Me oul flower: Bertie Ahern's new job could see state forestry transferred out of Irish hands

Fears that an international forestry firm chaired by Bertie Ahern could soon own 7% of Ireland are to be raised in the Dáil this week.

Sinn Féin's natural resources spokesman Martin Ferris said he wanted the government to allay fears that an international forestry body, of which the former taoiseach is chairman, is about to make a bid to buy Coillte, which owns 7% of the land in the state.

Colm McCarthy's 2009 An Bord Snip Nua report suggested that the state could garner "once-off receipts for the exchequer" through a "review of the operations of Coillte with a view to realising optimal return through rationalisation, asset disposal and, possibly, privatisation".

McCarthy is now heading up a body which is looking into the potential fire sale of state assets such as Coillte.

According to Department of Finance accounts for last year, Coillte is the most valuable state asset, with a net value of over €1.2bn. This is not the worth of the trees but the value of the land on which they are planted.

Earlier this year, the Sunday Tribune revealed that Ahern was appointed chairperson of the International Forestry Fund.

Significantly, a spokesman for the fund confirmed to this newspaper some months ago that the fund would consider an acquisition of Coillte.

A spokeswoman for Ahern said this weekend that "as he understands it, the International Forestry Fund has no intention of putting in a bid for Coillte".

Ferris will raise his fears about the potential sale of Coillte in the Dáil because "7% of our land could be sold to a private corporation. It is no coincidence I think that the expression of interest follows on the McCarthy report that Coillte be either privatised or asset-stripped, and the pressure on the government to sell off state assets as part of the IMF programme.

"This cannot be allowed to happen. Our forestry and the land are key national assets."

Ferris added: "I will allow others to make what they will of our former taoiseach's part in all of this."

However, Paul Brosnan of the International Forestry Fund said no bid had yet been made despite rumours of an impending sale.

"I can confirm that the International Forestry Fund has not made a bid for Coillte's assets... but I will keep you informed if we ever do," he said.

The International Forestry Fund is backed principally by the Irish Forestry Fund and Helvetia Wealth AG of Switzerland.

Based in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, it claims it can give the benefits of an offshore bank account to ordinary investors.