Tánaiste Micheál Martin has told the Dáil that there will be no privatisation of public land under the Coillte plan to sell land to a British investment fund.

He said Coillte will not sell privately-owned forests as part of the deal.

He also said the Government did not run the semi-state company.

Gresham House, specialist asset managers working with Coillte, established the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund, which aims to assemble a €200 million fund to create new forests and buy some existing forestry.

Coillte will source the land for the fund and carry out the planting and management of the forests, while the fund will benefit from forestry grants and premia.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said the deal would result in Coillte doing all the work while private investors reaped the rewards.

She said the sale would be devastating for biodiversity.

Independent TD Marian Harkin has said Ireland could reach its forestry targets by proactively incentivising farmers to plant forestry.

She said the current policy by Coillte will fundamentally change settlement patterns in Ireland.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the policy is to increase the amount of land under afforestation to 18% by 2050.

He reiterated that Coillte does not legally need the approval of government to implement its plans and that the Government wants farmers to drive the bulk of the forestry.

Coillte to look at other afforestation models

Following a meeting today between senior management of Coillte, with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State responsible for Forestry Pippa Hackett, the Gresham House forestry investment fund is set to remain in place.

However, Coillte will look at other models to deliver its afforestation targets.

Speaking to RTÉ News after the meeting, Coillte CEO Imelda Hurley said that "in addition to the Irish Strategic Forestry Investment Fund we will continue to consider the model we will use to deliver on our afforestation ambitions, how we can work with farmers, and whether we will consider the acquisition of some land to create new forests ourselves".

Ms Hurley said the scale of afforestation required is very significant and farmers, forestry companies, Coillte and others all have "an important role to play".

She also said that the Gresham House fund is targeted to deliver 3,500 hectares of afforestation over the next 5 years, which is just 1% of what needs to be delivered.

A statement issued by the Department of Agriculture said the Ministers asked Coillte to keep them updated on the range of possible models to deliver on its targets for new forest creation between now and 2050, and central to these will be consideration of how Coillte can work more closely with farmers and local communities.

'We should look to change the rules'

Earlier, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said he asked Coillte why Ireland should be selling to a British investment forestry firm in order to meet its green forestry targets by 2030 instead of doing it themselves.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said Coillte's reply was the "current rules around State aid rules preclude them from doing it".

"My response to that is we should look to change the rules, look to the European Union... and look at other mechanisms where we the public can invest and own the land that new forest systems go into."

He said it is also about changing the type of forestry and investing in more bio-diverse forests.

"That's where I want the funding to go."

The Gresham House fund already has an investment of €25 million in place from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, which invests tax payers' money on a commercial basis and is owned by the National Treasury Management Agency.

Additional reporting: Joe MagRaollaigh