We may be in debt up to our eyeballs, and then some, but one of the first things any visitor to Ireland will notice is the wealth of greenery we have. Our moody weather is the result of much grumbling and conversation on the part of the Irish people but it nurtures our beautiful landscape and, most of the time, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ireland was once said to have been covered entirely with trees and the modern day has left us with all too few of these. However, trees yet remain a large part of Ireland’s heritage and have often had pride of place in Irish myth and legend. In fact, it is said by The Living Tree Educational Foundation in Sneem, County Kerry, that “[the importance of our trees] can be measured by the great number of tree-based place names in Ireland - out of 16,000 town lands in Ireland, 13,000 are named after trees.’
So, when in debt, why not sell the country’s harvesting rights (the right to cut and sell timber)? After all, our trees are only part of our heritage and the source of 2,500 badly needed jobs.
The sale of the Coillte harvesting rights for an estimated €600 million will be discussed and voted upon by 9pm today in the Dáil. Irish Timber Council chairman, Pat Glennon, spoke out yesterday on RTÉ's News at One about the devastating effects that the proposed sale of Coillte’s harvesting rights could have on our already unstable country. He stated that the loss of these rights would put a staggering 2,500 people out of work and that a new investor would only result in the inflation of timber prices and the eventual closing of the 10 Irish sawmills to which Coillte currently provides 80% of raw materials. According to Mr. Glennon, the Exchequer will be the only one to profit from such a sale while rural communities will suffer because of it.
People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett has vehemently protested the sale on several occasions. The Irish Examiner reports Barrett’s impassioned words as he called the sale of the harvesting rights to 1.2 million acres of public forestry “an unspeakable crime against the citizens and the country.” In protest, he said that if the sale goes ahead, it will be responsible for “asset-stripping this State of one of its most valuable and precious resources in order to pay off the gambling debts of the bankers and the speculators who have brought this country to its knees.”
In a bid to ring the alarm bells of the Irish public, Barrett tells us: “Private for profit interests will have no commitment to the cultural importance of our forests, to maintaining public access, to developing the forests in the interests of the people and our economy or to their sustainable management. They will be interested in short term profit for shareholders – pure and simple."
According to The Irish Times, a booklet published by trade union IMPACT covers the many issues that may arise from the sale of the harvesting rights, saying that visits to Irish forests are worth €270 million a year and that the “consequences of ceding control of Coillte or its assets” would be disproportionate to what “is likely to be a short-term budgetary injection.”
The Irish Government may be hard up for cash but at what cost - are the government really willing to sacrifice our heritage for the sake of a €600 million which may buy us one breath only to choke us on the next?
A demonstration in opposition of the sale will take place outside the Dáil at 5pm today with the vote taking place at 9pm. Hopefully, the vote will show that the Irish Government can see beyond the euro signs to the welfare of the people and the land that they are supposedly governing.