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Friday 21 July 2017

Palimony concerns give farmers the three-year itch

Willie Kealy

Willie Kealy

The new president of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), John Bryan, doesn't seem to be able to tell the difference between a woman and a car.

On Thursday he was calling for a public debate on the Civil Partnership Bill because there are apparently hidden aspects of it which could have a serious effect on farmers.

Mr Bryan said: "I believe it would be a cause of serious concern to the farming community that legal claims for the transfer of property, a lump sum, maintenance payments or a share in pension entitlements or a claim on an estate could arise following the ending of a relationship between a couple living together for as little as three years."

His "serious concern" is on behalf of young farming men -- and let's face it, we are talking predominantly about men here -- who might decide to take a live-in lover and forget to get rid of her before the three-year limit proposed in the bill had elapsed. It's palimony, Irish style.

Three years might seem like a reasonable testing time for any cohabiting relationship and, indeed, failure to come to a conclusion within such a lengthy timeframe might suggest an undue tendency towards indecisiveness on the part of these young farmers. Of course, Mr Bryan is aware that such a dilemma can be avoided by the young farmers. All they have to do is get the live-in lover to sign an agreement that she will not make any claim on his assets in the event of a break-up.

But this, says Mr Bryan, would mean a couple would have to "engage solicitors, get legal advice (isn't that the same thing?) and make a legal agreement about their financial affairs", something which he says is "entirely unsatisfactory and unrealistic". Yeah, right.

What it means is that macra na feirme would have to let their live-in farmerettes know exactly where they stand. Never mind it being not very romantic, it is a scary task at the best of times -- but when there is land involved, oh boy!

The fear that viable farms would end up being dissected over and over again till the countryside was a patchwork of uneconomic handkerchief-sized holdings, is understandable -- it's in the folk memory.

But so is the 11-month land-letting system, designed to make sure the person taking the land doesn't get a real grip on it. How difficult then can it be to operate a two years and 11 months-system in regard to these women? In other words, before the three years is up dump her or marry her.

The fact is that the IFA seems to be looking for a two-tier inheritance and property scheme -- and the one that is proposed in the bill for couples living together is certainly not suitable for people who have the substantial benefit of owning large land holdings. The price of land may not, for now, be what it was but it is still a wonderful asset to have. As the old saying has it: "They're not making it anymore."

And there's another old saying farmers are fond of: "What we have we hold." Of course that only applies to the land, not necessarily to the women.

If you take IFA logic on this matter to its conclusion, a puppy may be for life but a woman is for three years or less. Just like a car, to be traded in at minimum cost every few years so you can always be seen with a relatively new model.

The fight for farmers' rights sure has come a long way.

Sunday Independent

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