No decision on the possible sale of Coillte's standing forests will be taken until a full valuation of the State body's assets has been completed, the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, told the Dáil last week.
Minister Coveney said a valuation of Coillte's assets was currently being undertaken by the New ERA unit of the National Treasury Management Agency, in conjunction with the departments of Agriculture and Public Expenditure and Reform.
The minister insisted that no decision on whether to proceed with the privatisation would be made until the valuation process was completed.
Department sources would not comment on a time-frame for completing the valuation.
Minister Coveney also confirmed that a short presentation on the role of Coillte and the issues that might arise from any disposal of assets was given to the EU-IMF Troika during their recent visit.
The decision to sell much of Coillte's standing forests, while retaining ownership of its 442,000ha land bank, is part of the privatisation package that is being introduced as part of the EU-IMF bailout.
Doubts have been expressed in some quarters regarding the wisdom of the move given that Coillte currently employs 1,100 staff and is a major player in all areas of forestry, timber production and other ancillary businesses.
Last year, Coillte paid a dividend of €10m out of profits to the national exchequer and it has been suggested that this could be increased and become an annual payment as an alternative to the proposed privatisation.
It is also understood that the Department of Agriculture has argued that if Coillte's forests must be sold then a significant proportion of the proceeds should be ring-fenced for forestry and other agriculture projects.
Minister Coveney accepted that the amenity value of Coillte lands was also an emotive issue and one that would have to be addressed as part of any privatisation process.
"The company [Coillte] currently manages 10 forest parks and over 150 recreation sites throughout Ireland and has done significant work developing recreational facilities, with assistance for other state bodies such as Fáilte Ireland," Minister Coveney pointed out.
"Both in terms of their importance to citizens for ongoing recreation and to visitors during their stay in Ireland, as I have previously advised the House, any sale will take account of public access to recreational land."
- Declan O'Brien
Originally published in FARMING INDEPENDENT
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