication Save Our Forests  set out the economic, environmental and social benefits provided by the company. It also commissioned an economic assessment of the proposal by economist Peter Bacon, which concluded that a sale of Coillte harvesting rights was not justifiable on economic grounds and would cost the State €1.3 billion.