Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Northern farmers buying up land in Republic due to Brexit

Small parcels of land in demand from buyers chasing herd numbers in the Republic

While the number of sales is modest, a number of auctioneers say there is a distinct pattern emerging in some parts of the country.
While the number of sales is modest, a number of auctioneers say there is a distinct pattern emerging in some parts of the country.
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

NORTHERN farmers are beginning to buy small parcels of land south of the border as insurance against the impact of a possible hard Brexit.

While the number of sales is modest, a number of auctioneers say there is a distinct pattern emerging in some parts of the country.

Dundalk auctioneer Raymond Fee says he has enquiries from northern buyers buying smaller holdings of 40ac to 50ac south of the border to get a foothold in the Republic.

“I have seen northern farmers buying more properties of this size at this side of the border, and I’m presuming it’s with a view to accessing the EU grants,” he said.

Gerry Coffey of Williamstown in Co Galway has also had northern buyers buying small parcels of ground in his area with a view to getting a herd number in the south, staying in the EU payments system and establishing a base for beef exports.

However, Kells-based auctioneer Robert Nixon is witnessing a distinct absence of what he calls ‘Northmen’ from the farmland market.

“There is no doubt but they are keeping a low profile. The DUP’s involvement in the government might change things. Some I have been talking to are hoping the DUP’s support for the Tories will be good for farmers and might lead to a soft Brexit and a soft border,” he said.

“Overall, the key issue is not the notion of Brexit itself but the drop in the buying power of sterling and the uncertainty.”

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His views are echoed by Robbie Gallagher of Sherry FitzGerald Gallagher in Monaghan town who says that Brexit and its prospect hasn’t had much of an impact in Monaghan.

“You would expect Monaghan to feel all the effects having a shared border with three northern counties, but I can honestly say there has been no change in buying patterns for us.

“The problems are the same north and south — it is difficult to borrow money, that is the key issue,” he says.

Overall, though, there is general agreement that the nature of Brexit, particularly if it impacts negatively on farm payments north of the border, could see a rush southwards as ‘Northmen’ clutching their Irish passports seek to buy land here in the EU. In the meantime, primary British-based customers for rural properties continue to be returning emigrants and those seeking ­holiday homes and hobby farms.

Many auctioneers say these buyers left the market in the immediate aftermath of Brexit, but are returning slowly.

The primary cause of their absence and their cautious return is the volatility of sterling rather than any great issue with Brexit.

Sterling buyers have seen a dramatic drop in their buying power as a result of the post-Brexit referendum drop in the value of the currency.

Selling holiday properties to northern buyers is one of the staples  of Donegal auctioneer Keith Anderson’s business.

He also does a steady trade selling rural properties to returning emigrants in the over 55 age-bracket.

“Last June, after the referendum result, those markets stopped dead until after Christmas.

“Things are improving slowly since then and a lot of northerners are back in the holiday home market. The sales to retuning emigrants have also picked up — Brexit isn’t the issue, sterling is,” he said.

Roscommon auctioneer John Earley also sells a significant amount of rural properties to British buyers, particularly to returning emigrants and British citizens opting for a change of lifestyle.

“In the last few months I have got a good few UK deals over the line involving sums of €1.4m, €650,000 and €750,000. Undoubtedly there was a dip after the Brexit vote but it’s back up again,” he says.

“These, from what I can see, are all cash buyers.  To

be truthful, if I didn’t have

the UK customers, the land market would be quiet for me,” he adds.

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