Extreme opposition to a proposed afforestation agreement between Coillte and the UK-based private investment fund Gresham House was voiced in the Dáil today (Wednesday, January 18), with numerous calls on the government to step in and halt the deal.

A number of TDs and backbenchers expressed their anger at the proposed agreement, which would see Coillte manage up to 12,000ha of forest in Ireland, while the investment fund receives the grants and premia offered by the state under the national forestry programme.

Sinn Féin TD and agriculture spokesperson Matt Carthy, stated that the government is “failing drastically” on forestry, and that a lack of engagement with industry stakeholders has led to the current situation.

“Now, the answer of the government appears to be to facilitate the sale of thousands of hectares of Irish land to a British private investment vehicle.

“We’re told that the Green Party minister of state knew as far back as March of 2021 of Coillte plans to use such a private vehicle to acquire land, yet ministers have pretended that somehow they’re neutral observers,” he added.

Deputy Carthy labelled the agreement “a land grab” and said that it is not about biodiversity or afforestation for the investor, but instead is “all about corporate profits”.

“Government can, and it should, state categorically, that it will not permit the use of €2 billion plus of Irish taxpayers’ money to be used to facilitate this land grab.

“The minister for agriculture is the shareholder in Coillte on behalf of the Irish people, and he can and he should instruct Coillte to immediately stall this plan,” he added.

His calls were echoed by many other speakers including Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, who stated that there is only so much land in Ireland, and that this deal will “undoubtedly push up prices”.

“The government is subsidising this partnership, via its involvement in Ireland’s Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), to buy up land and profit from Irish state grants.

“This absolutely fires in the face of the concept of ‘a just transition’. If we facilitate this, we facilitate a land grab by international investors.

“Minister Hackett and others need to get involved; this cannot be allowed to happen,” concluded Deputy Whitmore.

During her statements on the Climate Action Plan, leader of the Labour Party Ivana Bacik also expressed disagreement with the arrangement and stated that she is not convinced the partnership will help Ireland to meet its climate targets.

“Private investment will benefit from state grants and premia, we’ll see more monoculture forests driven by a profit motivation.

“We cannot se how this will boost biodiversity or how it will enable the agricultural sector to meet targets, and indeed we just think it’s wrong for private investors to reap all of the financial benefit.

“We must intervene here. We want to see farmers provided with a new source of long-term income so that we can commit to sustainable and biodiverse farming and forestry sectors,” concluded Deputy Bacik.