Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy, met with the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Andrew McDowell, last Thursday to raise concerns directly regarding the EIB low-cost loan scheme to investors for the purchase of land for forestry. Carthy informed the senior EIB representative of the negative implications of such schemes in parts of his constituency, particularly Leitrim and surrounding counties.
Speaking following the meeting, Carthy said:
“Last year, the EIB announced that it was backing a new initiative with the Ireland strategic Investment Fund to push for new investment in privately owned forests across Ireland. The fund is worth €112m and is managed by Dasos, a Finnish Capital Investment firm.
“My meeting with Andrew McDowell, Vice President of the EIB, was about setting out in clear terms the often negative effect large scale private investment portfolios in forestry are having on rural populations.
“These low cost loans are offered to foreign investors to aid direct land acquisition, lease contracts and the afforestation of professionally managed land parcels.
“The impact of these schemes is threefold. First, it takes land out of local ownership. Second, it is hindering the possibility of local farmers to be able to expand. And finally the presence of these foreign commercial investors, who also benefit from 100% exchequer funded forest premiums, are driving up local land prices.
“I explained the issues on the ground in counties such as Leitrim to Mr McDowell, making it very clear that the presence of investors and speculators is having a damaging effect on local communities.
“I also questioned the Vice-President on the outworkings of the scheme as it currently stands. Parliamentary Questions and letters I have sent to the Minister asking for the exact figures in terms of how many low-cost loans have been approved, how much money has been disbursed so far and what counties are being targeted by investors under this fund, have so far gone unanswered.
“It is unacceptable that there is no oversight from the State on a scheme that is effectively contributing to land grabbing and property speculation
“Finally, I also called on the EIB to take into consideration the fact that this Scheme is having little to no positive impact in terms of rural or local development. If the aim of the EIB is indeed to invest in regions for the benefit of citizens, then this initiative is having the opposite effect.
“Mr McDowell listened to these concerns and engaged on a number of issues and I thank him for agreeing to meet me.
“What is very clear from this meeting is that there needs to be a fundamental change in policy direction from the Irish Government. The Department is involved in an aggressive afforestation strategy engaging the commercial private sector in a potentially dangerous way. The Government has been complicit in the design of this scheme through its own policy formulations related to the forestry sector.
“This scheme stands in stark contrast to the many lofty statements we have heard from the Government in recent weeks regarding a commitment to rural Ireland in its 2040 Strategic Planning Framework.
“To promise the world in terms of infrastructure, while simultaneously literally selling off rural Ireland to private investors, is a contradiction that citizens cannot ignore and one which Sinn Féin will not accept”.