'This is not a site, it's a farm' - The farmer who took on the State and won fears he could still lose in the end
Thomas Reid talks about his six-year legal battle to save the family farm from an IDA compulsory purchase order
Thomas Reid hit the headlines when he took on the might of the IDA over its attempt to compulsory purchase his 72-acre farm in Kildare just yards from tech giant Intel's massive Leixlip campus.
It took him six years of dogged determination and, some might say, blind resolve to win his case. A multi-million euro offer was never a runner for Thomas - his fight was never about the money.
Even an initial loss in the High Court didn't deter him. When his legal team said he should spend a few days thinking about things after losing on all counts in the High Court, Thomas instructed the team to appeal to the highest court in the land straight away.
If he'd lost, the CPO would no doubt have made him a very wealthy man. He would have been well able to cover his legal fees, but by winning he kept his farm and the opposing side took care of his fees. After winning his appeal, the farmer who travelled in by bus to the court each day to observe proceedings stood on the steps of the Supreme Court and said it was a "good day for Ireland" that his appeal had been upheld.
Thomas cycled to meet us and was armed with a bag of legal documents from his case.
Not that he needs them. He knows the date of every letter he received from the IDA inviting him to engage with them and can direct us to the exact pages in the pile of documents that are addressed to his mother.
Along with his four brothers, Thomas grew up on the farm, which has been in the family since his grandparents bought it in the early 1900s. It was buried well into the countryside outside Dublin at that time, but today it is in a prime location on the outskirts of Leixlip.
The homestead, built in the 1700s, now stands between the opulent Carton House estate and the tech giant Intel's sprawling Leixlip site, where over 4,000 people are employed.
In 2017, Intel generated a record $22 billion cash from its operations and returned nearly $9bn to its shareholders.
On its Irish website, it boasts that it has invested over $13.9bn since turning a 360-acre former stud farm into one of the most technologically advanced manufacturing locations in all of Europe.
A small country road demarcates two separate worlds - on one side a semi-conductor wafer fabrication facility which produces latest-generation silicon microprocessors; on the other, the humble Reid family farm.
And, according to Thomas, his own, solitary job on his farm is as important to him.
"It's the principle of the matter," he explains. "Some guy in the 1980s tried to buy it from my father and it wasn't for sale then either."
Reid's initial head-in-the-sand approach included homemade signs outside his property, for all who passed on the busy road to see. His farm was not for sale.
A neighbour advised him of a good solicitor, he says, and while he doesn't buy the newspapers often - his friends and neighbours bring them to him - he's incredibly well read.
And he's as comfortable talking about the fodder crisis and his own cattle on the farm as he is about his legal wrangling with the IDA.
Thomas says his land is not a site but a farm. However, he admits the legal wrangling from 2011 took its toll on him during the case.
"I barely slept while this was going on," he reveals. "I'd be half asleep during the day as I couldn't sleep at night and would get up to read."
He's spent hours reading over legal documents and knows the details of his case back to front. Some might say that wouldn't be difficult as he had one simple stance - his farm was not for sale - but taking the farm from him against his will proved impossible.
Physical protection for Thomas has meant erecting homemade signs outside his property and tyres blocking the entrance, and he even blocked his letterbox to stop the intrusion.
Living alone in the house that's been in his family for over 100 years, Thomas says his main solace was in music on the radio, and he tells how he would phone radio stations to request tunes.
"I told one radio station that my New Year's resolution was to become a billionaire," he tells us, laughing no doubt at the irony of it all. His farm is, no doubt, worth millions.
However, Thomas is worried that proposals afoot to give the IDA increased powers to acquire land will mean others, and possibly him, could see their property taken off them with no course to challenge it.
"If you allow those fellows move the goalposts they can do what they want," he said of the IDA.
For that reason, he did not engage with the IDA when they approached him to look at acquiring his land in 2011.
"If they put a value on the land, the goalposts are set," he says and he didn't want that to happen.
The State spent €1.4m fighting him for his land, and the value of the land under a CPO would have made Reid a very wealthy person.
But, for him, it's not about the money but about his civil rights.
"Landowners do not have any legal rights. There should be an investigation into Irish planning laws," he says.
New bill clarifies IDA's land acquisition powers
Thomas Reid lost his case in the High Court in 2013 when Justice John Hedigan dismissed his challenge saying the compulsory purchase order was provided for by law.
At the ruling, the judge said the area was of “national and economic importance to Ireland in the struggle to win further foreign direct investment”. He also said that “the national interest must outweigh the individual”.
However, the Supreme Court and Justice Liam McKechnie overturned the High Court judgment on the case, saying the 1986 Act did not confer power on the IDA to acquire lands they had no immediate use for.
They were in effect just acquiring a ‘land bank’ for potential and prospective future use, stated Justice McKechnie.
The Government has now said that the new proposed bill (Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018) addresses the implications of this Supreme Court judgement 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 provide the property solutions to companies that will help attract future investment to Ireland, particularly to the regions, and therefore generate jobs throughout the country.
According to the Government, the bill makes it clear that the 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 says 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 industrial development property purchasing powers.
It says IDA Ireland will continue to have the capacity to acquire property compulsorily on an exceptional basis in limited circumstances and subject to strict requirements.
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