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Sunday 25 February 2018

Changes to CPO legislation on the way after farmer prevents purchase of land for tech giant

Farmers say current legislation “among the most draconian pieces of legislation in the country"

Farmer Thomas Reid of Maynooth, Co Kildare, leaving court yesterday
Farmer Thomas Reid of Maynooth, Co Kildare, leaving court yesterday

Fearghal O'Connor and Ciaran Moran

Jobs agency IDA is to be handed newly-enhanced powers to compulsorily purchase land after its previous failure to acquire land for tech giant Intel in Kildare.

The new legislation - the first by any department in 2018 - has been introduced by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries.

It is aimed at fixing issues that landed the State agency in a legal quagmire over its attempted purchase of a 72-acre farm owned by Kildare farmer Thomas Reid.

The proposed Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018 will ensure that the State agency has the legal basis to continue to acquire property in pursuit of its industrial development functions, according to an explanatory memorandum written by the Government department.

Intel has since lodged plans for a massive 90,000 square metre extension at the Leixlip plant that could create 850 full-time jobs and 3,000 construction jobs. That development was given the go-ahead in October by An Bord Pleanala.

There has been speculation in recent days that the huge project could soon get the green light but, although refurbishment work is planned for parts of the plant, an Intel spokesperson said the go-ahead for the extension was no closer.

"The planning permission from October 2017 forms part of our regular practice to ensure operational readiness and preparedness, and as such we continually take planning and preparatory steps to best position Ireland to respond to future demands of the corporation," he said.

Irish Farmers Association National Environment Chairman Thomas Cooney has described the current CPO legislation as “among the most draconian and toughest pieces of legislation in the country.”

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He said, “The CPO legislation, as it currently stands allows acquiring authorities such as Transport Infrastructure Ireland (formerly NRA) to take over a farmer’s land and build a new motorway without any legal obligations to have agreed compensation terms. It is not right that a state body should have these inequitable powers and any review by the Law Reform Commission must address this imbalance.”

Thomas Cooney has also questioned the current legal obligation that requires farmers impacted by a CPO to hand over one-third of their compensation to Revenue because of a Capital Gains Tax liability.

He said, “Farmers must be entitled to put their farm back together again after they have had a CPO imposed on them and this cannot happen unless the full compensation package negotiated is available to farmers.”  

The President of ICMSA, Pat McCormack said that his organisation is preparing a submission in relation to the legislation change.  

“There are obviously aspects of the CPO legislation that concerns us but our fundamental position on this is that landowners must be fully compensated for the value of their land and for any consequential losses to their farm business where CPO is applied”, McCormack said

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail science and technology spokesperson James Lawless, in whose Kildare constituency the Intel plant is located, said he welcomed the Government's new IDA bill.

"The bill addresses issues which arose in the 'Reid case' where the IDA attempted to purchase land adjacent to Intel in Leixlip but were unable to do so. The protracted legal saga that followed was damaging to all concerned," said Lawless.

"It is in the public interest that the IDA (or other state agencies where appropriate) can move quickly in these cases and make provision for large-scale investment where that is in the greater good. The constitution certainly safeguards property rights but no rights are absolute.

"There must always be a balancing of rights and the public interest in the development of employment and local investment may at times outweigh an individual land interest."

But farmers and other landowners have regularly raised concerns over any attempt to increase the power of state agencies and local authorities to compulsorily acquire land. In November 2015 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Reid whose home and lands lie next to the Intel plant.

Reid had claimed that IDA's CPO attempt, cleared by the High Court in 2013, had breached his property rights under the Constitution and European Convention of Human Rights. But the Supreme Court had unanimously ruled that the IDA had exceeded its powers in the attempt and that its CPO mechanisms were outdated.

It was previously reported that the IDA had spent close to €1.4m attempting a CPO on the farm, including legal fees related to the Reid case.

The explanatory memorandum for the new bill said its purpose was to address issues raised by the judgment and "to ensure the IDA has a sound legal basis to continue to carry out its property functions."

It will only permit IDA a CPO on land required for immediate, as opposed to future, use, and where a specific undertaking has been identified. It also ensures CPO land can only be leased - as opposed to sold - by the IDA to an industrial undertaking. The new law also provides a full role for An Bord Pleanala as an independent body to affirm IDA CPOs and to adjudicate on objections related to a compulsory acquisition.


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