Controversial forestry deal with investor funds unlikely to be repeated, says Minister

Deal between Coillte and Gresham House is binding and cannot be reversed, Charlie McConalogue says

The Government will move to avoid controversial forestry deals in future such as the one struck between Coillte and British asset managers Gresham House, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has indicated.

Mr McConalogue said, however, that the €200 million agreement, which also taps into €25 million from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), cannot be undone as the contracts between the parties are “binding”.

Under the deal, Gresham House will manage the Irish Strategic Forests Fund which will provide up to €200 million to assemble a portfolio of 12,000 hectares of new and existing forests. An initial €25 million has been invested by ISIF, Ireland’s sovereign development fund.

The arrangement has met strong resistance from all political parties. Mr McConalogue and Minister of State for Forestry Pippa Hackett have both faced harsh criticism from some backbench TDs in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have described it as a land grab.


Speaking on Thursday, Mr McConalogue said the agreement was “not our preferred option”.

His Fianna Fáil colleague Jackie Cahill, who is chair of the Oireachtas agriculture committee, said such deals with investment funds to purchase Irish land were “absolutely toxic” to the farming community and many people in rural Ireland.

“You can’t stop an investment company buying land in a free market,” he said. “But for a semi-State company like Coillte to be facilitating and organising it for a private investment company is wrong,” he said.

He added that a majority of the land acquired would be existing mature forests, which would do nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr McConalogue has insisted the partnership between Coillte and Gresham House could not be halted at this stage.

“Coillte and ISIF have entered into binding contractual arrangements in respect of this initiative, which has commenced its work, the afforestation element of which is expected to last for five years,” he said.

He said the fund would form only a small part of the overall programme, delivering 3.5 per cent of the 100,000 hectares of new forests targeted up to 2050.

Some 100 people took part in a protest outside Leinster House on Thursday to oppose the deal.

Organised by the Save our Forests Save our Land campaign, it called on the Government to reverse the decision.

Speaking at the protest Richard Boyd Barrett or People Before Profit portrayed the deal as “a corporate heist” of Irish land and forests.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times