Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
311. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo did not get financial approval for the planting of forestry. [43696/10]
312. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the full extent of deforestation in the past five years to date; if he is committed to preserving our forests which are under threat of being privatised; the full amount of forest trees sold to date to the private sector by Coillte since 1989; if it is proposed to sell 10% or has that been sold already; the amount of lands with and without forest trees that have been subject to compulsory purchase order by the State from Coillte since 1989; the amount of land originally purchased by the State for afforestation using CPO powers of the 1956 Forestry Act, used to buy commonage in the uplands, that has been subsequently sold by Coillte for purposes outside the remit of 1956 Act; the amount of land that was transferred to Coillte from the Land Commission when it was dissolved on the same day Coillte was established by the 1988 Forestry Act. [43701/10]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): I understand that the estimated deforested area for the past five years, i.e. from 2005-2009, is 2,063.64 hectares. This estimate is based on felling licences issued and may be subject to amendment once the National Forestry Inventory is completed.
In relation to the preservation of our forests in the context of privatisation, I am not aware of any proposals in this regard. The Deputy will, however, be aware that a review of State Assets and Liabilities is currently being undertaken.
Coillte advise that it has sold approximately 15,500 hectares since it was established in 1989, the vast bulk of which was either un-plantable or poor quality, low yield class, forestry. I am also advised that approximately 3,500 hectares of this was sold to State Bodies.
In accordance with Section 39 of the Forestry Act, 1988, under which Coillte was established, the bulk of the State’s forestry estate was vested in Coillte upon its establishment. At this stage, it is difficult to differentiate and collate details of the lands acquired under the Forestry Act, 1956 and track their use and ownership over the intervening 54 years.
I wish to advise the Deputy that the Irish Land Commission was dissolved on 31 March 1999 in accordance with the Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Act, 1992, while Coillte was established a number of years earlier, on 1 January 1989. No land was directly transferred from the Land Commission to Coillte. I understand that the Land Commission had allotted suitable tracts of land to the Department responsible for forestry with the bulk of such lands subsequently vested in Coillte upon its establishment, in accordance with the Forestry Act 1988 and Section 39 thereof.
313. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his views on the fact that a person (details supplied) has a chairmanship in a private forestry firm which is interested in buying Coillte; the current financial state of Coillte; the position regarding the complaint by the Irish Forestry Contractors Association regarding Coillte; if he is satisfied that Coillte has disposed of its stockpiles of lindane and other chemicals as they are no longer permitted under EU environmental rules; if he is satisfied that the €9 million received from the EU and paid back by his Department has been used in the way in which it was intended and if he has confidence in the international forestry fund. [43702/10]
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith): I am not aware of any proposals to purchase Coillte. In relation to the financial state of Coillte, the company recorded a profit of €4.2 million in 2009 despite operating in a difficult trading environment. The company has recorded retained profits of €256m and eliminated the need for Exchequer funding for operational purposes. It has also funded a major programme of capital investment and increased the value of the forest and land asset through expansion of the estate, improved productivity and output and developing new added value businesses. The company advises that it is adequately financed and expects to record a profit for 2010.
I note that the Irish Forestry Contractors Association met with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 14 April 2010 at which they outlined a number of issues of concern in relation to Coillte following which that Committee then met with Coillte to inquire into those concerns.
Coillte Teoranta was established as a private commercial company under the Forestry Act, 1988 and day-to-day operational matters, such as the use of pesticides, are the responsibility of the company. The company has advised that it currently has some out of date chemical pesticides in its bundled chemical stores and that it is in the process of having the material disposed of by a licensed waste management firm. Coillte further advise that it only uses pesticides permitted to be used by both FSC and the National Authority, the Pesticide Control Service (of this Department) and that the company has not used lindane for over 10 years.
In relation to the ‘nine million euro’ to which the Deputy refers, I am taking this to refer to the premium payments previously received by Coillte, of which the EU element amounted to €6.3 million. Forestry premiums are a means by which landowners are compensated for the loss in income earning potential from the afforestation of their land. It should be noted that Coillte engaged in a significant land acquisition programme and afforestation in the period in question. The use of the premiums by Coillte, as in the case of other recipients, was a day-to-day operational matter for the company. As a commercial semi-state company, Coillte must publish an Annual Report and Accounts each year, which includes the Group’s audited profit and loss account, the Group and Company Balance Sheet, cash flow statement and other financial data as required under company legislation.
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