Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, has criticised the lack of transparency in the workings of a large-scale private forestry fund operated by the European Investment Bank (EIB). Carthy this week questioned the Vice-President of the EIB, Andrew McDowell, during a hearing in the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
Matt Carthy said:
“Last year, the EIB announced that it was backing an 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. The loans are only open to large scale capital investors, to the exclusion of local farmers.
“I have attempted on several occasions to secure answers from the EIB on the inner-workings of this fund, which has so far been operating away from public scrutiny, including previously meeting privately with Mr. McDowell.
“The loans are affecting local land prices, local land availability, biodiversity in terms of the species of trees planted, and local flora and fauna due to blanket forestry blocking out light. Furthermore, the presence of these unknown capital investors is having a negative impact on local communities who are suddenly witnessing the mass purchasing of land by unknown speculators.
“This week in the European Parliament I asked Mr McDowell specifically how many low-cost loans have been approved, how much money has already been disbursed, and what regions were being targeted by investors. This is information the European Commission and the Irish Government have already refused to furnish.
“Again though, Mr McDowell refused to disclose any information on this fund.
“I find it extremely concerning that while the private sector now owns almost half of the forests in Ireland there is absolutely no transparency on who owns these forests or how much of the state funded forest premium fund is going into the pockets of these so-called investors.
“It is not uncommon for EU Member State Governments to put in place rules to protect agricultural land from threats such as excessive price speculation and ownership concentration. In fact the European Commission issued guidelines late last year on exactly how to do this.
“Why then is our Government not only facilitating the large scale buy up of farmland in Ireland by foreign investors, but also hiding information from the public on the outworkings of that fund?
“I am now calling on the Minister to immediately impose restrictions to control sales of farmland in order to protect agricultural communities. These must include, where foreign investors are concerned, prior authorisation from local authorities for the acquisition of land, limits on the size of land to be acquired and pre-emption rights for local farmers.
“This is particularly necessary in counties such as Leitrim where the difficulties caused by these activities are especially acute”.