The Department of Agriculture plans to review a sample of Coillte land sales over 2024, according to the minutes of a meeting held between officials from the two bodies.

Coillte can sell lands to “support local and national needs” which can range from local housing to significant infrastructure, or commercial development, such as the sale of lands to develop Center Parcs in Longford.

Land parcels being sold above €150,000 in value should be auctioned or put to competitive tender, unless the disposal is being arranged under “exceptional circumstances” in which case it is “good practice” for Coillte to notify the Department. The €150,000 sale condition was set out in the last shareholder letter of expectation issued by then-Minister for Expenditure Michael McGrath and Minister of State Pippa Hackett, but the agency has since moved to reiterate that this does not give ministers sway over its sale of lands. The January meeting heard that Coillte is to have further engagement with Department officials and the New Economy and Recovery Authority (NewERA) to get clarification on this expectation as a minister “should not be seen approving individual sales as this is a Coillte operational matter”.

Land use plans

The minutes also show that Coillte expects to publish a 10-year implementation plan in 2025 to outline the actions proposed under its forest estate strategic land use plan.

Coillte manages 440,000ha of land – around 7% of the entire land area of the country. This is approximately 44,000ha more than it controlled when it was established as a semi-state in 1989. Its 10-year plan states that Coillte is the largest owner of peatlands in the country, with 174,000ha of deep peats among the agency’s land holdings, 137,000ha of which are under forestry.

Coillte has committed to “redesign” 30,000ha of peatlands for climate and ecological benefits by 2050. A public consultation on its land use plan found a majority of respondents in favour of “rewetting or rewilding” peatland forests when they present a significant carbon emissions risk.

The forestry agency also set out its intention ?to engage with stakeholders around its options on farmer-led afforestation.