Thursday, 19 January 2023
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
I listened to what the Tánaiste said about Coillte's liaison with Gresham House. I am not clear whether he is in favour of a review of this arrangement, but it was reported that he is. I would welcome some clarity on the issue, what form it might take and the timeline.
One of the arguments the Tánaiste and others have used to support the Coillte arrangement is that we cannot get to 18% afforestation without significant investment from investment funds, vulture funds or whatever other source. The Tánaiste said he might look at alternatives. We could reach our forestry targets if every farmer in Ireland with a holding of 50 acres was properly incentivised to plant 1,000 trees, which would be 1 acre, and every farmer with 100 acres was incentivised to plant 2,000 trees, which would be 2 acres, and so on, on a pro ratabasis. We could do it by proactively engaging with farmers, local communities, and public authorities on certain State-owned lands. Instead, we are doing what we have done time and time again: we are engaging with large investment funds, Irish and foreign, because it is easier. We tick the box, and we get it done, but we are ignoring the impact on communities and the negative impact on farmers. We are also ignoring the fact that the kind of policy being pursued will fundamentally change settlement patterns in the west, the north west, the south west, parts of the midlands and other parts of the country.
While it is a subject for another day – I know the Tánaiste is aware of it – the cumulative effects of this type of forestry policy, as well as the rewetting targets, both our own and those of the EU, will fundamentally affect settlement patterns in Ireland. Will the Tánaiste say if it is Government policy to do that, and let the people know? When certain events occur, whether it is land clearance, abandonment or otherwise, because they are driven by other policies that the Government pursues in forestry or other areas, it is the worst and most dishonest policy for the Government to wash its hands and say "it is not us; it is Europe or climate change". However, it is the Government that makes the decisions and is responsible for the outcome.
Another major concern is how this plan will drive up the price of land and make it unprofitable for any local farmer to purchase land for any type of agricultural activity. If the Tánaiste wants to see the reality of this, he should go to County Leitrim where the price being paid for land for afforestation already means no local farmer can compete to buy the land for agricultural use or for agroforestry, which is what I propose. We might as well put up a sign and say no locals need apply.