Could Compulsory Purchase Order Bill reduce land owners' legal rights?

Thomas Reid took on the IDA after it tried to acquire his land on behalf of multinational Intel
Thomas Reid took on the IDA after it tried to acquire his land on behalf of multinational Intel
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

A new bill is currently moving through the Dáil which will see a legal basis provided to IDA Ireland, the semi-State body responsible for foreign direct investment into Ireland, to compulsorily purchase land following its failed High Court bid to secure land for an Intel extension.

In a high-profile High Court case, the IDA failed to acquire a 72-acre farm next to the Intel plant from farmer Thomas Reid.

While the High Court initially approved the compulsory purchase order (CPO) in 2013, Mr Reid claimed that this had breached his property rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

On referral to the Supreme Court in 2015, the court ruled in Reid's favour that the IDA has exceeded its power and declared that the agency's CPO mechanisms were outdated.

The Government has now said that the new bill (Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018) addresses the implications of this Supreme Court judgment and will ensure that IDA Ireland can continue to purchase property for the purposes of industrial development.

It says this is essential if the agency is to have the continued capacity to provide the property solutions to companies that will help attract future investments to Ireland, particularly to the regions, and therefore generate jobs throughout the country.

According to the Government, the bill makes it very clear that IDA Ireland can continue to acquire property by agreement - that is, not compulsorily - in circumstances where the property is not for immediate use, and whether or not a specific industrial undertaking has been identified in advance.

The Government has been keen to highlight that the bill does not equip IDA Ireland with strengthened powers, but says the aim is simply to put in place an updated and modernised process that incorporates a full role for An Bord Pleanála in compulsory acquisitions so that IDA Ireland retains its current industrial development property purchasing powers.

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It says IDA Ireland will continue to have the capacity to acquire property compulsorily on an exceptional basis in very limited circumstances and subject to strict requirements.

The Government has said that as regards the compulsory purchase element, while IDA Ireland very rarely employs its compulsory acquisition powers - it has only ever done so once - it is important that it retains its statutory power to do so if the agency is to be able to meet its mandate.

Without compulsory purchase powers, IDA Ireland could potentially miss out in the future on extremely significant investment opportunities that could have a transformative impact on a local community in terms of jobs created, it says.

And it also says that any such compulsory purchase will be subject to far more stringent requirements than those for standard purchase by agreement, namely that it must be for immediate industrial development use and that IDA Ireland will need to have a specific client in mind to use the property.

It goes on to say that the bill provides that IDA Ireland will only be permitted to purchase land compulsorily in circumstances where it is required for immediate, as opposed to future, use and a specific undertaking has been identified.

The bill also provides that compulsorily acquired land can only be leased, as opposed to sold, by IDA Ireland to an industrial undertaking.

However, a number of TDs have opposed the bill, including Clare Daly, who said: "What the bill does is simply an end run around the Supreme Court judgment in the Thomas Reid case to ensure never again can IDA Ireland be stopped through a legal challenge from acquiring people's lands for use by US multinationals."

She said the bill was about facilitating and smoothing the expropriation of lands and homes to gift them to US corporations that could well afford to buy land from people who are prepared to surrender that land voluntarily.

"Let us be clear about it. This is not about CPOs for schools, hospitals or roads. It only deals with CPOs for foreign industry… it is purely for foreign direct investment," she said.

She said the Thomas Reid case can give us some idea of what is down the tracks if the bill is passed and the next time a US multinational, with a bit of help from this bill, decides to build.

"In 2011, when land prices were at a historic low and emigration figures were at a depressing high, Intel approached Thomas Reid looking to buy some land from him.

"Thomas refused, as was his right. Intel was not interested in taking 'no' for an answer and, with the assistance of IDA Ireland, which was right there to help it, within six months of his refusal to sell, IDA Ireland started the process of acquiring his lands against his will. It was not for a school, hospital or motorway.

"Intel did not have to build its new plant on the land owned by Thomas Reid. It wanted to do so because his land was beside Intel's Leixlip campus and it suited it to expand sideways because it was the cheapest and easiest option.

"For a multi-billion euro multinational, doing things cheap and easy is how to get ahead. What I find utterly shocking is the role played by the IDA in the Reid case.

"It effectively was the muscle for a multi-billion euro multinational in its fight against an Irish landowner, which is unacceptable," she said.

The Bill has passed Second Stage in the Dáil and will now go into the Business and Enterprise Committee before coming back to the Dáil for Report Stage and then going to the Seanad.

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