Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Bill, 1978: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

In relation to the rates Bill there is a very antiquated, unfair and inaccurate form of assessment. The Minister should try to do something about it. The existing valuations bear no relation to a farm's capacity to produce. I know of one parish where there is a 70 acre farm with a valuation of £130 and in the same parish there is a 140 acre farm with a £70 valuation. It is obvious that this savage increase will be imposed very unfairly. Any impositions of rates or tax should be seen to be fairly distributed. In County Cork, for instance, the north and south carry over 85 per cent of the extra burden.

When the Coalition Government removed health from housing which accounted for £5 in the £ and when we removed the 25 per cent from the rates, there were no strings attached. During the election campaign we were told nothing about this and we were projected as an anti-farmer party. Now we can see the reality, that it is only now that farmers are being treated badly. When the £17 employment scheme finished, bringing a revenue of about £½ million, there was uproar in this House but now £7 million is being taken and there is nothing about it. It has been suggested that the rates can be used to offset income tax. The category of people who will be involved under this are people who are involved in heavy borrowing and who have big families and so on, and they are usually not liable to income tax, so that suggestion is of no benefit to them. These people are faced with an additional bill which could in cases amount to £1,000 along with all their other commitments. When one considers that that is being done in order to give free rating to very well-to-do people with houses costing up to £¼ million it can be seen how unfair this is. This is why I oppose it. If everyone was to be treated fairly under this Bill it would be all right, but discrimination is wrong and cannot be defended. The category of the people affected by this Bill enjoy few benefits, they must pay voluntary health and university fees for their children and so on. This is a savage slap at one section of the community. The Minister should amend this, even in a small way so that people who are not liable for income tax would not have to pay the extra involved under this Bill. Even if the Minister could give us assurances that it would not be over 11 per cent in the years ahead that would be a step in the right direction.

The Minister should not proceed with this Bill as it stands because he is working on a wrong premise. We were not altogether without blame when in government, because we based the income tax on that premise, but two wrongs do not make a right, and if we are to continue with farm rates we should look for a different system of assessment. When speaking about farm taxation I was inclined to promulgate the idea that we should have one form of tax such as income tax. I do not see why the farmer, unlike his Northern Ireland or UK counterparts, should be put into a non-competitive position. When the effect of this Bill is fully realised there will be widespread dissatisfaction. I appreciate that every Government must collect a certain amount of revenue but I am opposed to this manner of doing it because it is hitting at a small section of the community who can ill afford this extra burden.

I appeal to the Minister to think about this again in terms of removing farm rates altogether. At present one section is carrying the can for everybody else, business people and others, even in respect of such things as malicious damage and so on. It is not proper that they should carry additional burdens year in year out and be singled out in this respect, especially when they are given no indication in advance.

I should like to see the whole rates system scrapped leaving instead, as is desired by the farming organisations, one form of taxation. Then if somebody did not wish to keep accounts they would have an alternative, something based not on valuations but on adjusted acreage. The Minister does not really have to go through the whole rigmarole of having revaluation done because in the Agricultural Institute they have worked out fairly well a system of adjusted acres; for example, if somebody did not wish to keep accounts then he would pay a few pounds per adjusted acre. That would bring in revenue and would also solve the problem of the farmer who did not wish to keep accounts. In the case of the farmer who is caught in the tax net the alternative of the notional system is out for him now and he must keep accounts even if he is making no profit. And, having properly costed out farm accounts very often he would be paying little or no income tax assuming he is a progressive man, has heavy borrowings, is developing his farm and rearing a family. At present that man with a 70 to 100 acre farm would be paying little or no tax on the basis of keeping accounts. On the basis of my figures he will now be asked to pay £500 or £600 extra for no reason whatever.

This emanates from a Minister whose Government went into office on the basis that they would create a better Ireland for everybody, that they would create more jobs. I ask: what effect will this have on job creation or on production? If one hinders a man buying a new machine or extra fertilisers by requiring that he must give the Minister £500 or £600 extra how can he possibly produce more? How can he provide more jobs? The Minister is hampering that man, and I take that point very seriously to the Minister. This is a bad Bill, an anti-production Bill, an anti-job Bill and will be seen and identified as such when its full implications are realised.

If there was a sort of state of euphoria when we could give everybody free rates, including the farmers, fair enough, or if the whole rates bill could be abolished and provided equitably some other way that would also be fair. But nowhere did I read— in any election manifesto or anything else—anything from the Fianna Fáil Party that this would be their treatment of rural Ireland. They gave no such indication. In fact they came into office as the saviours of Irish farmers and this is what they do. The Minister should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

I want to make a few short points on this Bill. In general my party feel that rates are and always were an unjust type of taxation, in so far as they had no regard to one's ability to pay or to one's income.

The provisions of this Bill constitute an imposition on farmers over a certain valuation. They are not this year being given the relief they had last year. It has been argued that now they can allow their rates as a payment off their income tax. Straight-away that assumes that they would pay income tax and leaves them no form of appeal with regard to keeping accounts or anything else. It assumes also that they are not paying anything extra because they are being allowed it as a tax payment. That may be all right provided they are liable to tax or that they opted not to prove whether or not they are and accept their liability as a result of the notional system.

This action on the part of the Government is a means of financing—to a certain degree—the removal of rates from private dwellings. It will also finance local authorities in an unjust manner. It is unjust because it bears no relation whatever to the position of the large farmer who would have to pay tax—and probably this would be a small proportion of it—and who is allowed this as a tax payment. But the man on the border line who possibly could prove that he was not liable to tax and who could produce accounts to that effect cannot do so now and must pay the tax as rates anyway. That cannot be justified and is wrong. It would be better—I say this in all sincerity—that the notional system be done away with altogether and farmers forced, just as are other business people, to produce accounts showing what their tax rate should be and be taxed accordingly. There should be no question of somebody getting away with the notional system if he is a sufficiently large farmer and his valuation possibly incorrect in comparison with his income. It is entirely wrong to say he is being allowed this as a payment of tax and therefore it does not constitute any increase in his payments. It is a way of offsetting what has been offered by way of rates reduction. There should be some form—and I say this fearlessly without reference to anybody it may offend or anything else—of local taxation. But it should be a just form and, in my opinion, rates never were that; they were the most unjust form imaginable.

It is so many years since valuations were established that they are now meaningless. Therefore, any tax applicable to a straight-across-the-board valuation must be an unjust one and I oppose it on those grounds. I am not saying that possibly these people should not pay tax. If they are liable to tax they should pay it. I admit that freely. But to maintain they they are being allowed this rate as a payment of their tax is unjust, because heretofore such people may have been able to prove that they were not liable to income tax. In that way an extra burden is being imposed on them.

I maintain it is an imposition not spelled out by the Fianna Fáil Party during their election campaign. They went into office spelling out that they would allow rates as a payment on taxation, but certainly they did not spell out that they would do away with the system under which farmers received rates remission on agricultural land, and that is what is happening now. It is a deception, and the Minister should consider seriously allowing these people the same concessions as they had heretofore even if he were to say that they must produce accounts to prove to the satisfaction of the Revenue people that they would be paying a lesser amount of tax because they could be paying a lesser amount of tax than their increase in rates would mean. It is not just to tax them in that manner. I am opposed to that idea in the Bill and would ask the Minister to consider that aspect very carefully.

I should like to thank Deputies for their contributions to this debate over the last few weeks. There were interesting points made, with some of which I could not agree. Some of the points raised can be dealt with more relevantly when we resume the discussion on the Estimate this evening or tomorrow. Deputy Fitzpatrick had some difficulty with regard to the Title of the Bill and subsequent speakers followed the line he set, namely, that the Bill was misnamed and therefore misleading. Deputy Quinn seemed to think the purpose of the Bill was to increase local taxation on land and on small farmers generally. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no basis in fact for the suggestions made by Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Quinn.

The Bill is correctly named. It is similar to Bills that were brought before this House in the past. The purpose of the Bill is to give £38.5 million relief to farmers on their rates. Before people reject this Bill they should remember that, if the Bill is not passed, we will not be able to give this £38.5 million relief to the farming community. I find it difficult to understand why there should be any confusion about the Title of the Bill.

The proposed relief amounts to £38.5 million and I hope that those Deputies who seemed to misunderstand the nature of the Bill now have a proper understanding of it. Deputy Clinton said the purpose of the Bill was to get easy money for the Exchequer. The purpose of the Bill is to give rates relief. The Bill will not collect money for the Exchequer, as Deputy Clinton tried to imply.

Deputy Fitzpatrick referred to the Government's approach to the whole question of rates and he tried to trace changes in Fianna Fáil's approach from 1972. He should not have started at 1972. If he checks the record he will find that every single improvement in the agricultural grant over the past 46 years since 1932 was brought in by Fianna Fáil and not by either of the Inter-Party Governments or the recent National Coalition Government. Indeed, during the period of the three Governments to which I have referred there was several Bills brought in with regard to the agricultural grant and they gave an opportunity to the Minister at the time to give further reliefs had his Government wished to do that. It would be wrong to say they did not introduce any changes. In the 1976 Bill the National Coalition Government abolished the employment allowance. Admittedly it was only £17 per year per full-time employee. The reason why the allowance is mentioned here is for drafting purposes. Deputy Fitzpatrick was under some misapprehension about it. It has to be mentioned for drafting purposes, but the allowance was abolished, as I said, in 1976.

Deputy Quinn was advocating task forces, or something of that nature, to look into the whole question of local taxation. I suppose these have their uses but my concern is to implement Government policy on rates relief, not to introduce task forces. This Bill deals solely with rates relief on the agricultural community. Since we came into office the Government have been engaged in taking action on rates. We have provided this year £80.75 million in rates relief on ordinary dwellings, including farm dwellings, farm out-offices and certain other buildings. We are providing a further £38.5 million in relieving rates on land and this bring us to a total for rates relief in this year of £120 million approximately. How we can be accused of not taking account of rates is something I cannot understand. State grants towards current expenditure of local authorities will bring rates relief this year to £109 million and a total of £229 million is being made available this year from the Exchequer to finance local authorities.

I referred to the abolition of the employment allowance of £17 per year by the National Coalition Government. Some Deputies argued it was an incentive to the creation of more employment. Deputy Enright suggested that this allowance, abolished in 1976, should be brought back. He said it would create extra jobs in agriculture. It never was much good when it was in existence. I would point out that under the employment incentive scheme a sum of £20 per week is payable for up to 24 weeks for each additional person taken on and retained in employment for at least three months. The scheme applies also to the agricultural industry. I do not think I need to say any more about the £17 per annum allowance. If this £20 per week per employee is not sufficient to encourage the farming community to employ more workers then I do not know how one can create proper incentives. This incentive should make it sufficiently attractive for them to employ extra people. Employing extra people is going to lead to increased production, and we all know what increased production means for exports.

Deputy Enright was wide of the mark in suggesting that Bills of this type were sponsored by the Minister. This is incorrect. Agricultural grant Bills have always been sponsored by the Ministry of Local Government which is now the Ministry of the Environment. The Minister for Agriculture never sponsored these Bills and never introduced them in the House.

Much has been said during the course of the debate about farmers in the £75 and upward category. I have already said that this Bill gives relief to the tune of £38.5 million in 1978. There may be other Deputies who, like Deputy Deasy, are not too sure about this allowance. The relief in rates of £38.5 million will go, firstly, to continue the total derating which was introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government in 1967 for all small land holders. These small land holders with valuations of £20 or less represent 78 per cent of all rated occupiers of agricultural land. This Bill confirms the total relief of rates on rated occupiers of £20 valuation or less. Secondly, the Bill will mean a total derating on the first £20 valuation for occupiers up to a total of £33 valuation. Farmers in this category will pay rates only on that part of their valuation which will be over £20: in the case of a £25 valuation they will pay on £5 and in the case of a £33 valuation they will pay on £13.

The third category farmers with valuations over £33 and up to £75 will also benefit from this £38.5 million. On the first £20 valuation farmers will get a primary allowance of 80 per cent of their rates and they will get a further 30 per cent relief on every £ valuation over £20 and up to £75. I am talking about the category of farmer with a valuation of between £33 and £75.

That brings us to the last category in the farming community. These are farmers with total valuations that bring them up or above the income threshold, that is a total of the £75 valuation this year. It is this category that will be treated differently from last year. This year they will have to pay full rates on their land. Nobody can say that they are small farmers. Deputy Quinn was incorrect in his assumption that we were taxing small farmers. By Irish standards they are all regarded as substantial farmers, yet Deputy Quinn talked about small farmers.

The rated occupiers of land which falls into the category of £75 valuation and over in 1978 will not get any special relief under the Bill. These farmers occupy 3 per cent of all land holdings that are at the top of the scale so far as valuations are concerned. Deputy Taylor might like to know that they occupy less than 3 per cent of the land in Clare—2.6 per cent, for his information. While they will not get rates relief under the Bill they will be able to offset their full rates, not just this increase, against any income tax for which they are liable.

Deputy T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan) referred to the situation in which some farmers in the taxable category may not be liable for income tax. This can happen in any year in which a farmer has heavy expenses and allowances to claim for under the income tax code. Farmers who are not liable for income tax will be allowed to offset in full as a credit against their income tax the amount they have had to pay in rates. This was made very clear by the Minister for Finance in his budget speech last February and again in the Finance Bill which has now been circulated. The offset against income tax is not limited to extra rates resulting from the upper limit being placed on the agricultural grant reliefs. Just as some farmers may have no income tax bill against which to offset their rates, there may be others who will be able to offset the extra rates and the rates which they would have had to pay this year if this category had continued getting rates relief under this Bill. Some or all of the rates which they would have had to pay in 1978, even if they continued to get the agricultural grant reliefs, will be offset against their income tax. That is a reasonably fair answer to the cases which Deputy Fitzpatrick put.

Deputy Clinton could also have given more thought to that side of the story. He did his best to paint a black picture of what the Bill was doing to farmers. This Bill gives relief in rates to the tune of £38.5 million in this year alone. The facts are simple. The farmers who are not getting relief under this Bill are the bigger farmers. On the average land valuations, the farmers affected in 1978 would have on average 185 acres and upwards.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Is the Minister saying that farmers with £75 valuations would, on average, have 170 acres?

I am saying that the farmers in this category would have that average.

(Cavan-Monaghan): Is the Minister taking in mountains and all?

There is not much valuation on mountains nowadays. I am talking about an average of 185 acres in the entire category.

(Cavan-Monaghan): In County Monaghan, which is not a wealthy county, they would have less than 100 acres.


If the Deputy wants to know where there are high valuations and certain anomalies, some with less than 80 acres are involved, but in most cases this is good land.

Deputy Griffin and some other Deputies said that some farmers had valuations above the average. It is true and this brings us back to the Griffith valuation. There are some isolated areas and some areas in my own county under the Griffith valuation. Somebody mentioned £150 per acre. There are some in my own county with £2 per acre, a very small area, along the estuary. At that time as I understand it, this type of land was deemed to be suitable for growing wheat. By modern standards it is not suitable at all. It is too clammy or some such reason according to the experts.

This brings us to the whole question of land valuation. These anomalies exist in certain cases, I agree. Unfortunately, under existing legislation you cannot change the valuation of a perch of land. The entire country would have to be revalued. All you can do is apportion an existing valuation between two people if the land or part of it changes hands. That is the position without revaluing the whole country.

We must also remember that farmers in this category can offset their rates against income tax. The Finance Bill has confirmed this. Deputy Murphy asked what saving would accrue to the Exchequer if the allowances continued with an upper limit. The figures for the agricultural grant are well known. The grant would be about £7 million more this year if there were no upper limit. Last year's grant is reduced by a total of £2.3 million. At £38.5 million it is £2.3 million less than the total made available last year.

(Cavan-Monaghan): May I ask the Minister a question? There is a saving by abolition down to £75 valuation of £7 million this year. Could the Minister tell us what the saving will be next year when the grant is abolished down to £60 valuation?

It has not happened yet.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It is provided for in the Bill.

The Bill makes provision for that. I may be able to give it to the Deputy before we finish, but I have not got the exact figure right now. It is not right to assume this £7 million would be a saving to the Exchequer, because the income tax question and the setting off against income tax have to be taken into account. Those are the actual figures involved. It will be £7 million more this year, in other words £45½ million including the over £75 valuation categories. As against last year's sum it is £2.3 million less.

Deputy Quinn suggested that the Minister for Finance dodged farmers' rates in the Budget. Deputy O'Keeffe seemed to speak on the same lines. There are no grounds for such an accusation. The Government could not have acted in a more open way on this matter. There was nothing to hide and nothing was hidden. I got my Department to send a circular to the county councils on 10 January 1978 telling them clearly and simply about the basis on which the allowances would be made in this current year. The circular referred directly to the upper limit of £75 valuation. I also had a formal statement issued through the Government Information Services on the same date drawing attention to the circular and giving details of the allowances for 1978.

That was when you were Minister. What did you do before you were elected? What was the impression you gave before you were elected?

The Minister should be allowed to conclude.

Anything about rates in the manifesto is now a fact. The Minister for Finance dealt fully with the limits on agricultural grants for 1978 in his budget statement of 1 February 1978. I refer Deputy Quinn in particular to the Official Report of 1 February 1978, Volume 303, columns 383-385. These clear and repeated statements would appear to have escaped the notice of some Deputies on the opposite side of the House.

I find that difficult to understand because we had a full House on the day the Budget was introduced and the people who made these accusations undoubtedly were listening and also got copies of the budget. There has been no attempt at dodging, ducking or hiding on this issue. It was spelled out clearly on 10 January. The circular was issued at local council level. Many Deputies are members of councils and they must have heard about it at council level.

Deputy McMahon suggested that local authorities are being left short of money this year. That is far from being a correct statement. It is far from being true. Between current and capital money local authorities will have £530 million to spend this year. That is almost £100 million up on 1977.

They have not got it yet.

Already this year my Department have paid out to local authorities £8 million in lieu of domestic rates. We have also paid out £9½ million to local authorities on foot of the agricultural grant. There is no question of any local authority being starved for money. They will continue to get payments as they fall due.

One tenth so far.

This was not in order on this Bill but it was raised and the Minister is replying to it. The Minister without interruption.

Deputy Creed seems to feel that rural ratepayers are not getting value for their rates. He might be interested to know that State grants meet 68 per cent of non-capital expenditure of county councils while rates meet only 20 per cent.

Some people may have got the impression from what Deputy Deasy said that his county were left short of £200,000 of the domestic rate grant for last year. That is not so. Every single penny claimed and certified for last year was paid before the end of 1977, for Deputy Deasy's information. Deputy O'Brien referred to the 11 per cent limit on the increase on the rate in the £ for 1978. I hope he has not lost sight of the fact that the limit is a protection for farmers and all others who still have to pay some rates. It was part of our undertaking on rates that the public who remain ratepaying would not be asked to bear the burden, and they have not been asked to do so. The 11 per cent ensures that they will not be asked to do so. Deputy Fitzpatrick suggested that farmers are somehow being asked to pay for the relief on domestic rates. That is not so and the 11 per cent ensures that. All farmers will benefit from the £80.5 million for the relief of rates on dwellings and other buildings being provided this year. Farmers will benefit to the tune of £9.5 million approximately on their houses and on farm buildings which were not already derated.

Farmers also benefit from the relief of rates on all farm outoffices built or improved since 1959. This is because the temporary remission of rates granted in respect of these hereditaments was made permanent again by Fianna Fáil in an Act of 1966. These buildings are not even valued but if they were valued they would now enjoy relief of rates to the extent of a further £4 million in this year alone.

I thank those who contributed to the debate which I followed with interest. Some of the points made were very wide of the mark. During three-and-a-half hours Deputy Harte made many points. I would not agree with many of the points that were made. However, what must be made clear in regard to this Bill is that in no way is it misnamed. It is exactly what it says, that is, a rates relief Bill. It had to be brought in because the last Bill, in 1976, allowed for relief of rates for the farming community up to this year. Without this Bill the farmers would lose out to the extent of £38.5 million which is the extent to which they will benefit now under this Bill. In the event of the Bill being rejected by the House this relief could not be given.

(Cavan-Monaghan): If the Minister brings in another Bill we shall pass it in five minutes.

I would point out to anyone who may intend voting against the Bill that he is voting against relief of £38.5 million for the farming community in this year.

(Cavan-Monaghan): What is the figure for next year?

Assuming that the rate remains the same the extra amount involved will be £2.3 million.

(Cavan-Monaghan): It would be £9.2 million next year.

Could that be regarded as relief?

That is not the question.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 49.

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Kit.
  • Allen, Lorcan.
  • Andrews, Niall.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Sylvester.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, Seán.
  • Callanan, John.
  • Cogan, Barry.
  • Colley, George.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Gerard.
  • Cowen, Bernard.
  • Crinion, Brendan.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • de Valera, Vivion.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Farrell, Joe.
  • Filgate, Eddie.
  • Fitzpatrick, Tom (Dublin South-Central).
  • Fitzsimons, James N.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Fox, Christopher J.
  • Gallagher, Dennis.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keegan, Seán.
  • Killeen, Tim.
  • Killilea, Mark.
  • Lalor, Patrick J.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lemass, Eileen.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leonard, Tom.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Loughnane, William.
  • Lynch, Jack.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Moore, Seán.
  • Morley, P. J.
  • Murphy, Ciarán P.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Connor, Timothy C.
  • O'Donoghue, Martin.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael J.
  • Wyse, Pearse.


  • Barry, Peter.
  • Barry, Richard.
  • Begley, Michael.
  • Belton, Luke.
  • Bermingham, Joseph.
  • Boland, John.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Burke, Joan.
  • Clinton, Mark.
  • Cluskey, Frank.
  • Collins, Edward.
  • Conlan, John F.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Cosgrave, Michael J.
  • Creed, Donal.
  • Crotty, Kieran.
  • D'Arcy, Michael J.
  • Deasy, Martin A.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Desmond, Eileen.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • Ryan, John J.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Treacy, Seán.
  • Fitzpatrick, Tom (Cavan-Monaghan).
  • Flanagan, Oliver J.
  • Gilhawley, Eugene.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harte, Patrick D.
  • Hegarty, Paddy.
  • Horgan, John.
  • Keating, Michael.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kerrigan, Pat.
  • L'Estrange, Gerry.
  • Lipper, Mick.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Mannion, John M.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Brien, William.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Toole, Paddy.
  • Pattison, Seámus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Tully, James.
  • White, James.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Lalor and Briscoe; Níl, Deputies Creed and Barry Desmond.
Question declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 26 April 1978.