Written answers

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Forestry Sector

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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399. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether Coillte's plans for partnering with a company (details supplied) are in line with the plans committed to in the national development plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2441/23]

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Coillte is a private limited company established under the Forestry Act 1988 and is operationally independent of the Minister and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I am, therefore, not in position to comment on any operational issues relating to the establishment of the new investment fund.

The primary aim of the proposed new Forestry Programme is to enable Ireland to use its potential for afforestation to help meet its national emission reduction and biodiversity obligations while, at the same time, supporting the forestry sector and farm families. This is why the Government has committed €1.3 billion to this Programme, with substantially higher payments for farmers.

This is biggest and largest ever funded Forestry Programme ever introduced by any Government here, and it has been designed to ensure that farmers will be its primary beneficiaries.

The National Development Plan aims to support investments towards the realisation of our climate ambitions and targets including under the new Forestry Programme. However, the afforestation targets set out in both the Forestry Programme and the Climate Action Plan are ambitious and will require the input of all stakeholders.

It is Government policy that Coillte, as the State forestry company, should play its part too by re-engaging with afforestation and they have responded to this in their new Forestry Vision and Strategy. They have indicated that they will support the delivery of Ireland's afforestation targets through a suite of initiatives which will contribute 100,000 ha by 2050.

As the company is precluded following a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union from directly receiving premiums, they have indicated that some of the implementation of their strategy will be collaboration with third parties in projects.

Farmers, being our biggest cohort of landowners, will have the most opportunity to benefit from the new Forestry Programme and will receive 33% more premium payments than any other landowner under the Programme.

There is also a role for Coillte and for non-farmers in helping to achieve our ambitious afforestation targets, and the new Forestry Programme will provide for this too. This will include support for the creation of new forests in Ireland through the harnessing of funding and assets from private and public sources, including afforestation grants and premiums, to provide long term social returns for all stakeholders. In other words, where land is in private ownership, whether farmer or non-farmer, it will be eligible for grants and premiums under the new Programme, as is currently the case under the existing programme.

In conclusion, both I and Minister of State Hackett are aware of the ambitious targets we have signed up to in terms of afforestation. Farmers are the by far the biggest target and the biggest beneficiaries of what we propose to do here. Farmers will receive the longest premiums and benefit from complementary Basic Income Supports for Sustainability (BISS) in a way that institutional investors will not.

Our new programme is the biggest and best-funded under any Government and our focus is now is on securing EU state aid approval as quickly as possible in order to introduce the Programme as quickly as possible.


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