Business Farming

Friday 30 September 2016

'50 years' work is being destroyed in front of my very eyes' - 'Ireland's Fittest Family' forced to sell 1,000 prized dairy cows

Ralph Riegel and Maeve Sheehan

Published 12/04/2016 | 10:24

TV FAME: From left, Richard, Jessica, Peter and Luke Kingston on ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ where they scooped €15,000. Photo: Gerard McCarthy
TV FAME: From left, Richard, Jessica, Peter and Luke Kingston on ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ where they scooped €15,000. Photo: Gerard McCarthy

More than 200 potential buyers attended a Cork farm today for an asset disposal ordered by the banks.

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Around 50 protesters gathered on a roadway some distance from the Crayden Hill farm at Nohoval in south Cork to highlight the treatment of the Kingston family.

Amid a heavy presence of gardai and private security, the auction began without interruption.

More than 1000 cattle are expected to go under the hammer today as one of Ireland's most famous dairy herds is sold off at auction.

Peter Kingston, whose award winning dairy herd, was being auctioned off today admitted he was "heartbroken".

Mr Kingston told Independent.ie that he simply couldn't bear the thought of his animals and his family's life's work being disposed of in such circumstances.

"It's tough - there are simply no words for it," he said.

"We have a major problem in this country and it the small fella that is now on the run."

"My family has worked for almost 50 years to build up this dairy farm and I'm standing here today talking to you and watching as the whole thing is destroyed in front of my very eyes."

The protesters, who backed the stance of the New Irish Land League, did not interfere with or interrupt the auction.

However,one man told Independent.ie that the treatment of the Kingston family was 'a disgrace'.

"This is a terrible thing to see happen to any family, but is simply awful what has happened to the Kingstons who are lovely people and stalwarts of local the community here," he said.

The protesters are picketing at three different sites around the farm.

There are minor delays for some motorists at the main gate as protesters talk to any motorists they believe to be buyers from outside the area.

West Cork TD Michael Collins who is an Independent was refused entry to the farm. 

"I am a farmer myself ad I am here to support a family that everyone knows are having a tough time," he said.

"I don't understand why, because I know a number of journalists have been allowed entry to the farm."

A number of the protesters have been taking photographs of drivers and car registration numbers on the public roadway as they arrive for the auction.

The protesters are carrying a multitude of banners including photographs of Charles Stewart Parnell and messages of support for all landowners who are battling debts owed to banks and other other financial institutions.

A spokesperson for the auction organisers described business as "brisk".

"We had thought the numbers might be slightly bigger but the business is brisk all the same," he said.

Jerry Beades arrived at the Nohoval farm shortly after 11am but told assembled reporters that he was not going to seek entry.

Me Beades said he had "tremendous sympathy for the situation that the Kingston family found themselves in."

But he said he was attending to support a large number of machinery operators who now stand to lose substantial amounts of money because of the debt recovery process underway against the Kingston family.

"There are 500,000 people in this country who are in trouble with debt and they include farmers, teachers, and businessmen.

"We're here to try and raise awareness of all their plights," Mr Beades said.

The auction, which was ordered following a High Court ruling on a charge in relation to a debt associated with the Kingston farm, is expected to take place throughout the course of the day.

More than 1000 animals are set to be auctioned off with the bidders understood to have attended from all over Ireland and the UK.

The herd, which includes pedigree Holstein cattle, was seized from Peter and Tracey Kingston's well-known Crayden Hill farm, after ACC was awarded a €2.4m judgment against the couple.

Farm sources say the auction is one the biggest cattle sales of its kind.

Peter Kingston and his father built up their prize-winning herd over 30 years and won many championships. Mr Kingston said he could not comment in detail on the sale of his herd, but he did say: "The bank had no charge over the cattle but it was allowed to move the charge onto the cattle."

Asked how he felt, he said: "If you saw 28 years of your work going up in smoke and 43 years of your father's work going up in smoke, how would you feel?"

A catalogue for Denis Barrett Auctions describes the livestock sale as a "complete dispersal" of the "Crayden Hill Herd" which is "synonymous with top pedigrees, high production and excellent show winning type"; it includes "over 950 elite animals", including the "entire milking herd and all followers", a reference to calves.

The Kingston family became known to a national audience when they featured in Ireland's Fittest Family two years ago.

Peter and his children, Jessica, Luke and Richard, started out on the contest as the underdogs but beat two other families to the title and €15,000 prize.

In an interview afterwards, Peter Kingston described how farming helped the family to rise to the challenge: "No one says 'no' to anything. Whatever needs to be done is done. Also, farming teaches you to readjust. You are always faced with problems, and you need to think on the spot," he said.

According to court reports, ACC Bank sought a High Court judgment against the Kingstons for more than €2.4m last year, after they missed a number of repayments.

The Kingstons took out the loan of €2m in 2007 to restructure their debt with AIB, on interest-only repayments, and the bank advanced a further €500,000 for farm buildings in 2008.

The bank claimed security over 170 acres of farmland. According to the reports, the couple reached a new repayment arrangement with the bank but missed a number of repayments. The court heard that ACC called in the full €2.4m in January last year and all that was received was a cheque for €1,500.

The Kingston family remains in their family home but the land around it is now in the possession of ACC. T

he sheriff has seized equipment. Receivers hired contractors to maintain the prize-winning herd, and have hired security.

Sources claim the cost of the receivership, including looking after the herd, security and sheriffs costs, stood at just over a €1m in March.

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