Coillte, Bord Na Móna and other public bodies in urgent need of reform 

16 February 2023

In a letter sent to Irish Ministers and other elected officials this week, the Environmental Pillar, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Sustainable Water Network called on the Government to amend mandates and legislation to ensure public bodies are fit to deliver on Ireland’s climate, biodiversity, and water objectives. 

A lack of government oversight and accountability in the operation of public bodies is undermining Ireland’s response to the declared climate and biodiversity emergency. Recent public outrage in response to the agreement between Coillte and Gresham House PLC has shown that the State’s unsustainable model of managing public lands is deeply out of step with public interest. In response, leading civil society organisations from across Ireland have joined together in demanding that the narrow economic mandates conferred on Coillte, Bord na Móna and other public bodies by outdated legislation must be immediately amended and brought in line with environmental and climate obligations at national and EU level. The Environmental Pillar, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) have called for public land to be utilised in the public interest and that all public bodies be mandated to take the lead in Ireland’s response to climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Public land must be utilised in the public interest and the Irish people should have a greater say in how that is achieved,” said Fintan Kelly, Agriculture and Land Use Policy and Advocacy Officer representing the Environmental Pillar. He continued, “At a time when we are asking private landowners to do more in response to climate change and biodiversity loss it is critical that the State is seen to lead from the front. The untapped potential of Coillte and Bord Na Móna’s land holdings presents an unprecedented opportunity to restore nature at scale, delivering essential ecosystem services to society such as biodiversity restoration, climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as employment and public amenity. This is an opportunity we can’t afford to ignore any longer.”

Jerry Mac Evilly, Head of Policy in Friends of the Earth, a member organisation of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, said, “The imperative to reform the functions of Coillte and Bord Na Móna is equally relevant to the energy sector, in particular for Gas Networks Ireland. As the UN Secretary General has emphasised ‘Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness. ‘ Ploughing money into fossil fuel investments is not only fuelling the climate crisis – it’s also exposing the state to the risk of stranded assets at ultimate cost to Irish people and communities.

The Government should introduce amending legislation to ensure that GNI is no longer mandated to promote gas usage and further network extensions, while the functions of other bodies such as the CRU and ESB must fully reflect climate obligations and decarbonisation objectives.”

SWAN Board Member, Dr. Elaine McGoff said, “The actions of Coillte, Bord Na Mona, and the OPW, along with many other public bodies have a substantial impact on the health and biodiversity of our rivers, lakes, wetlands, and seas. Forestry is the third most significant pressure on our waterbodies and is a key contributor to the loss of our most pristine rivers, down from five hundred to just twenty in the last few decades. Considerable damage to our water environment is also being caused by drainage and infilling of our bogs and wetlands by Bord na Mona and others, along with arterial drainage works on our rivers by the OPW. Wetland protection and restoration are recognised as key to solving our water, biodiversity and climate crises.

If we are serious about improving water quality, the protection and restoration of our natural systems must be made core obligations for these public bodies by amending their legal mandates.” 

Coillte is the largest landowner in the Irish State, managing 7% of Ireland’s land area. It controls approximately half of Irish forestry and owns 232,500 ha of peatlands, making them the largest owner of peatland habitat in Ireland. Bord na Móna manages an additional 1% of Ireland’s land area. This public land has massive potential for nature restoration and the State must do more to ensure that Coillte and Bord Na Móna take the lead in the national response to the biodiversity and climate crisis.

The joint letter from the Environmental Pillar, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Sustainable Water Network is available here.

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