The Managing Director of Forestry at the State-owned company Coillte has said it will work very hard to regain the trust of landowners who entered into farm-forest partnerships with the company over 20 years ago, following complaints that many landowners have been left without payments.

Gerard Murphy said that Coillte had problems in relation to communications and transparency in its dealings with landowners.

However, he said that in future the company will issue annual statements so that landowners will have more clarity about what payments they are due and when they will be paid.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Murphy said while there are some issues around its payment system, it was a small number of cases, roughly 15, and most of Coillte's partners (over 630) are paid on time.

He said Coillte was working hard to rectify this problem and he expects those payments to be made over the next week.

Some landowners have claimed to RTÉ News that Coillte had left them without the forestry income they were due for up to three years and had failed to communicate with them for up to 20 years.

There are over 630 farm partnership members across the country who entered into agreements from the early 1990s to allow Coillte to plant forests on their land for up to 40 years.

However, many landowners are now complaining bitterly about how Coillte has operated its side of the partnership arrangement and say they have lost trust in the semi-State company.

Noel Copley, 73, a landowner from Co Kilkenny who has 64 acres planted in forests, says that he has become desperate.

He says Coillte has left him without any income from his land for the past three years, despite harvesting more than 4,000 tonnes of wood in forest "thinning" on three separate occasions over the past five years.

Mr Copley has estimated that he should have been paid €84,000 for his share of that wood but he has got nothing.

Another landowner, Gerry Queenan from Roscommon, has two parcels of land set out in forestry in partnership with Coillte. However, he said that Coillte has failed to properly maintain his forests and failed to honour its part of the deal.

Mr Queenan said the forestry tracks needed on his lands have not been built and that his forests have been poorly maintained.

He said Coillte has failed to thin out his forests, that he is getting no income from Coillte for his lands, and that he has no idea what income he will ever get or when he might get it.

Mr Queenan also said that he has had no correspondence from Coillte for years and that he is stressed out and losing sleep over it.

Landowner Julie Murphy, who has a 90-acre forest partnership with Coillte in Kilkenny, accuses the company of a "horrendous lack of transparency" and lack of respect for landowners.

She said that she has done her share for the past five years trying to ring Coillte and to get through to it to ask questions but that she has been thrown from "Billy to Jack" and is sick of it.

Ms Murphy says she has had no payment from Coillte, apart from an initial payment 21 years ago and that she has no faith in Coillte.

She says that Coillte has failed to live up to its obligations and she now wants to get out of her contract so that she can manage the forest on her own.

Another landowner, Breda Dalton also from Kilkenny, told RTÉ that she and her husband Pat had been expecting annual meetings with Coillte about her 67 acres, which was planted in 2001, but that those meetings never happened and no information has been forthcoming.

She said Coillte has not built any forest tracks or roadways on her land, nor thinned out her forest and that she and her husband are very worried about the income that should be due.

Mrs Dalton said that she has tried several times to get information from Coillte about her situation but to no avail and that she would be wary about going into a forest partnership again.

Vast majority of farm-forest partnerships 'performing well'

Mr Murphy said that he believes the vast majority of the 630 Coillte farm-forest partnerships are performing well but that a number of issues have "bubbled up" around communications, transparency, and the methodology around how payments are calculated. 

The company has very recently commissioned accountants KPMG to validate how it calculates and makes payments.

Mr Murphy said that he will give a commitment to all landowners that Coillte will work with them and honour any of its contractual obligations.

Nobody will be left out of pocket, he said, and he expects that in the next couple of months all payments will be made in full.

Mr Murphy said that what happened was that Coillte did not have strong enough communications from its head office in relation to the farm-forest partnership scheme but that this is being rectified.

"What we are now going to do is publish annual statements, so that landowners get a very good idea of what payments are due and the forest management plans that we are going to set out," he said.

He added that it would be unfortunate if landowners have lost trust because Coillte is totally committed and that it will work very hard to regain that trust.

Mr Murphy also said that all of those people due money as a result of forest "thinning" on their lands will be paid.

In certain cases, he said, a gap in payments was caused by the fact that forest thinning had been carried out earlier than planned in the contract, but that this was something he will work through and resolve in the next couple of months.

The Coillte boss said that he has to accept that landowners are unhappy now, but he wants landowners to work with Coillte to resolve the issues.

He also said that Coillte will have to examine the situation where landowners want to exit their contacts to see what can be done. However, he said that he believes it is in their longer term interest to stay with the partnership.