Citizens Assembly seeks review of Coillte amid concern UK land deal will hurt biodiversity

The Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity Loss is to tell the Government there must be a full review of the role of Coillte and the management of the country’s woodlands.

he move comes in the wake of controversy over plans by the state-owned forestry company to enter a €200 million deal to allow a private UK investment fund buy Irish forest and lands designated for trees.

Assembly members met over the weekend to finalise the wording of a second tranche of recommendations that they will submit to the Government in the next few weeks.

Discussions on forestry dominated the meeting, with many of the 100 assembly members expressing concern over the developments at Coillte.

After lengthy debate, they settled on a draft recommendation that the State must review the goals and operations of Coillte and the key piece of legislation underpinning forestry operations, the Forestry Act of 1988.

They also agreed the wording of another proposed recommendation that: “State-owned woodlands should be recognised and managed as a strategic long-term national asset for the benefit of the common good.”

They will vote privately on these and the other proposed recommendations and submit their individual votes by January 29 after which the final selection will be presented to Government.

The strength of feeling at the meeting and show of hands on the various issues indicated that almost all the recommendations are likely to be selected for inclusion.

If formally accepted by the Government, the assembly’s report has strong scope to influence future policies and legislation.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in a recorded address to the member, said it would be incumbent on the Government to provide “a comprehensive and reasoned response” to their recommendations.

“As members of the assembly, you have made an important civic contribution that I expect will lead to transformative changes in the design, coordination and implementation of policy,” he said.

“This will benefit not just the people of Ireland but the entire ecosystem that we all depend on.”

The weekend session was the seventh since the assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 citizens plus appointed chair, Dr Aoibheann Ní Shúilleabháin, first met last May.

During the sessions, they heard from more than 80 speakers, including scientists, ecologists, wildlife rangers, fishers, farmers, foresters, state agencies, industry and tourism interests and legal experts.

Recommendations voted on and agreed before the end of last year were wide-ranging and included a call for the Government to hold a referendum on giving nature constitutional rights to protection.

Other recommendations include improving efforts to tackle pollution, a 50pc cut in pesticide use, enforcement of all existing environmental legislation, increased funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, encouraging more plant-based diets and the creation of a permanent dedicated Oireachtas committee to oversee Government action on the biodiversity crisis.

In 2019, the previous government declared a climate and biodiversity crisis and the current coalition included a commitment to addressing the issue in its programme for government.

At the outset of the assembly, members heard that Ireland had little space for nature, with virtually no wilderness left and dramatic declines in the populations of birds, bees and other pollinators.


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