Ireland has agreed with the Troika (IMF/EU/ECB) to sell off state-owned assets, in an effort to raise around 3 billion €. The bailout agreement includes the sale of Coillte, the state-owned company managing Ireland’s forest assets (over 1 million acres). The agreement also includes the sale of Bord Gáis Energy (supplier of natural gas and electricity), power plants owned by the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) and the 25 % share of Aer Lingus.
Campaigners, such as “Save our forests.ie” are alarmed, claiming that public access to the forests cannot be guaranteed, since Ireland’s legislation on property does not include a public “right to roam” on private land. Despite the fact that ownership of the forests will be retained by the state, opponents to the plan state that private investors would find it costly to maintain access points and paths to facilitate public access.
According to a 2011 “Report of the Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities”, compiled for the Department of Finance: “While forestry policy was initially about producing timber, in recent years there has been a growing emphasis on the non-wood benefits or ‘public good’ forestry, including the role of forests in recreation, managing biodiversity, flood control and carbon sequestration. Currently, over 15% of Coillte’s forest estate is actively managed for nature conservation. Forests provide the largest outdoor area for recreational use in the country. Coillte Forest owns and manages 10 forest parks, 150 other dedicated recreation facilities and approximately 2,000 km of off-road trails.”
The Government insists that the experience of countries, such as Australia and many European states shows that public access is not restricted.
As Ireland plans to exit the bailout programme by the end of 2013, opposition to the plan also raises longer-term financial arguments, showing that the sell-off would liquidate a profitable state entity. According to a report compiled by an independent economic consultancy, the sale would cost the Republic of Ireland a total of 1,304 million €. This number includes the loss of over 2,000 jobs in the sawmill sector, which is vital to many rural and remote areas.