Coillte privatisation decision in two weeks

The future of State forestry service Coillte will be decided within the next fortnight, the Dáil has been told, reports the Irish Times.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the final decision on whether to sell off the forestry service’s timber harvesting rights would be discussed by the Cabinet in the next fortnight.

There has been widespread speculation that the State will reverse its plan to sell the rights, particularly following comments in the Dáil last week by Minister for Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte, who said privatisation looked increasingly unlikely.

Mr Coveney downplayed those remarks and told the Dáil that “regardless of what other Ministers have said in this House”, he and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin would bring a report to Government on the various recommendations for Cabinet to decide.

He said “we are virtually ready to make a decision” and he acknowledged the need for a final verdict to be reached.

“Continuing uncertainty about forestry rights and the future of Coillte is not helpful to the company or the timber industry more broadly.”

Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman Martin Ferris had asked him to confirm Mr Rabbitte’s remarks about the receding possibility of privatisation. The Kerry North TD said “the strong opinion of most informed people is that the sale of Coillte harvesting rights would be detrimental and the wrong decision”.

He asked if the Minister accepted “selling off the most lucrative element of the harvesting rights is all that will be wanted by those who wish to buy those rights”.

Referring to Mr Rabbitte’s “increasingly unlikely” comments, the Minister said “while that may be the outcome, I do not want to predetermine the result of Cabinet discussions”. He insisted the Government had always said that in any sale process, it would protect the “public asset Coillte manages”.

He pointed out that selling timber futures or harvesting rights was very similar to selling a crop early, which many farmers did. The State was investigating whether it made sense financially and strategically to raise and spend the cash in the economy now.

“The process has been a very useful look at Coillte, its operations and the value of its timber,” which had allowed him to put together recommendations.

Mr Ferris highlighted the Bacon report on Coillte and the “folly” it would be for the Government to sell off public ownership of Irish timber rights to multinational speculators when those harvesting rights could be used to develop the industry. Source: The Irish Times